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VOL. 133 | NO. 50 | Friday, March 9, 2018

Republican Mayoral Candidates Find Ways to Differentiate

By Bill Dries

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The three contenders in the May Republican primary for Shelby County mayor didn’t disagree on much when they met this week at the Southwind clubhouse. But David Lenoir, Joy Touliatos and Terry Roland did try to distinguish themselves from the other two in a relatively spark-free first encounter as a trio.

The contenders have met at various campaign forums this election season in different pairs.

But the forum at the monthly meeting of the Republican Women of Purpose organization Wednesday, March 7, which drew a crowd of 100, was the first featuring all three together.

The three contenders for Shelby County mayor in the May 1 Republican primary, David Lenoir, Terry Roland and Joy Touliatos, were together for the first time in the campaign season at a forum held Wednesday by the Republican Women of Purpose. (Daily News/Bill Dries)

“I’m the only one of the three that is not term-limited,” said Touliatos, who is Juvenile Court clerk. “And I still chose to run for county mayor. I think it’s very important who leads this county. And we deserve better. We deserve better communication, better leadership, better infrastructure.”

As county trustee, Lenoir is limited by the county charter to two consecutive terms of office and is serving his second term as trustee. So is Roland in his position as a county commissioner.

Roland touted his status as the only county commissioner in the field, which brings him into frequent contact with the county mayor.

“I’m just an old country boy,” Roland began. “One of the things that I ran on is to try to get rid of some of this culture of corruption. And I think that we made a huge dent in it. … It’s been going on for so long, folks, that they don’t think it’s wrong anymore. These are the things that are costing you money.”

Lenoir touted his private-sector experience building three businesses over 20 years before winning election in 2010 to the position he refers to as “the county’s banker.”

“I’m a bridge builder, not a bridge burner,” he said as he touted “the right mix of experience and the right temperament.”

Lenoir also said that while public safety is a big concern and issue – it’s a “byproduct” of the need to have better schools.

“If we have a great education system here in Shelby County and the opportunity for better jobs, we have safer neighborhoods,” he said, pledging to have an “education liaison” to work on a permanent basis with Shelby County Schools and the county’s six suburban public school districts.

“We have a billion-dollar budget here in Shelby County. We spend $400 million on education,” he said. “There’s no one currently in the mayor’s administration that when he or she wakes up in the morning is asking the question, ‘What is it we have to do to create a great education system here in Shelby County?’”

Touliatos said the biggest priority is public safety and that the mayor should have a close relationship with whoever is elected Shelby County sheriff this year. She also said in 25 years of working for the county – eight as an elected official – she has seen “the good, the bad and the ugly.”

“I believe our weakness is that we’ve lost touch with our citizens,” she said. “I don’t think they actually believe that we can get something done.”

Roland also put public safety as a top priority if elected mayor but said the county is about to get in the sewer business, with the city of Memphis edict last year that there will be no new city sewer connections for developments in unincorporated Shelby County.

“But one of the big things we need to keep our eyes on is sewers,” he said. “I know more about sewers now than I ever thought I would know. … That’s going to be a huge cost on the county.”

Roland said the county should insist on a thorough inspection of city sewer lines extended into the county before the cutoff to ensure they are in proper working order before the county takes responsibility for them.

Lenoir said economic development incentives that abate property taxes should include holding the companies that get them more accountable and that the incentives should be “refined.”

Roland said the county should use fewer payment-in-lieu-of-taxes incentives, also known as PILOTs, and more tax increment financing, or TIF, districts.

“The worst thing we’ve got going is the tax structure we’ve got,” he said of property tax rates. “If we do not go down on property taxes so we can compete with the counties around us, that will be the end of Shelby County.”

Touliatos said economic development will grow as the county becomes safer. She also said the ultimate role of county mayor is to find a way to work with and get seven votes from the commission.

“The county mayor’s office has very little power,” she said. “But what the mayor can do is build relationships. … That’s one of the skills I have is building those bridges.”

Roland noted without directly referring to it that he doesn’t have the six-figure campaign finance balances Touliatos and Lenoir have, as he made the only direct reference to national politics at the forum.

“We just need enough to get our message out,” he said. “If money bought an election, we’d be saying President Hillary Clinton right now, and thank God we are not saying that.”

Roland was the West Tennessee campaign director for the Donald Trump campaign in 2016.

The winner of the May 1 Republican primary faces the winner of the Democratic mayoral primary between former Shelby County commissioner Sidney Chism and state Sen. Lee Harris.

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