Addict, homeless situation discussed after Rocky Top meeting Thursday; about 20 gather for Sunday protest
Both candidates who are on the ballot for the two open seats on the Rocky Top City Council in the Nov. 3 general election, incumbent Juston Job and newcomer Zack Green, say their goals are to help improve the city.
Job, who is also vice mayor, is seeking his second term on the council, after being appointed to fill out the unexpired term of a councilman who resigned three years ago.
Green is seeking his first term on the council, replacing Nathan Dison, who has moved outside the city limits and no longer qualifies to hold the council seat.
These two candidates, who were the only ones to file to run before the Aug. 20 deadline to have their names appear on the ballot, both have homes within the city limits.
A third would-be candidate, Katie Hurst/Styles, filed a notice with the Anderson County Election Commission on Sept. 14 stating her intention to run as a write-in candidate. She launched her effort to seek a council seat on the Facebook page known as Rocky Top Community Chit Chat, and also created a separate Facebook page to promote her candidacy.
But her name will not appear on the ballot, and neither is she technically qualified to serve on the council, because she lives outside the city limits. Styles acknowledged that to The Courier News outside Rocky Top City Hall last Thursday night following the September city council meeting.
She attended the meeting along with about eight other people who came ostensibly to complain to the council about what they consider to be rampant visible drug abuse, thievery and homelessness on the downtown city streets, and to push the council and other city officials to address the issues.
Styles, who has become the de facto leader of the group seeking to clean up the downtown area and remove the addicts and other homeless people, said her intention is to move into the city if she wins a council seat through write-in votes.
“I was told at the Election Commission that I could move into Rocky Top as late as one minute before I’m sworn in, and I would be able to serve,” she told The Courier News. She added that she has put in an application to rent a residence inside the city, but that she could “still back out” if she does not win a council seat.
She grew up in her parents’ home on Ross Cemetery Road, but had lived in her own home in Clinton for about five years before moving back in with her mother recently. Ross Cemetery Road has a Rocky Top mailing address, but is well outside the city limits.
City officials and the Election Commission both have said they are checking with state elections officials to determine whether write-in votes could even be credited to her for a council post if she is not a city resident as of Election Day, Nov. 3.
Ironically, Styles won’t even be able to vote for herself, as she is not registered to vote as a city resident, and her personal ballot will not include the Rocky Top council positions. The same is true for several of her ardent supporters, who also live outside the city.
Still, she has a small group of supporters who both showed up at Thursday’s council meeting and at a downtown rally Styles organized this past Sunday evening. During that event, Styles led a group of about 20 people on a walk from the car wash on the south side of town to a point near Interstate 75 on the north end of town, and back again, holding a variety of placards protesting conditions in the city.
Among the signs the marchers were holding were such messages as: “No More Junkies,” “Clean Up Starts With City Hall,” “City Does Nothing For Our Town,” “We Deserve Better,” “Make Lake City Great Again,” and “Clean Up Rocky Top.”
The group marching on Sunday included some who showed up for the Thursday council meeting, where they surprisingly sat silent when Mayor Tim Sharp announced that the council would hear from visitors who wanted to speak. He told the people in the gallery in the council chambers that anyone could speak, but each person had to give his or her name and address, and each was limited to three minutes each.
After he made the announcement, he waited a few seconds, and when no one responded, he again asked whether anyone wanted to speak. No one replied, so he closed the comment section of the meeting and moved on with the agenda.
But at the end of the meeting, after the council adjourned, several of those in the gallery began shouting, “That’s it? You’re not even going to let us speak?”
Sharp pointed out that he had already given them a chance to speak, but no one spoke up. Some then said that they hadn’t heard him clearly, because he was wearing a mask. But some others in the gallery contradicted that, saying they heard him, even in the back of the room, clearly ask people for their comments.
The mayor and Job, the councilman and vice mayor, then joined Chief of Police Jim Shetterly in the gallery area and took questions from a few of the attendees for about an hour.
One of those attending, who identified herself as Shelby Marsh, told Sharp: “If you and every one of the city council members and Mr. (Michael) Foster, too, do not start doing the job the citizens of this town want you to do, you will be voted out. … This has [gone] on long enough, and the citizens of this town are fed up. … We are not being mean, we’re not being hostile; we just want answers.”
City officials have said their options are limited when it comes to removing homeless people from public property, and that the city’s vagrancy ordinance does not allow for people to be jailed for violations. They can only be cited into Rocky Top City Court, which does not have the authority to impose jail sentences.
Vagrants can be charged with trespassing on private property, such as that of local businesses, but those businesses must initiate prosecution, and most don’t want to do that, city officials have said.
As for the two candidates on the ballot, here are their comments about what they want to achieve while serving for the next four years:
Juston Job, 36, a data analyst for the Anderson County Schools, said:
“I have lived here all my life.
“The city needs help, and I was asked to help. I’m doing my best to make it better than I found it. My mom lives in town, and I’m going to live there a lot longer. I want to see it do better.
“The major issues, as I see them, include a lack of new businesses. We need to replace our grocery store. We have limited access to good, nutritious food in our town. The dollar store has some access to fresh food and vegetables. but we don’t have access to high-quality meat, fruits and vegetables.
“We need more police. I’m definitely not a ‘de-funder.’ I think we need more money for our police. The drugs are the reason we need more police. It’s really kind of a sad situation. We don’t have enough police officers to watch the whole town all the time, even though our guys do an excellent job. But there are only two officers per shift.”
Zack Green, 33, is seeking his first term on the council, and says he’s lived in the town for the past 32 years. He is a truck driver for United Parcel Service.
“I’ve always thought about trying to run for council,” he said. “But I always put it on the back burner because of my job. But Nathan Dison is not running again, so I gave it some thought. My idea is to get some fresh ideas in there. My whole goal is to help the youth of Rocky Top. I substituted as a teacher for seven years for elementary and middle school. I have been working with Children’s Church at Main Street Baptist -- my kids are that age, 11 and 8.
“I’m always doing something for the kids. … If we don’t invest in our youth, Rocky Top is not going to advance.
“As for the homeless situation, I don’t know the statistics. I would like to see the numbers on the homeless per capita throughout the city. I feel where we’re such a small town, we see it more. I also think we may have about as many homeless as any other city, they’re just more visible.
“They are homeless for a reason. I still feel like that person needs help – education on finances, or how to be an adult, how to manage their lives, how to get jobs.
“As for drug addicts, I don’t think they are bad persons. I feel like with the addicts, it is Rocky Top’s problem to deal with. I believe we could get with organizations throughout Rocky Top, such as churches, to find help.
“Mental health is a big issue; being leaders, we should be knocking on doors and seeking avenues for rehabilitation of addictions, and [providing] mental health awareness, education. It goes back to the youth. If we as parents start educating our kids on how to be an adult, that will decrease the homeless over the years.
“As Christians, it’s our job to feed the hungry, whether through blessing boxes or food pantries. I do feel there are better ways of feeding people who are hungry. I’m big on education. This is new, uncharted territory for me.
“It’s not a Christian thing or humane thing to call them wicked people. I always tell my kids, ‘Don’t call someone a bad person because of decisions they made. Just say they made bad decisions.’ You can’t call someone wicked.
“I want to have a better Rocky Top for my kids. Then everybody’s kids benefit.”