On Tuesday, Nov. 7, Trion residents will pick between mayoral candidates Larry Stansell, the incumbent, and his challenger, Tonya Abernathy. Stansell says the town needs to keep up the good work, but Abernathy says that spending is out of control.
“It’s been spend, spend, spend in Trion for a while now, and I think it’s time we stop and see where we are now,” Abernathy said.
Abernathy stepped down from the council two years ago after a four-year term, and often had a frayed relationship with Stansell during that time.
“I’m not running because of (Stansell); I’m running because I believe we need to be a lot more conservative with spending money and we need to do a better job of planning,” she said. “Right now, we need to regroup and reorganize,” she said.
The town is working on a $5 million water project planned for completion by the year’s end; and borrowing $1.1 million to pay for the several projects at the Rec. Dept.
“They haven’t even seen the bids yet for the building,” said Abernathy. “I think we need to finish the project we have now (the water upgrade) before starting the next one.”
Abernathy is critical of what she considers to be “spend first” way of doing business.
“Before spending money we need to see if we have that money in the budget,” she said. “The council doesn’t get enough information on projects.”
Abernathy believes there is a breakdown in how the mayor and council operate.
“They need to work more as a team,” she said. “It’s supposed to be a weak mayor-strong council form of government, but it doesn’t seem to work that way in Trion.”
“Council members need to research what they are voting on, and not just vote “Yes” because the mayor wants them to.”
Abernathy said many residents of the town feel alienated from their local government.
“People I talk to have told me they don’t feel like anyone at Town Hall is listening to them,” she said. “We have to change that. We need to make them feel like they matter.”
Abernathy admits her time on the council could get frustratig, but she is happy with some of her accomplishments.
“I don’t know if the bathrooms at the track field would have been fixed if I hadn’t stayed on them about it,” she said. “I thought it was important to make sure that we had the handicapped swing at the playground. The new fire truck is something I pushed for.”
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“I love this job and feel like we have made a difference over the last four years,” Stansell told the local paper. “We’ve made a lot of improvements to the town.”
Stansell, 69, lists several projects as examples of the progress Trion has experienced.
“We’ve used (the Appalachian Regional Commission) grants to make improvements at our industrial park,” said Stansell. “We have a grant to build sediment ponds at the site. What we’re trying to do is create a true industrial park, not just offer raw land. Companies are not looking for raw land. We need to have infrastructure in place.”
The mayor also touted the $5 million dollar water system project that is scheduled for completion by January.
“We’ll get a lot of water savings from that.”
Stansell has pushed for a $1 million overhaul of Trion Recreation Department facilities, including HVAC for the main gymnasium, a splash pad, new fencing and dugouts for the ball fields, and a new central building which will house bathrooms, a concession stand and a press box. The splash pad and HVAC are up and running, but the council is waiting on bids on the central building before proceeding.
Stansell says he’s optimistic that a senior living complex planned by Summerville-based developer Jerry Braden will be approved by federal agencies. He thinks that development could have big impact on the community, possibly spurring other businesses to locate in the area.
“It would be a great benefit for the town,” he said. “It will… change the landscape of the town.”
He’s not as optimistic about the Triangle Shopping Center property, which was once the commercial hub of the town. Many of the shops there are now empty and in poor condition.
“What the solution is there, I don’t know,” Stansell admitted.
The mayor said that he gets frustrated at the pace of government and working in the council setting sometimes, but that he has enjoyed working with Chattooga Co. Commissioner Jason Winters and state Sen. Jeff Mullis.
“It is frustrating at times,” he said. “Working with a council is challenging. Don’t get me wrong- I’ve got a great council, but it is a different way for me to work… People like Jeff Mullis and commissioner Jason Winters have been great to work with”.