District four in Williamson County covers parts of Franklin east of Interstate 65. // Map from the Williamson County Elections Commission
By MATT BLOIS
On May 2 residents of Williamson County will decide which candidates the Democratic and Republican parties will support for County Commission in the general election next August.
Each district in the county has two representatives on the County Commission who serve four year terms.
District four currently has two Republican commissioners who are both running for reelection. They will run against a first time Democrat in August. One other candidate was removed from the ballot because the Tennessee Republican Party determined he wasn’t a bona fide Republican, but he may run as a write in candidate.
Tom Atema was hoping to get the Republican party’s nomination in his run the County Commission, but the Tennessee Republican Party asked the county to take his name off the ballot after determining that he wasn’t a bona fide Republican.
The Tennessee Republican Party received a complaint earlier this month that Tom Atema didn’t meet the party’s definition of a bona fide Republican and shouldn’t be allowed to run for the party’s nomination in the county commissioner’s race.
Atema runs an audio visual company that provides lights, sound and other visuals for events or concerts. It’s his first time running for public office. He wants to represent district four, which covers parts of Franklin east of Interstate 65.
“I was very blindsided by this,” Atema said. “I would think the Republican party would want new people being engaged in the political process.”
He won’t be able to run as a Republican, but he can still run independently as a write in candidate in August. He’s still deciding whether or not he wants to do that.
If he does run he said he wants to make sure that the county is still a good place to do business. He said his company has done well because of the services that the county provides. His daughter has a disability, and he said county services have also played a big role in allowing her to be successful.
He is married to Angie Atema, and has lived in Williamson County since 2001.
First term county commissioner Gregg Lawrence said the job has a steep learning curve, but he’s hoping he’ll have the chance to do it again. He’s a Republican representing district four of Williamson County, which covers the eastern part of Franklin. In his first term, he had to figure out how the county’s budget worked and how different parts of the county government connected to each other.
“I’ve learned the ropes now,” he said. “I think I’ll be more effective in my second term than I was in my first term.”
Dealing with the county’s rapid growth is on the top of his priority list. He said it will be important for the cities to communicate with the county about future growth because the vast majority of growth is happening inside of incorporated cities. County residents have told him that they’re tired of cities approving developments before the county has the infrastructure to handle the growth.
Lawrence has lived in Williamson County for 24 years. He owns an employee benefits firm in Cool Springs. He has been married to his wife Sandra for 29 years and has two kids.
The school board decides how to spend its budget, but the County Commission determines how much money it has to spend. That’s why current school board member Anne McGraw wants to run for County Commission. She’s running as a Democrat in district four.
McGraw is currently a member of the school board, and she said one of the most important issues will be finding a way to fund schools.
“The county has control of the budget and the revenue and I want to be a part of that,” she said. “The schools are in great shape with this board, so I feel comfortable moving on.”
Schools aren’t the only thing to focus on though. She also wants to improve public safety and infrastructure.
McGraw runs social media marketing for Nissan. Her husband Ryan is on the Parent Teacher Organization at Trinity Elementary where he two daughters go to school. She has lived in Williamson County for six years.
Republican County Commission candidate Chad Story grew up in a place a lot like Franklin, a suburb outside of Memphis called Collierville that grew very quickly. It’s one of the reasons he’s hoping to represent district four, an area of Franklin east of Interstate 65.
“We were a small town but blew up to 50,000 people over a decade,” he said. “We had a lot of the same issues, a lot of the same growing pains.”
He said growing up in a place like that has equipped him to avoid making mistakes in a fast-growing county.
Story’s wife Jennifer is a teacher who has worked in the Williamson County school district, and he said funding schools is one of the most important tasks for the County Commission. He said the county’s current tax revenues could cover the districts operating costs, but added that the county needs to find a way to build new schools.
He has never run for public office, but has worked on political campaigns ever since he moved to Franklin 15 years ago. He has helped with campaigns for city government, county government and school board. As a candidate, he’s now on the opposite side of that process.