PHOTO: All candidates running for office in Spring Hill collect at the UAW Hall for the Meet the Candidates forum Thursday afternoon. / Photo by Alexander Willis
By ALEXANDER WILLIS
With elections in Spring Hill just over a month away, the Spring Hill Chamber of Commerce, along with the Advertiser News, held an event titled “Meet the Candidates.” In this panel discussion, those running for office in the city introduced themselves to the community and answered questions provided by a moderator.
For Ward 1, four candidates are running for the open seat on the Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BOMA); Liz Droke, John Canepari, Alex Jimenez and Bryan Watt. The Ward 1 seat is currently held by Clint McCain, who was appointed to fill former-Alderman Chad Whittenburg’s seat after resigning last December.
The Ward 2 seat open for election is currently held by Matt Fitterer, who is running again for reelection, and has no opponents.
Ward 3’s seat open for election is currently held by Susan Zemek, who is also running for reelection. Zemek has one challenger for the seat – Dan Allen.
The Ward 4 seat open for election will be vacant, as Vice Mayor Bruce Hull has stated his intentions to not run for reelection. The candidates for Ward 4 include Hazel Nieves and Doug Holtz.
Early voting is March 22 through April 6, with election day landing on April 11. The deadline to register to vote is March 12. Register online by clicking here.
In ward and alphabetical order, here are your candidates for Spring Hill.
John Canepari / Ward 1
Canepari, a previous civil engineer hailing from Brooklyn, New York, has been in and around the Spring Hill community for over a decade. Before moving to the city in 2017, he was a frequent visitor as his son and family lived in the area.
Canepari proposes that all new businesses coming into the city should have meetings with department heads, as to give them “an idea of the people that are going to be in the process that they’re going to go through.”
What would you do to attract the support of smaller businesses in our town that have made our community so unique?
Over the close to 50 years that I’ve been a civil engineer in construction and design, some of my employers were good enough to have me represent them at chambers, so I’ve been on several boards, several different chambers of commerce.
My last position, they would hold opportunity meetings, and they would alternate every quarter; one quarter was equal business opportunities, and then the next quarter they would have one for those people looking to move businesses into the county. I would propose something very similar. I think that the chamber and the city have to be transparent, there has to be a unified way to get our businesses in.
Liz Droke / Ward 1
A Middle Tennessee native, Droke moved to Spring Hill in 2011. A graduate of MTSU with a bachelors in Mass Communication, Droke has served in the Spring Hill Community Bible Study, attends Grace Church in Nashville, and has served in ministry for 16 years.
What are two assets that you would sell to small businesses looking to come to Spring Hill?
The two assets are that this town is, bar none, [full of] the most wonderful people on the planet. We are honest families that work hard, pay [our] bills, and are just trying to raise [our] kids the best [we] can.”
“The other thing I would sell, is these people are so loyal. If you don’t believe me, ask anybody here if they prefer Tito’s, Don Arturo’s, Pancho’s Place or Amigos, because I’m telling you, you can’t get in a fight faster with someone in Spring Hill than to start arguing over which Mexican place is their favorite.
Alex Jimenez / Ward 1
A branch manager for Benchmark Mortgage in Spring Hill, Jimenez has three children, and spoke of the importance of public safety in the community.
If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why?
What I would do is I would delegate $750,000 of that to our public safety. I would allow those people then to submit requests for what they need for equipment, review their equipment they currently have… I feel our citizens deserve the latest and greatest high speed equipment to help save lives.
$250,000 of it I would have set aside to do some type of community event. A festival, a get together, a charity auction, something to raise that money back and reallocate it the following year. If I could keep the million dollars, we would invest it and use the returns from the investments to help improve things in the city.
Bryan Watt / Ward 1
Born and raised in Franklin, Watt has been a resident of Spring Hill for 12 years. Watt is also the president of the Homeowner Association in his community, and spoke of doing what it will take to see Spring Hill get its own ice rink.
If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why?
How I would do that now would be delegating $250,000 towards police and fire infrastructure, so they can have the equipment, the drones, the firetrucks that they need to keep us safe and protect us. I would spend $500,000 on infrastructure for the roads so people can move back and forth. I’ve been one of those that’s had to drive to La Vergne 40 minutes one way, I’ve had to drive to Nashville another 35-40 minutes one way, and I think that we should have the infrastructure here where it’s easier to manage.
The other aspect of that was a little bit different; [I’d] spend $250,000 to try to attract a company. In this particular case, as a hockey fan, a Nashville Predators fan, I would reach out to them. Mayor Graham knows for the last year and a half, I’ve been tagging him every time the Nashville Predators talk about opening an ice hockey rink, and that’s something that I believe we would benefit here, not only for jobs, but for entertainment; it promotes health, fitness, family opportunities.
Matt Fitterer / Ward 2
First elected to the BOMA in 2015, Fitterer has pledged to continue to produce the conditions needed for a strong job market, as well as advocated to keep a balanced budget and low property taxes.
How do you plan to involve the community’s business leadership in the decision-making process?
I think Spring Hill’s done a good job of expanding the opportunities for all citizens, not just business owners, to get engaged with the city government over the last couple years. The business community’s obviously very well represented and very active in the Economic Development Commission, but our other committees and commissions have been expanded.
People tend to forget that just a couple years ago, we added two seats to the Planning Commission, Transportation Advisory Committee added two seats, the Tourism Board is a brand new board… so there’s been new opportunities created over the past couple years for all citizens, not just the business community, to get involved.
Dan Allen / Ward 3
A civil engineer, Dan Allen moved to Spring Hill with his wife and two children in 2006. Allen previously worked for the city of Franklin as an engineer for the planning department from 2009 to 2013. More recently, he worked as assistant city administrator for Spring Hill from 2013 to 2016 before returning to work in the private sector.
What are the most important challenges facing the Spring Hill community?
It seems to me that the lifeblood of the small business community is all about driving traffic to your doorsteps. You can’t have a variety of business if you don’t have people coming to see you, spending money, and working with you here on a daily basis. It seems to me that the biggest obstacle to that right now that we’re facing, is our roads.
When I go and talk to people door to door, over and over again that’s what I hear; ‘I’m tired of sitting in traffic, it’s easier for me to go to Cool Springs and just pick up something on the way home then go on down a little further into town and shop here in Spring Hill.’ I think that’s our biggest obstacle, and I think Spring Hill has to move away from a small town mentality, and move forward and make progress to start really building our infrastructure, to really attack the roads.
My background as a civil engineer, as well as my history with the city on rallying the staff, the BOMA and the citizens to turn the program around and start moving forward makes me an ideal, qualified candidate to come forward now at this time, at this moment, and to seize a once in a generation opportunity for Spring Hill to build an interchange – not in 2035 or 2040, but in 2020.
Susan Zemek / Ward 3
Serving the city since 2013, Zemek has been a resident of Spring Hill for nearly 20 years, and keeps busy both with city government duties, and raising her three teens. Zemek has routinely voiced her support for expanding the city’s amenities, such as with parks and trails, and often speaks to the city’s small-town community feel.
Please share your thoughts on what changes you feel would make Spring Hill an even better place to live, work and play.
There’s several things we can do to make Spring Hill a better place to live, work and play. One, we need to get more corporations here so that people aren’t driving north to get to work every day. Our economic development coordinator and our commission has done an excellent job of promoting manufacturing jobs, along with GM (General Motors). We thank GM for bringing so many jobs here. We have brought some corporate jobs here, but we need more so that people are actually working here.
Livability-wise, one way to get those corporations here is parks, amenities, trailways, parkways, greenways, hiking… we, as a city, need to stop looking at those things as a [want] – it’s a [need].
Livability is not just water and sewer; our roads and infrastructure are very important to the city also, but the other amenities, that makes a city also. You’re citizens – you’re not just a number of 40,000 people, you’re actually people that want to enjoy your city.”
Doug Holtz / Ward 4
Previously running for Alderman in 2017, Holtz has an extensive business background in both small and corporate settings. He is married with three children and has lived in the Spring Hill area since 1996. In addition to owning a commercial cleaning business with his wife, Holtz is also a member of the management team for the Chick-fil-A in south Franklin.
Other than official municipal notices prescribed by law, are there any other ways you will reach out to local residents to get their opinion, and to get them involved?
Obviously social media is probably the easiest way to do that. Even though those social media avenues are available, there were still a lot of people who didn’t even realize an election was going on. [So] just being a little bit more savvy with the social media aspect.
One of the things that I also did [when running] that I think helped me, was personalized letters that were sent out to voters – and there [are] times when it has to be face-to-face. If there’s an event that is affecting a certain business community, going out and talking to the businesses. If there’s an event that’s affecting a certain homeowners association, going out to those homeowners. Communication is key, and you have to use whatever avenues are available to you.
Hazel Nieves / Ward 4
Moving to Spring Hill in 2010 from California, Nieves is also the owner of Spring Hill Fresh, a community media company that highlights local events and new stories. Nieves has advocated for improved amenities in the city, as well as improved public safety for the city’s ever-growing population.
What are the biggest fiscal challenges in our municipality, and what do you envision the best ways to address them?
I believe probably the biggest challenge that we face fiscally is how we’re going to fund the capital projects we have in front of us, and what is the order of priority that we give to those. I truly believe that our city must run more like a business, and these are very important aspects of being able to make those projects a reality.
Watch below for more questions to the candidates.