ELECTION 2018: Clonts leaves school board, looks to supplant Eichenbaum
Winfield Clonts is one of two school board members looking to make the switch to the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners this year, as he challenges incumbent Commission Chairman Dan Eichenbaum in District 4 in the Tuesday, May 8, primary.
Eichenbaum is wrapping up his first term on the county commission, while Clonts is leaving the school board after five terms spanning 26 years. The winner won’t face Democratic opposition in the Tuesday, Nov. 6, general election.
After a long service to the school system, Clonts saw his next political run as something to make a more tangible difference in overall county affairs.
“The school board is a policy board, and with the county you’re dealing with the actual funds and where they are appropriated,” Clonts said. “I think the priorities for the last few boards have been out of order.”
Clonts said long-term plans for school facilities and economic development were among his top priorities. Clonts has been the county’s senior services director, and he said increasing services for the 8,000-plus citizens over age 65 was important to him. The county has an opportunity to extend its senior meals program to the Peachtree area three days a week.
Another item he wanted to see the county contribute to is the Hiwassee Valley Pool & Wellness Center, which the county owns but has stopped funding. “The swimming pool should be treated as a service to our citizens like other recreation facilities,” Clonts said.
Clonts also supports giving the people the choice of whether to add $1 to everyone’s tax bill to help support animal control.
On the school funding issue, Clonts said it was likely that community schools were here to stay, along with Tri-County Early College High School. But something has to be done with facilities.
“We don’t have $183 million for all these repairs, but we have to start somewhere,” Clonts said, giving support to trying for state and federal money to build new schools. “If we can procure the first grant, maybe we can go for more. There are opportunities there, but I don’t think our last two boards have gone after them diligently.”
Clonts said it was important for county commissioners to consult experts and resources, including the Tennessee Valley Authority, Southwestern Commission and others.
In 1976, Clonts was part of the first arts council in Cherokee County, and he wants to see county support for the arts community going forward. He said the arts can be an economic engine for the county if they are properly supported, citing similar arts communities in Blue Ridge and Blairsville, Ga.
“A person who doesn’t think that our arts are important is not paying attention,” Clonts said. “I’ll bet if you got the best welder from the community college that they are an artist of come kind.”
Clonts said he would work with the community to improve services while being frugal with taxpayers’ money.
Eichenbaum, a local ophthalmologist for three decades, has been chairman for the last 18 months. He said he is proud of what the commission has accomplished, pointing out that public safety needs have been filled, including a fleet maintenance plan for sheriff’s office cars that was desperately needed as well as a new investigator.
“We had ambulances that were in a similar state, but we were able to get modern equipment that can help save people’s lives,” he said.
Eichenbaum also cited the commissioners’ ability to find $500,000 for the school system over three years to help fill in the gaps from the loss of state funding.
On the school funding issue, Eichenbaum said the school board needs to come with a full proposal for consideration. However, he supports more options for vocational training, and his dream is to see a plan come to fruition for a new a high school on the campus of Tri-County Community College in Peachtree.
“We have to do some creative things,” Eichenbaum said of finding the funds to do it. “There are some options that can be looked into. There are companies that will build schools and lease them to you for a certain period of time. …
“If we have to float a bond to raise $4 or $5 million, then we have to look into that. We have to do something, some of these schools are falling down.”
Eichenbaum was a proponent of eliminating the county’s economic development director and partnering with Paul Worley at the college for those services. He said it has been a resounding success, pointing out the new MineCo plant coming to the old Coats American plant in Marble as an example.
“Paul is a real go-getter, and he really loves the county and what he’s doing for the county,” Eichenbaum said. “He loves nothing more than calling us and telling us he has great news.”
One idea in Eichenbaum’s first term that did not pan out was the Cherokee County Fair, which lasted two years before disbanding this year.
“We lost the tradition, and it’s hard to build that back up,” Eichenbaum said. “We’re still trying to get some use out of that fairground facility for the 4H folks, and what the Saddle Club has done out there is phenomenal.”
Eichenbaum said he has enjoyed working with the current board, saying, “Everyone on the board right now has Cherokee County’s best interests at heart.”
He reiterated that he is a strong proponent of private property rights and will continue to fight for all citizens.
“This is a wonderful place to be a free person,” he said.