By BILL AMICK
News Staff Writer
If the field of candidates in the race to replace Allen Stockberger as a Knox County Commissioner had to be summed up in one word, it would be “experienced.” Mount Vernon native Thom Collier hopes to take up the duties being left by his fellow Republican Stockberger, who is retiring. That would mark Collier’s return to public service after being term-limited as a State Representative in 2008, but first he will have to best a pair of seasoned officials at the polls.
Collier will face Democrat John Booth, a 36-year member and 14-year president of Mount Vernon City Council, and Independent Jim Hughes, whose credentials include 35 years as a Pleasant Township trustee, in the Nov. 6 general election.
Knox County is what the pollsters might call a “reliable” Republican county, as evidenced by the fact that every other county-wide office is GOP-controlled. But three-way races, especially when they involve three well-known candidates, can prove unpredictable. In any case, Collier is taking nothing for granted.
“Three-way races introduce a new dynamic, but it doesn’t alter the way I run,” Collier says. “I run to win and base it on my record and my platform, not on who else is in the race. Both of my opponents are excellent individuals and each has unique experience. I think it’s a testament to Knox County that we have such quality candidates.”
Collier is upbeat about conditions in the county, but nevertheless voices a cautious outlook on the next few years.
“Knox County is in pretty good condition, certainly better than many counties and local governments, and that’s because it has been well cared for,” Collier says. “First and foremost in this cycle is to assure continued fiscal responsibility. Yes, the county is in good shape, but that hangs by a thread and needs constant attention.”
Collier is a local businessman, realtor and speaker who served on Mount Vernon City Council prior to his consecutive terms as a State Representative from 2000-2008. In 2010, he ran strongly in Knox County but lost a primary bid for the State Senate against Kris Jordan of the more populous Delaware County. Collier’s spot on this year’s general election ballot was secured in a three-way primary race he won comfortably over former commissioner Shirley Fletcher and Tim Smith.
“Public service gets in your blood,” Collier says. “I saw an opportunity with Allen’s retirement to use my experience again in public service, and I feel I have what it takes to tackle the legislative and administrative duties of the office.
“My No. 2 priority after fiscal control is to seek opportunities for job generation and economic development,” he says. “We need to expand our infrastructure, not just roads and bridges but things like Internet access and technology in general. We can’t be afraid of technology, we have to embrace its opportunities.
“Third, we of course need to serve the needs of the people. Constituent work is extremely important, and we have to be sure that people are heard and responded to properly.”
Collier says it would be premature to speculate on specific financial issues and priorities until he has an opportunity to review the county’s budget performance, but he singles out rising health care costs and the reduced inflow of funds from the state as areas of concern.
“That puts a pinch on counties and townships,” Collier says. “ What sets me apart, I believe, is my experience as a state rep, working with counties and with officials throughout the state. I’m already familiar with issues like fracking, and I have the ability to be open and adapt to technology that can drive our economic development.”
Pundits and polls devote a lot of attention to “coattails” and the impact of presidential politics on local elections, but Collier says he isn’t concerned in that regard.
“Pollsters would tell you that the top of the ticket has impact, and to some degree I think that’s true at the state level, but I think people are smarter than that. At the local level they want to vote for people they know and trust.”
Collier and his wife, Diane, make their home in Mount Vernon and have two daughters.
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