Today is Tuesday, August 22, 2017

New face on council isn't new to public service

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One thing won't change when Bernie Ash takes his new seat on the Lebanon City Council. Ash plans to continue supporting the proposed Fire Station 4 at Eastgate that was strongly promoted by his predecessor Joe Hayes.

"I think it's the ideal place to put a fire station," the newly elected Ward 4 councilor said.

"It provides easy access to several subdivisions, businesses and industrial areas, and to I-40."

Ash will be the only new face on the council when he's sworn in at the council's second meeting in December. All of the other councilors were either reelected this month or not up for election this time. But he won't exactly be an unknown factor.

Having served 16 years as Wilson County's District 23 commissioner until he was defeated in August by challenger Sue Vanatta, Ash brings plenty of public service experience to the council seat he will take over from 20-year incumbent Ward 4 Councilor Hayes.

Station will be in his ward
Ash's supportive position on building Fire Station 4 is another element of continuity he will provide on the council. He said he was pleased to see the funding to build the station in the southwest portion of his ward is already in the city budget.

"The next step is the money to equip and staff it," Ash added.

As to why he sees the station as vital, he said he believes "public safety is the number one job of government. For the city, that includes both fire and police."

Ash said that in the month before his swearing-in, he plans to be doing his homework.

"Mayor (Philip) Craighead was by yesterday and brought a copy of the budget," he said two days after the election, adding that the budget is a book about two inches thick, so it will require some study.

Ash served on several major committees on the County Commission, including Emergency Management, Budget and Finance, Education, and Planning and Zoning. He said he thinks that experience will help him be a good city councilor.

'It's all tax money'
Regarding the budgets of the two governments, he said, "The only real difference is the total dollars. The city budget is $25 million and the county is $200 million, but it's all taxpayers' money. It still has to be properly handled."

Ash also plans to visit other city departments this month and next. "It's one of my priorities to go to the fire stations and police station," he said, "to talk to the people and see what they need and how I can support them."

The Ward 4 councilor-elect said he still thinks his original reason for getting into politics is valid. "I started in 1994 because I thought taxes were too high," he recalled. "I ran for commission, and I won. Then in '95, they presented a 10-cent property tax increase and I voted against it. And when the county finance officer found a $250,000 surplus, I suggested we give it back - and we did."

In his years in county government, Ash has learned that taxes are necessary, he said, but he still thinks raising them should be a last resort.

"I've learned that government runs on taxes, so we have to have them," he explained.

"But raising taxes should be the last resort, after we've cut costs and budgeted carefully, so we're sure it's needed."

Supports controlled growth
Ash is also planning on meeting with City Attorney Andy Wright and with City Planning Director Paul Corder to focus on growth issues.

The development that has been booming in the Mt. Juliet area will continue to move east into Lebanon, Ash predicted. And when it does, he said, he thinks infrastructure, sewer, roads, police and fire protection should come before growth.

"If we have the infrastructure, the development will follow," he said. "We have a lot of developable area, but I would want planned, controlled growth for the betterment of the city."

Born at the old Martha Gaston Hospital, now Cedarcroft Home, the Lebanon native grew up working in his dad's businesses - first a grocery, and later a drilling business.

Later, he also spent a few years in Houston, Texas, working in the oilfields there.

His years away from town also included the years he spent in the U.S. Air Force after graduating from Lebanon High School in the Class of '65.

Veteran, photographer, cyclist -- Ash, a Vietnam veteran, is currently the county veterans' services representative. He's also a member of the Vietnam Veterans, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the American Legion.

His wartime service in the military also introduced Ash to a second career. "I bought a Minolta in Vietnam and took hundreds of pictures," he recalled. So after he returned to Lebanon, taking photos became an occupation, not just a hobby he enjoyed. He ran his own photography studio for about 20 years.

These days, his favorite pastimes are riding his Harley-Davidson motorcycle and collecting and restoring antique motor scooters. He has three - a 1954 Cushman, a 1960 Cushman Eagle, and a 1966 Vespa.

And of course, his all-time favorite pastime, he said, is politics and public service.

Writer Connie Esh may be contacted at cewrites@yahoo.com.

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Elections/Politics
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Bernie Ash, city council, councilman, Lebanon, Lebanon City Council, Wilson County
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