Live from Music Row Thursday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Wilson County Mayoral Candidate (R) Phillip Warren to the newsmaker line to discuss his background and why he’s running against incumbent Randall Hutto.
Leahy: We welcome to our newsmaker line right now, Phillip Warren, who’s a candidate for the Republican nomination for mayor in Wilson County. Good morning, Phillip.
Warren: Good morning! Good morning.
Leahy: In-studio with me right now, somebody you know, Clint Brewer.
Brewer: Good morning, Philip!
Warren: Good morning, Clint. How are you today?
Brewer: I’m good, man. How are you?
Leahy: I’m told the two of you have known each other for decades. Is that true, Philip?
Warren: It’s been quite a while. We won’t say how long. (Laughter)
Leahy: Tell us a little bit about you. You live in Wilson County. Tell us a little bit about your background.
Warren: I was a real estate broker for probably about right at 30 years in the county. And then in 2011, I was appointed administrator of elections in the county. So for the last 12 years, 11, 12 years, I’ve been administrator of elections in Wilson County.
Leahy: That is quite a job. What’s it been like running the elections in that county?
Warren: It’s been a real challenge, but it’s been really rewarding. We went from typewriters on the desk to being a nationally recognized office. The innovation and the changes we’ve made over the last 12 years have been amazing.
And, of course, elections have changed a lot over the last 12 years also. The challenges that we had in the 2008 and 2010 elections are nothing like what came about in ’16 and ’18 and ’20 and what we’re talking about today. So it’s been a fun ride.
Leahy: Are you still in that gig or do you have to resign to run for mayor?
Warren: I had planned to retire. And term limits, I think, is a pretty important part of the government. If we had that from the courthouse to Congress, we’d be in a lot better place in this country.
So after 11 years, I decided to retire, and retired. And once I did, we kept it kind of quiet until that happened. And when I did, that’s when folks came to me and said, hey, why don’t you run for mayor?
Leahy: One of the things that strikes me about Wilson County is the huge levels of growth that we’re seeing out there. You’ve lived there for so long. What’s the impact of that growth?
Warren: Wilson County is one of the fastest-growing counties in the state. A lot of impact. Growth is probably the number one thing that is the problem or issue, or comments that I get talking to people is about the growth.
And we’ve got it in every direction in our county. So it brings a lot of challenges to the county. And in the future, that’s what we have to look at and how we’re going to deal with that in a reasonable way and a (unintelligible) physical way and build a good foundation for the future. That’s why I’m running for county mayor.
Leahy: When is the primary? What date is the primary?
Warren: May the 3rd.
Leahy: May the 3rd. So, pretty soon. You’re running against an incumbent mayor who is, I think, a Republican, Randall Hutto. Is that right?
Warren: He’s running in the Republican primary. Yes.
Leahy: So the two of you are the big candidates in that primary on May the 3rd?
Warren: That’s right. There are just two of us in that.
Leahy: So you’ve worked with him for a long time, haven’t you?
Warren: Yes! We’ve had a good relationship. He’s a good man. I’m not running against him, I’m running for county mayor.
Leahy: So you’re not running against him. But if he’s doing everything right, then why would you be running against him?
Warren: He’s been there 12 years, and the difference in our philosophies of government and differences in our philosophy of politics are tremendous.
Leahy: Okay. So now you’re talking about somebody who’s been mayor for 12 years, who you say is a good man. You’ve worked well with him in the past, but you have different philosophies of government. I’d like to hear what those differences are.
Warren: Well, I’m more of a conservative. I believe in personal responsibility and individual freedoms, no mandates, no big government, and a lot more transparency. We did that in the Election Commission.
Things are as transparent as they could possibly be and that made what we did increase the confidence in the voters. We can do the same thing on county and county governments with transparency.
How your money is spent, where it comes from, where it’s going. People can be confident that their taxpayer dollars are being spent in a wise and open way and know how it’s done.
Leahy: Are Wilson County voters not confident that their tax dollars are being spent in a wise and open way today?
Warren: I don’t think there are many citizens anywhere that are confident that their tax dollars are being spent in a wise and open way.
Leahy: What will you do differently then? On day one, if you’re the mayor of Wilson County, what will be different about what you do compared to what the current mayor, another Republican, Randall Hutto, has been doing?
Warren: In the first 90 days of my administration, we will do a top-to-down, operational review, organizational review of all the county offices under the mayor to determine what’s necessary, how they operate, who’s in control of what, and how they can be run more efficiently.
After that 90 days, we’ll put together an organizational plan so it’s clear who’s in charge of what and how the money is spent. We’ve got a pay study right now that hasn’t been released that was ordered back in October of 2021 by the County Commission.
And it was supposed to have been released in January. Our County Commission provided a 10 percent increase in pay to the boots on the ground in our emergency services last week to cover them through the end of this physical year.
That pay study hasn’t been released yet. And I have a real suspicion that we’re going to see a big deficit in what our county employees are paid compared to their peers in other counties.
So we have to deal with that. And by doing an organizational review, we’ll know where those problems are, where those issues, where issues are, and where the money needs to be spent. And on day one, that’s how we’re going to start that process.
Leahy: It sounds to me like one of your big themes is how the money is being spent. That’s what I’m hearing from you. And it sounds like you just don’t know and would like to know more about how the money is being spent. Do I have that right? Is that your big theme?
Warren: In a nutshell, yes. How the money is being spent. And then once we get that figured out, we have to figure out where the money can come from. And property taxes are not the only solution for the government.
Leahy: Do you have any sense that the money is currently not being spent properly?
Warren: No, I do not. I think it’s probably not being allocated in the places that it may need to be allocated, and that being in human and physical infrastructure in the county.
Leahy: If you were to be elected and served for a four-year term, what level of growth do you expect over the next four years in Wilson County? What’s the current population, what it will be in four years?
Warren: The population as of the Census of 2020 was 148,000, 146,000. I would imagine if we did a census today we’re going to be over 150,000. In four years it will be a significant increase.
We’re going to see in this area we live in and in Wilson County, no matter what the economy does, unless it’s just a terrible change, I think we’ll continue to see growth in this county. Those are the challenges we have to go forward with.
Leahy: I see you’re challenging a 12-year incumbent. The election is a month and a half away. What are your prospects of winning? What are you hearing? It’s very difficult to challenge an incumbent. So what kind of support do you have?
Warren: I feel like I’ve got some strong support, but you never take anything for granted. We’re working hard every day. We’re going to say we’re 10 points behind and we’ll be doing that until May 3rd.
Leahy: That makes sense. Clint Brewer, do you have any questions for your friend Phillip Warren?
Brewer: Philip, talk a little bit more about the employee situation for the listeners. Explain a little bit about the shortages and our inability to hire certain positions. I know emergency management workers has come up. Just give them a little more detail.
Warren: Yes, the emergency management in Wilson County right now has, I think, 20 open positions that haven’t been filled. There are pay discrepancies that have been noted as a problem.
They can go to other places in the area, other counties, municipalities and make more money for the same job. That’s become a real issue, or not just an issue, but a crisis to some extent.
The County Commission authorized a pay study to look at all county employees and compare their pay to their peers or to surrounding areas where the competition is. That was ordered in October last year. It was supposed to be delivered in January of this year. Well, it wasn’t.
Leahy: And so that would be one of the key issues that you would address. Phillip, thanks so much for joining us. Come back again if you would, please.
Warren: Thank you for having me.
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Phillip Warren” by Phillip Warren for Wilson County Mayor. Background Photo “Wilson County Courthouse” by Ichabod.