BRISTOL, Tenn. -

A packed auditorium at BMS listened closely as the two Republican candidates for Sullivan County mayor debated in an open forum on Tuesday.

They heard former Mayor Richard Venable say that there's a current crisis in confidence in the county commission. "There's been a series of events over the last couple of years where the publicity about the county commission, the actions around the county commission and the leadership have eroded public confidence in the body itself," Venable said.

"I think what he's speaking of is the fact that they didn't want me to be the chair," current county mayor Steve Godsey said.

Godsey was voted out as chairman by the commission in February after questions arose concerning his handling of the transfer of authority at the Sullivan County Highway Department. "I've been asking [to be removed as chairman] for six years," Godsey said. "So it was an oversight. I have no problems with the commission. We're working fine together."

"I think the county mayor, instead of typing the agenda, you set the agenda," Venable said.

"When you take the mayor and you put him as the chair of the commission, you take him out of any type of any involvement or leadership role in the decision making process for the things that the county commission deals with," Godsey said.

The 'county mayor as chairman' question was the only hotly-debated topic in the highly congenial candidate forum. Venable closed by saying he wants to be the face of Sullivan County again and bring stability back. "I possess a God-given ability I think to bring people together," Venable said.

Godsey made his plea and desire for one more term. "The momentum is just going so strong that for me to be set aside or step aside now, I would feel like that I only ran half the race," Godsey said. "I want to keep going for the balance of the race because we want to cross the finish line."

Early voting begins Wednesday in Blountville and April 24 in Kingsport and Bristol. The primary election is Tuesday, May 6.