An era will soon come to a close when Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland leaves office next week after leading the city for an unprecedented 27 years.His successor, Mayor-elect Kevin Brooks, will take the …
An era will soon come to a close when Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland leaves office next week after leading the city for an unprecedented 27 years.
His successor, Mayor-elect Kevin Brooks, will take the oath of office on Sept. 10 at the Museum Center, ushering in a new era that will most likely be associated with efforts to revitalize Cleveland's downtown, as well as ensuring the city continues its economic growth. The revitalization plan will surely be a massive, multi-year effort that will test the political instincts and skills of Brooks — all in the shadow of the city's longest-serving mayor.
Rowland’s legacy is vast. During his leadership, Cleveland has doubled in population, enjoyed low unemployment, had a new Jetport constructed, built a series of Greenway connectors that give residents better access to the city’s parks, as well as many other achievements, including convincing Whirlpool to remain in the city.
The new mayor will need strong support to cast his vision for the city.
Rowland recently sat down with the Cleveland Daily Banner to offer advice to the incoming mayor.
Rowland and Brooks are close. Their friendship began many years ago when Rowland, impressed with Brooks’ drive and determination said to himself, “This young man is going places.”
Although Brooks has been in the public eye for many years — he will soon conclude a 12-year career serving in the Tennessee House of Representatives, representing the 24th Legislative District — he will be working in a job where the demands on him will be 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In addition, Brooks will serve as mayor while working at the Church of God International Offices in Cleveland.
Rowland is confident Brooks will balance the demands of two jobs.
“Brooks is very capable,” Rowland said. “He’s already been working there while driving back and forth from Nashville to serve in the Legislature.”
Although living full-time among his constituents may result in residents jockeying for the new mayor’s time, Rowland said much of the same took place during Brooks’ tenure as state representative.
“I’m sure he’s used to that,” Rowland said.
The challenge for Brooks, according to Rowland, will be guiding the city through the downtown revitalization process, which is still in its visioning phase.
"It will be a big challenge," Rowland said.
One of the first steps, Rowland said, will be to gather support from the city’s main decision-makers.
“It’s always a good idea to get the City Council to sanction what you are doing,” Rowland said.
Rowland said a mayor can communicate his vision for the city, but will also need others to help him realize that vision.
That lesson was learned early during his years as mayor. He quickly learned that he needed the support, as well as planning expertise of local organizations, to help him attract industries to Cleveland.
Hoping to lure an aviation-parts manufacturer to Cleveland, Rowland said he made a mistake when he contacted one company before he had a plan of action in place.
“I heard this aviation company wanted to locate within 100 miles of Oak Ridge, so I called them,” Rowland said. “That’s not how it works.”
Rowland learned that he needed broad support, as well as lots of pre-planning from many organizations, to draw manufacturers to Cleveland.
“You need the Industrial Development Board, the Economic Development Board, the Tennessee Valley Authority, as well as state and federal governments involved,” Rowland said. “They all have to work together to bring industry in. And the Chamber of Commerce is the thread that sews it all together.”
One example of the mayor successfully casting his vision to achieve a goal was Rowland’s effort to establish a museum.
“I put together a committee of citizens and commissioners and charged them to build a museum,” Rowland said. “You set the goal and put a team together to reach the dream. The coach needs to have a team."
The result was the Museum Center at Five Points, one of Rowland’s proudest legacies.
For the Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway project, Rowland said it was imperative that people who helped in its planning be passionate in their work to see the project through.
“We needed people who would sleep and eat the Greenway,” Rowland said. “You need to get groups who are focused on one project. You need to know who will take a job and will work at it, instead of just accepting an assignment on a board.”
While Rowland’s tenure as mayor is marked mostly by successes, there were some lows that every mayor must expect to experience. And those lows are times when the mayor must depend on friends.
“You can't handle everything yourself,” Rowland said. “It’s good to have friends who are praying for you.”
One such low was when Whirlpool considered closing its Cleveland plant to relocate to another city.
“We thought they were going to move,” Rowland said. “It was very tense because we knew it would affect 1,500 jobs. It was the darkest time I can remember.”
Rowland said he was relieved when Whirlpool decided to remain in Cleveland.
Rowland said it is important to have an outlet from the political pressures of leading the city. As a result, he is involved in Cleveland 100, an organization he helped found in 1996 that lends financial assistance to families of fallen first responders. In addition, he is active in the Empty Stock Fund, which he and his wife established over 40 years ago. He also visits elementary schools to read to children.
And yet, while it is important to find outlets away from the political pressures that accompany leadership roles, Rowland again stressed the need to build political support to achieve big dreams. They cannot be achieved by a mayor alone.
“That’s the big challenge,” Rowland said. “You can’t do everything on your own. Sometimes you think you can, but you have to get some good people behind you. You can have the vision. You can have the dream, but you’ll need good people to help get it done.”
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