Looking Back

Two perspectives: A farewell, a hello

Posted 9/10/18

When  Cleveland Mayor Bill Schultz asked me to run for the office of mayor upon his retirement, he explained, "You will be ready to go to work right away."As a radio reporter, I had been …

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Looking Back

Two perspectives: A farewell, a hello


When  Cleveland Mayor Bill Schultz asked me to run for the office of mayor upon his retirement, he explained, "You will be ready to go to work right away."

As a radio reporter, I had been attending Cleveland City Commission meetings for more than 20 years and was already familiar with the people and the issues. So he  had confidence I would be prepared on day one to succeed him as mayor. His endorsement and vote of confidence meant a great deal to me as I accepted the challenge.

My very first campaign slogan was In Touch. I was in touch with city government, of course. I had been in touch through my work in the broadcast and radio business.  But both Sandra and I were also in touch with many people and their concerns through our participation in clubs, charities and organizations throughout the community.  This past 27 years as mayor and first lady of Cleveland, we have both strived to stay in touch with  what is important to the citizens of Cleveland.

I recall one of those pre-mayor community concerns was what to do about some historical land at Red Clay. A brewery was eyeing that site because of the beautiful spring and its clear water. Col. James F. Corn, a dear friend and former Cleveland mayor and state representative, bought that historic site to save it, and resold it to the state at his cost.

Then the challenge was to convince the state that Red Clay, as the last Eastern Cherokee capital, should be a state park. Corn and I formed the Cherokee Red Clay Association and we took up the challenge. There were numerous trips to Nashville with Corn, state Sen. Ben Longley and others to talk with Gov. Winfield Dunn and other state officials.

That experience probably was preparing me for the future as mayor of Cleveland,  because  of the valuable lessons learned about the importance of networking with state and federal government agencies. You are never too old to learn, and I gained a great deal of knowledge in those days of lobbying for our new state park. 

Today, Red Clay is a major part of our tourism program. It's exciting to see that the local Cherokee story is still being developed, thanks to the work of the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce and the Charleston/Calhoun/Hiwassee Historical Society. The work goes on.

The late 1970s and 1980s were a busy time for Cleveland. There was competition over where one of the states new community colleges would be built. Local citizens were advocating that Cleveland State Community College be one of them.

And there was competition over just where one of the last East Tennessee sections of Interstate 75 should be located. It has been exciting to watch the evolution of the CSCC campus, and today share as the college goes into its 50th year with plans for revitalization and refurbishing of the campus. 

It was during those years that Sandra and I started The Empty Stocking Fund, to make sure all of Cleveland's foster children are remembered at Christmas. Just three years ago, the Empty Stocking Fund merged with the Cleveland Children's Christmas Party begun by the late Rev. M.E. Littlefield and the Making Christmas Memories program started by Brenda Lawson. Together, the three organizations  working with the city and county school systems  serve more than 1,000 children  each year at Christmastime.

So, reflecting on my first election in 1991, the campaign slogan was correct. Sandra and I were in touch with Cleveland on many fronts. The voters agreed with  Mayor Schultz's recommendation, and I entered the  city mayor's office on Sept. 9, 1991, with a long list of goals.

Our city is blessed to be filled with so many talented, enthusiastic citizens, city employees and department heads. We are indeed "The City With Spirit." It is a  can-do spirit.  With the help of many people who donated their time and energy, together we accomplished almost all of those goals over the years.

We are a city with a spirit of patriotism, as well. I became master of ceremonies for our Memorial Day and Veterans Day events 50 years ago. We always have several hundred people attend. That duty has been passed along to very capable hands now. But the work continues for a Southeast Tennessee Veterans Home, and soon a planned city park on the Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway at Spring Creek will serve as a tribute to veterans, past and present. 

Today we have an outstanding Museum Center at Five Points, a modern Cleveland Regional Jetport, citywide bus service through the Southeast Tennessee Human Resources Agency, a refurbished and historic railroad depot building that serves as the bus service hub, and a popular Greenway that continues to expand. We are a Tree City USA, and a state Three-Star Community (a definite "plus" when it comes to recruiting businesses and industries).

In keeping with that original campaign slogan, I appointed a Diversity Committee and a Teen Advisory Board during those first years as mayor. We also initiated an annual "State of the City" address before the Kiwanis Club. It has since become a tradition, and now the county mayor delivers a "State of the County" address before the Kiwanis Club, as well.

With the late ATF Agent Courtney McGrady, we organized Cleveland 100. Local business and community leaders contribute to a fund each year to support the families of first responders who lose their lives in the line of duty. Since we began in 1996, we have lost three first responders in the line of duty. We have added scholarships and training for emergency services personnel and/or students entering one of the professions.  Each year we honor the acts of courage and community devotion shown by individual first responders. Cleveland 100 has become a tremendous success, thanks to the support of so many people who embraced that vision.

Our city also constructed an Emergency Services Memorial Wall  at Five Points near the Museum Center. Other cities have memorials to law enforcement officers, or to firefighters. Ours, to my knowledge, is the only one in the state that remembers those from all our first-responder agencies who lost their lives while serving and protecting. 

One of the goals yet to be reached is the return of passenger-rail service in Cleveland. The mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, and I co-chaired the Tennessee-Virginia Amtrak Initiative. The goal was Amtrak service from Virginia through East Tennessee, including Cleveland. One problem was that Amtrak had to continue buying rolling stock each time passenger rail funds were appropriated. And railroad officials could never be convinced to share profitable freight lines with passenger service.

The silver lining, however, is that the railroad eventually donated our historic depot to the city and we provided a place for railroad crew changes in return. Restored to its look of yesteryear, the depot is once again in the transportation business as part of our city bus system.

Our strong economic growth, population increases, expanding network of streets, sidewalks, Greenway routes and tourism have always had one thing in common –  great people.

Each year, our city receives accolades from national publications and financial think tanks that confirm these facts, and put our great city on the map around the world.

It's an exciting time to live in the city of Cleveland. Our newest industrial park is nearly ready for business and is already getting serious corporate attention. A new school is nearly ready to be added to the City Schools system.  A new station, Firehall 6, has opened to serve the new industrial area and sector of the community. Planning is underway to  further enhance downtown and improve streets. Those are only a few of the things in the works.

 Just as Mayor Shultz put his confidence in me to lead the city he loved, I have in turn done the same with the young man who was elected  in August of this year to succeed me as mayor of the city I love. Mayor Kevin Brooks has the same passion and spirit I possessed in 1991 when I took on the challenge. I have witnessed him in action for more than 12 years as a legislator, and before that as a volunteer community leader. I know his family, his faith and I know his heart. I have every confidence he is the man for the job and will keep our city on track for greater things in the future.

Newly elected Mayor Kevin Brooks and Councilman Ken Webb,  plus re-elected Councilmen Charlie McKenzie and Bill Estes, will join current Cleveland City Council members Dale Hughes, David May, Tom Cassada and Avery Johnson to lead the city to an even greater future.

We truly live in "The City With Spirit." One of the greatest honors in my life is to have served this city as its ambassador and as mayor of Cleveland, Tennessee.


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