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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Passing the baton

I shared these remarks tonight at a reception for incoming and outgoing Mayor and Aldermen.  

A city’s progress is measured in quarter centuries, not quarters.

Those were the words of then Chamber-president Keith Wilson in his parting speech.
I’ve taken those words to heart, maybe because I was approaching 25-years’ service when he said it – and it caused me to reflect on my own career.  Had our work been productive? Was our community progressing?

And I concluded it was.  Because we inherited an awesome legacy of community service and responsibility that we call, the Kingsport Spirit.

Leadership Kingsport teaches us to be community trustees.  We each take a turn carrying the baton for one leg of the race.  Some of us (yours truly) run a little slower than others, but we’re surrounded by a supportive team that’s cheering us on.  That’s how a community makes sustained progress over a long period of time.  We each hold our community in trust for our leg of the race, then we hand off to another.  

And a community is more than government.  It’s every volunteer, every sponsorship, every donation. 

As I think about those we are recognizing today, I think about years of service before (and after) elected office – building the greenbelt, weekly visits to the pediatric ward with the football team, volunteering as band parents, working on a 21st century animal center, chairing Fun Fest, presiding over the Chamber, leading the Convention & Visitors Bureau, serving on the Planning Commission, teaching the next generation in our school system, loving on our senior adults, organizing a neighborhood association, coaching our kids in youth sports, and mentoring our best and brightest at our regional university.

Volunteering your time is one thing, but running for elected office is whole other level.
Everywhere you go, someone has advice or criticism.  It becomes part and parcel of your daily life – and your loved ones.  It takes a thick skin.  And sometimes you must wonder why you do it.

But what if you didn’t?  How different a community we would have if good people chose to sit out. 

The Model City Charter calls for non-partisan officials to be elected at large – who think at large – for the good of the whole.  You don’t represent a ward or a district, you represent the entire city.  The decisions you make are vetted in the context of the greater good for the greater number.

Many (if not most) think you’re paid a handsome salary for your service.  Of course, we know better.  That, too, is part of the Model City Charter.  You do it because you love Kingsport, not because it supplements your salary.  The time you give is truly sacrificial.  It is time away from your family, your business.

And Kingsport has a history of embracing candidates without regard for race or gender stereotypes.  I’m always proud to say that Kingsport elected Richard Watterson at-large shortly after the Civil Rights Act – and he served 24 years until he chose to retire.  Kingsport had the first at-large elected female mayors in the region – Ruth Montgomery and Jeanette Blazier.  Ruth also served as county commissioner, state representative and state senator prior to becoming Mayor.  

And for the first time, our board is 43% female, which is getting closer to reaching the overall demographic of females over 18 in our city – which is 55%.  Of more concern to me is that I realize I’m older than 3 BMA members, which is certainly a first for me personally.       

Over the years we’ve had aldermen who were born and raised in Kingsport, but we’ve had others who recently relocated.   Whether you’ve lived here 100 years or a 100 days – your opportunity is the same. 

I’ve witnessed many, many boards and board meetings over the years.  At times the debate is heated, but never for one moment have I doubted that every person around the table was doing what they believed best for the community at large.  They may have disagreed about the path to get there or how much it cost, but they hold the public trust.  They exercise their fiduciary responsibility with the greatest care and concern for the public’s money.  And when the decision is made, they come back in two weeks to make yet another important decision.  And…one day…we will all pass the torch.  It’s inevitable.  For some that’s soon, for others it may be a few years down the road.  But on our watch, on our leg of the race, let’s carry it with the highest level of integrity…with our heads up and looking towards the future…and nurturing the next wave of leaders who will take the handoff from us.     

Kingsport truly is a Model City.   Your service has and will make a difference.

Thank you, from a grateful community. 
Kingsport is located on the Tennessee-Virginia border at the crossroads of I-81 and I-26 near the geographic center of the Eastern U.S. This city of 50,000 in a metro of 308,000, was planned by renowned American planner John Nolen in his office at Harvard Square. Located in the lush green foothills of the Tennessee Valley, it is surrounded by the Southern Highlands and mountain lakes. Kingsport is home to Marriott’s and thousands of acres of unique, natural amenities at Bays Mountain and Warriors Path Parks. The natural geography provides a temperate, well-balanced climate with four seasons and a natural shelter from extreme weather. Population growth has also been well-balanced, ensuring you will not outgrow your decision to relocate. With no personal property taxes, special assessments, or state income taxes on salaries/wages, you’ll find that Kingsport has a very low cost of living coupled with an exceptionally high quality of life (see for yourself at The regional airport (TRI) has direct flights to Atlanta, Charlotte, Orlando and St. Pete/Clearwater with easy access, parking, and virtually no security lines. The public education system was planned by Columbia University and Newsweek has repeatedly recognized the local high school as one of the best in America. Year in and year out our graduates go on to the top colleges and universities (and without costly private school tuition fees). Harvard also recognized Kingsport in 2009 with the Innovations in American Government Award for its higher education initiative. What are you waiting for? It’s time to leave the high costs, traffic jams, and stress behind and discover this hidden gem.