Staff File Photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey participates in a county commission meeting at the courthouse.
Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey will leave office in January, but he will become more influential than ever, according to Gov.-elect Bill Haslam.
Haslam on Friday named 67-year-old Ramsey his deputy governor and chief of staff.
Haslam, now the mayor of Knoxville, said Ramsey was an obvious choice because of his experience and skills.
"At the end of the day in local government, you have to solve the problem," Haslam said Friday during a news conference in the Hamilton County Commission room. "You have to make it work, and Claude has done that as a mayor very, very successfully."
Ramsey has served 16 years as mayor and easily won a fifth term in the August elections.
He will resign effective Jan. 11, and the Hamilton County Commission will choose his replacement.
Ramsey said it was an offer he could not turn down.
"It's a very special day for me. I'm humbled that you would ask me to be a part of your team," Ramsey told Haslam.
Ramsey, who's associated with bringing high-profile deals such as the Volkswagen plant to Hamilton County, said the unfinished deal with Amazon.com for a distribution facility won't be affected by his early departure.
"The team is in place for Amazon," he said. "The team is in this room. The staff knows what I'm doing. We'll continue to do business as we move toward moving to Nashville. One of the things that we discussed was we have unfinished business. [Haslam] has the same situation in Knoxville. Those teams are in place."
Haslam said he would make sure Ramsey always has time to stay involved where he needs to be.
Ramsey did not answer a question on whether he will take his staff with him to Nashville. He also insisted he would not be involved with picking his successor.
Ramsey likely will make more money as the deputy governor, but Haslam's transition team did not release salary information. Ramsey now earns $146,607 a year, with a salary budget of $425,000 and a five-person staff.
Gov. Phil Bredesen's office reported Gerald Nicely, the current deputy governor, makes $180,000, but he also noted the governor sets those salaries.
Haslam said Ramsey will be his problem solver, his representative in matters both internal and external.
"He literally is the person who is at the right hand of the governor," Haslam said. "It will mean a variety of assignments."
The choice received universal applause at the Hamilton County Courthouse and beyond.
Richard Wilson, a professor of political science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, hailed it as an "outstanding choice," noting Ramsey's lengthy record of public service as a state legislator and a local politician.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., a former Chattanooga mayor, also released a statement praising Haslam's pick.
"He will be a tremendous asset to the Haslam administration as they work to recruit business and bring good jobs to Tennessee, and I look forward to him replicating his efforts in Hamilton County in counties across our state," Corker said.
Haslam said Ramsey's reputation as someone who facilitated growth in the county was a big factor in his decision.
"I want to make Tennessee the very best state for attracting high-quality jobs," Haslam said. "Claude obviously has a great track record there, and that's something that obviously had a great appeal to me."
Ramsey promised his family is not leaving Hamilton County.
"We're just going to have a little place to hang out when he'll let me go home," Ramsey said.
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Dan Whisenhunt covers Hamilton County government for the Times Free Press. A native of Mobile, Ala., Dan earned a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Alabama. He won first place for best in-depth news coverage in the 2010 Alabama Press Association contest; the FOI-First Amendment Award in the 2007 Alabama Press Association contest; first place for best public service story in the Alabama AP Managing Editors contest in 2009 for economic coverage; and ...