Carl Levi swirls a glass full of sweet tea and says he isn’t at all bitter after being forced to retire from his job as county trustee.
The 79-year-old, who was replaced by Bill Hullander on Sept. 1, says this is the first time he’s been unemployed since the third grade.
“It’s kind of a relief,” Levi says from a booth at Wally’s Restaurant. “Particularly when the tax bill goes out and some drunk calls you at two o’clock in the morning, complaining.”
He lost to former county commissioner Hullander in the May 4 county primary. The next day, Levi commented on his loss.
“I guess people don’t care about experience,” he said.
Last Thursday he sounded upbeat. He shook hands with the regulars at Wally’s and walked like a man 20 years younger, though the aches and pain of age force him to struggle getting in and out of his seat.
He started his working career delivering the newspaper and ended it after more than 50 years of government employment. He worked for the city of Chattanooga for decades and spent two terms as the county’s elected tax collector. Somewhere in between carrying papers and collecting taxes, he joined the Army, got married, raised a daughter and became a grandfather.
But, aside from family, his love was his work.
“I enjoyed my years at the city, and I enjoyed my years at the county,” Levi said. “I was able to help the taxpayer. You’re in a position to be helpful to others.”
He said he doesn’t regret anything about his two terms as trustee, though he’s a little disappointed in some of the staff changes Hullander implemented. Still, he said he wishes Hullander well, even though he said he’s had little interaction with him since the election.
Hullander was equally diplomatic, saying he ran for the office because he saw an opportunity and had ideas.
“Carl did a good job overall,” Hullander said. “He’s a very intelligent man. He was with the city a long time. He knows all the things, I guess, that are to be known about property taxes. I have nothing personal at all against Carl.”
Occupation: Former county trustee, Chattanooga city treasurer
Education: Degree in political science from University of Chattanooga; certified in municipal finance administration at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
Military: Retired brigadier general, Tennessee Army National Guard, served during the Korean War
Family: Daughter, Carlyn, and three grandchildren: Jordan 16, and Joshua and Jonah, 14
Levi said he ran for trustee for similar reasons. His wife, Peggy, had passed away and he had retired as Chattanooga’s city treasurer.
“I wanted to modernize the office and bring it into the 21st century,” he said.
He noted that his office received recognition from the Tennessee County Trustee’s Association under his watch. He said he made it possible for people to pay property taxes at 26 locations and opened a satellite office in Bonny Oaks where taxpayers could drive up to the door.
He quit sending receipts for payments and said it saved taxpayers $12,000 to $14,000 a year.
Hamilton County Clerk Bill Knowles, who has known Levi for decades, said the former trustee was respected among his peers.
“He’s a very patriotic person and has been very dedicated to government service for very many years,” Knowles said.
Levi said the transition from working every day to not doing much of anything reminds him of when he retired from the Army National Guard in 1987 — the routine suddenly stops.
But he’ll adjust and, he added, he’s not looking for a new line of work.
“I’ve enjoyed it,” he said, pausing to swirl his glass of sweet tea again. “It’s been good.”
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 ...