published Sunday, October 9th, 2011

Cleveland, Tenn., will celebrate Tom Rowland's 20th anniversary as mayor

Tom Rowland, sitting at his desk in Cleveland, Tenn., talks about his 20 years as mayor.
Tom Rowland, sitting at his desk in Cleveland, Tenn., talks about his 20 years as mayor.
Photo by Jenna Walker.
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What: Reception in honor of Tom Rowland's 20th anniversary as Cleveland mayor

Where: Museum Center at Five Points, 200 Inman St. E., Cleveland.

When: 4-6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Admission: Free

Source: MainStreet Cleveland

CLEVELAND, Tenn.—On Tuesday, Cleveland will celebrate Tom Rowland's 20th anniversary as mayor.

Rowland already was a well-known regional broadcaster when he moved to the mayor's desk.

"I would trust Tom with the keys to my house," said Larry Wallace, a former state trooper, McMinn County sheriff and deputy director of the Tennessee Department of Safety.

"Tom has always been there for me," Wallace said. "You just don't have enough friends like that in life."

Margaret Mahery, executive director of the Tennessee Municipal League, met Rowland when she served as a councilwoman and mayor in Athens. Rowland was Tennessee Municipal League president when she was hired as executive director in 2002.

"He maintains a good relationship with his legislative representatives, which is invaluable to our staff," Mahery said. "At the state level, he is a recognized leader and is a passionate representative for local government issues and interests."

Rowland started his job as Cleveland mayor with a lengthy to-do list.

That first list included a museum, a new airport, downtown redevelopment and a public transportation system. On the mayor's desk these days are plans to finish a new airport, a veterans park, a new industrial park and supporting highway expansions at Interstate 75's exit 20 and APD 40.

Rowland's wife, Sandra, said her husband's impact on Cleveland and its residents didn't sink in until they were involved in a car wreck in May 2010. Rowland had to have knee surgery, and she was treated for a fractured sternum.

"The visits, notes, calls, cards, letters that came in daily were overwhelming," she said.

"I am personally proud of the goals he set when he was elected and how many of them have come to realization. I am also proud of his leadership roles in so many state and national organizations -- this has benefited Cleveland many times through the years," she said.

Rowland is the only city mayor in the state on the Tennessee Homeland Security Committee, and he is a member of the nonpartisan Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations. Its members are appointed by top state leaders to advise on policy issues.

Rowland said that when he first was elected mayor, he was jealous of McMinn County's Living Heritage Museum. One of his first acts was to appoint a committee to explore a museum center here.

"My first thought was we could use a building like the old National Guard Armory. I wasn't thinking much out of the box," Rowland said.

The committee decided on a new building and developed the Museum Center at Five Points to anchor redevelopment of that area of town.

As a longtime "proponent of a viable downtown," Rowland was one of the people involved in establishing MainStreet Cleveland.

"What I regret is there's no place to buy an aspirin downtown. Years ago we had drug stores downtown. I would like to see something like that, different types of stores, downtown."

Even popular mayors have to smooth ruffled feathers occasionally.

Rowland and the City Council carried out long debates on issues, even leading a few times to a mayoral veto. Together they have faced crowds of concerned and sometimes angry citizens on issues ranging from racial equality to annexation.

Rowland's political opposition over the years has been weak to nonexistent on election days. He won his current term while unable to campaign after the traffic accident.

Over the years, the mayor has appointed citizens groups to study issues as they arose and make recommendations.

The latest alarm was raised over September flooding in entire neighborhoods.

Retention ponds have helped in southern Cleveland, Rowland said, and more are needed elsewhere.

Members of the crowd chuckled and nodded when the mayor said he might need to borrow someone's sump pump to clear the water under his own house.

about Randall Higgins...

Randall Higgins covers news in Cleveland, Tenn., for the Times Free Press. He started work with the Chattanooga Times in 1977 and joined the staff of the Chattanooga Times Free Press when the Free Press and Times merged in 1999. Randall has covered Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Alabama. He now covers Cleveland and Bradley County and the neighboring region. Randall is a Cleveland native. He has bachelor’s degree from Tennessee Technological University. His awards ...

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