In a few months, Chattanooga will have a new mayor and at least two new faces on its ninemember, non-partisan city council. Potentially — though not likely — there could be as many as seven new faces on the council.
Those elected to District 1 and District 2 certainly will be new, as incumbents Deborah Scott and Sally Robinson opted not to seek re-election.
The winners face a long learning curve, but they also will have a delicious opportunity to put Chattanooga back on track after eight years of Ron Littlefield’s seesaw recall petitions and a supposedly non-partisan council that became mired in Tea Party-induced bickering.
DISTRICT 1: TOM MCCULLOUGH
Chattanooga's District 1 stretches through Hamilton County from Lookout Valley over Moccasin Bend and Mountain Creek into Hixson.
Represented for four years by Deborah Scott -- the council's chief nitpicker -- District 1's voters have an opportunity to elect someone who can look at city business with thoughtfulness and a plan, not just arguments.
Tom McCullough, former principal at Signal Mountain Middle/High School and a former superintendent of Chattooga and Early county schools in Georgia, said in an interview that the city's biggest issues are police services, wastewater and leadership.
"There are fewer police boots on the ground," he said. "And I was surprised more questions were not asked about wastewater troubles."
But for the city's future, it's McCullough's leadership potential that may be most important. Leadership requires problem solving, and as a educator and administrator of 42 years, he has plenty of experience with that.
McCullough doesn't make the all-too-easy promise of no new taxes, but he doesn't embrace added taxes either.
"I'm not opposed to a tax increase ... but there needs to be discretion. I believe there is revenue that can be moved. ... I'm confident it can be made fair and equitable," he said.
He isn't jumping on the red-herring battle cry that the city overspends on public art: He knows most of the money for the art that impresses residents and visitors alike has been raised privately.
His opponents include Jim Folkner, the Tea Party gadfly who twice tried to recall Littlefield and bring more transparency to the past eight years; Pat Hagan, retired TVA accountant who said he just wanted to see what the election process is like; and Chip Henderson, a builder and developer who wants to run a city like a business.
All have laudable points. But the city now needs more than simple spreadsheets laid open to the public. It also needs vision and an ability to get along with diverse demands.
McCullough offers that.
DISTRICT 2: JERRY MITCHELL
The voters of North Chattanooga, Riverview, Lupton City, Northgate and Stuart Heights have good choices for a replacement of soon-to-be former councilwoman Sally Robinson. But one stands out.
Jerry Mitchell worked with Chattanooga’s Jon Kinsey and Bob Corker, the two city mayors who actually brought Chattanooga into the 21st century with the visionary thinking of embracing our strengths — location, location, location and a can-do entrepreneurial spirit.
Now Mitchell says he wants to see the city get back to a more open form of government and “get public safety back as the No. 1 investment the city can make.”
“The way we governed then [under Kinsey and Corker] was not so divisive and not in a vacuum,” he said in an interview with the Times Free Press editorial writers. But the council’s nine members have to be more aggressive as a group and not allow any mayor to run the whole show, he said.
“It’s not rocket science. It’s a two-way street, and I can work with people.”
Mitchell also said he would become an advocate for schools because the city’s new employers such as Volkswagen need a better-educated workforce.
“We need to figure out ways to gain seats at the [county schools] table.” he said.
As for taxes? He says no to tax increases.
“We’ll have to reassess our priorities,” he said.
Mitchell has two opponents. Priscilla Simmons, a former city accountant, says city government is too wasteful. Roger Tuder, president and CEO of the Associated General contractors of East Tennessee, started the Tennessee Stormwater Excellence Program, an initiative to educate engineers, builders and regulators about building approaches to limit pollution from parking lots and roofs following heavy rains.
Both provide thoughtful opposition, but Mitchell offers an understanding of team vision, along with the people skills needed to make ideas become realities.