Coppinger's a keeper

Coppinger's a keeper

July 27th, 2012 in Opinion Free Press

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger is known for flying under the radar - even being a little boring at times. Coppinger has an explanation for that. "I don't want to unfairly raise expectations and not deliver," he told us during a recent interview.

Geez. What kind of politician is Coppinger? After all, aren't politics built on unfulfilled promises?

That's what makes Coppinger refreshing. We get the sense that he never wanted to be a politician.

Jim Coppinger is a former firefighter who rose through the ranks until he became chief of the Chattanooga Fire Department. After retiring from the fire department, he ran for, and was elected to, the county commission as a way of staying active in the county.

After serving on the commission since 2006, the opportunity to preside over the fourth largest county in the state more or less fell in his lap in January 2011 when Claude Ramsey departed the position to serve as deputy governor under Gov. Bill Haslam. The county commission appointed Coppinger to fill the remainder of Ramsey's terms.

Since he had to learn the job on the fly, expectations of Coppinger have been tempered during his time in office. Judging by his success to this point, however, Coppinger has earned the trust of Hamilton County voters and deserves to be elected to a full term as county mayor.

Coppinger, a Republican, is facing challenges from Democrat Rick Wilson - a UTC political science professor - and perennial independent candidate Richard Ford.

Wilson's platform is almost entirely built around ideas to consolidate Hamilton County and City of Chattanooga public services. The professor lists a number of possible opportunities to consolidate that would result in savings for both the county and the city, including merging the county trustee and city treasurer offices, as well as parks and recreation and library services.

These proposals, where they benefit both governments, are worth considering. For his part, Coppinger says that he is open to discussing consolidation of certain services, but admits that since the city and county have different benefits packages, it makes merging city and county employees all but impossible.

During recent tough fiscal times for the county, Coppinger chose to close a budget shortfall through attrition, rather than calling for tax hikes. The leaner county government now costs taxpayers millions less, with no noticeable impact in the quality of service county residents receive.

This example of improving government efficiency and trimming the fat from the county budget to make ends meet, rather than raising taxes, is a reflection on his view that tax increases should only be used as a last resort.

Perhaps Coppinger's biggest accomplishment to date came when he oversaw a plan to reissue county bonds at a better interest rate, which freed up $50 million for school construction and repairs at no additional cost to taxpayers.

In his short time as county mayor, Jim Coppinger has already proven his willingness to make tough decisions and stand up for taxpayers -- further proof that, thankfully, he isn't much of a politician.

With two years of experience under his belt, we expect great thing from Jim Coppinger going forward and strongly endorse his reelection as county mayor.