East Ridge mayor won't seek re-election

East Ridge Mayor Mike Steele said he won't run for re-election because of "other competing interests that deserve more of my time than the city."

A Southern Baptist preacher and the owner of a tax processing business, Mr. Steele said he has several grandchildren that he's missed being around and wants politics out of their childhood.

"It's negatively impacting my family to stay in this role," he said.

He said politics had a better effect on him, despite an ouster suit brought by several East Ridge residents in 2009 and community scrutiny for spending $90,000 for city public relations.

In fact, Mr. Steele said his biggest achievement came from the taxpayer-funded image makeover for East Ridge. He remembered a "malaise" associated with living in the city when he took office in 2006.

"We didn't seem to feel real good about who we were," he said.

Launched with a Waterhouse Public Relations-coordinated news conference in March, the mayor's new homeowner initiative created more than $2 million in May home sales for the city, records show.

It was the latest in a series of media campaigns started by East Ridge since hiring Waterhouse in 2009.

City employees were not cultivating long-lasting relationships with the media, Mr. Steele said, so he defended his hiring of the outside PR firm.

"If you do not spin your story in a way that the community gets a clear understanding of what you're trying to accomplish for them, somebody's going to do it for you," Mr. Steele said.

However, in a brief 2009 court case, several residents attempted to oust Mr. Steele, arguing that the mayor, a part-time employee as defined in the City Charter, overstepped his bounds.

"In their mind, they believed I was doing some things I should not have done," Mr. Steele said. "That's a good thing, keeping elected officials in check. But there was nothing there, no substance to it, nothing I had done wrong."

Mr. Steele said the experience didn't shake him and proved his opinion that popularity doesn't always come with positions of power.

"Some people get into politics to be called the mayor," he said. "If that's your reason for running, please don't."

East Ridge City Manager William Whitson said he was impressed from his first morning on the job, when Mr. Steele greeted him in his office and said a prayer.

"He has consistently demonstrated an ability to rise above the negative voices," Mr. Whitson said. "That is what I truly have grown to respect and admire about our mayor."

Former East Ridge Mayor Donald Huskey, Robert L. Frye and current Councilman Brent Lambert have filed papers for an East Ridge mayoral run. The election is Nov. 2.

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