Hamilton County Commission names Joe Smith to serve on school board

Joe Smith, founder of YCAP, stands outside the boxing club at 1600 Central Ave. that the YMCA plans to fix up once the building is declared surplus city property and the YMCA receives ownership of it.
Joe Smith, founder of YCAP, stands outside the boxing club at 1600 Central Ave. that the YMCA plans to fix up once the building is declared surplus city property and the YMCA receives ownership of it.
photo Joe Smith

Joe Smith will represent District 3 on the Hamilton County school board after receiving the support of five county commissioners Wednesday morning.

The school board is facing several important decisions in coming months, including the selection of a superintendent and an examination of the district's budget, and his appointment was an opportunity for the commission to place someone who aligns with its vision on the nine-member board.

Smith, a longtime YMCA official, will serve out the two remaining years of Greg Martin's term on the school board after Martin was elected to the commission earlier this month. Smith ran for the commission seat and lost to Martin on the Nov. 8 ballot.

"I'm honored and I'll hit the ground running," Smith told the commission before he was sworn into the position Wednesday.

Commissioners Tim Boyd, Randy Fairbanks, Warren Mackey, Sabrena Smedley and Chester Bankston voted for Smith, against Martin's strong recommendation that the commission name Michael Kirk as his replacement.

Commissioners Joe Graham and Jim Fields sided with Martin, voting for Kirk, director of school operations at Boyd-Buchanan. Commissioner Greg Beck abstained from the vote, saying the fatal bus crash last week that claimed the lives of six Woodmore Elementary students prevented him from having time to select a candidate, as Woodmore rests in his district.

Smith made it clear in a public forum Monday that if appointed he would represent more than District 3, which includes Hixson, Lakesite, Middle Valley and Big Ridge, and advocate for students across the district. During his career at the YMCA, where he now serves as regional director, Smith has worked with troubled kids and their families.

He and his wife have raised 19 foster kids, and he said he thinks he has been involved with nearly every school in the district over the years.

Smith also said Monday that he doesn't think the school district needs increased funding from the county, and he wants the board to take a hard look at the current budget.

During his four years on the board, Martin did not support the district asking the county for increased funding, and was adamant that the board conduct a national search to find its next leader. He voiced support of hiring someone with experience in business as the next superintendent, and Smith said he also wants a superintendent with a background in management.

James Watson, a teacher who previously ran against Martin for the school board seat in 2014, applied for the post. Longtime sports broadcaster Randy Smith, caregiver and former teacher Ann Morgan and financial management business owner Bradley D. Church also sought the school board seat.

Smedley thanked each of the six candidates for their willingness to serve on the board, especially during this tough time.

"District 3 has very qualified candidates, and your community should be very proud," Smedley said before the vote Wednesday.

The commission also discussed a 41-year tax break for a developer to completely overhaul one of the Jaycee Towers, allowing the downtown building to continue housing low-income seniors. Jaycee Future Corp. built the towers in 1970, and said the nonprofit organization no longer can afford to keep the building open.

"It's not affordable to put the kind of money it is going to take to get this building viable again without a PILOT [agreement]," said Doug Chinery, a board member of Jaycee Future Corp.

The Chattanooga City Council approved the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement, known as a PILOT, earlier this month for Wishrock Housing Partners & Investment Group. The commission is expected to vote on it next week.

Wishrock plans to renovate the 46-year-old building, and more than a dozen senior residents of Jaycee Towers attended Wednesday's commission meeting, hoping to urge the district to approve the agreement.

Mackey said the residents of Jaycee Towers are fine people and deserve a decent place to live.

"You have approved PILOT agreements for well-off people, and I'm going to ask that you give consideration to these people," Mackey said.

Graham questioned whether the building was worth the investment.

"I'm concerned that you've all had to live in a building in this shape for as long as you've had," he told the residents in the audience. "This is wrong. This has been wrong for many years."

Graham said he hasn't made up his mind about the PILOT agreement, and he questioned why the Chattanooga Housing Authority doesn't buy the building and do the needed repairs.

Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at 423-757-6592 or krainwater@timesfreepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @kendi_and.

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