One year into his first term, Commissioner Jeff Eversole, R-Ooltewah, narrowly beat Commissioner Joe Graham, R-Lookout Valley, on Wednesday to serve as the next chair of the Hamilton County Commission.
The vote was 6-5 with Commissioners Greg Beck, D-North Brainerd; Mike Chauncey, R-East Ridge; Warren Mackey, D-Lake Vista, and Gene-o Shipley, R-Soddy Daisy, voting for Graham, who most recently served as vice chair. Graham also voted for himself.
Graham has served a total of nine years on the County Commission and reacquired a seat in 2022 after losing re-election in 2018 to Commissioner David Sharpe, D-Red Bank. Chauncey, like Eversole a first-term board member, will act as the new vice chair, meaning he will run meetings when Eversole is absent. He was elected unanimously.
"I think the chairmanship role is basically leading and orchestrating the future," Eversole said in a phone interview. "When you talk about where we're going as a board, where we're going as a county, it's to make sure we have the right people in the right places."
Sharpe nominated Eversole for the position.
"Over the past year, Commissioner Eversole has been a quick study and displayed a distinct commitment to examining county finances," Sharpe said in a text. "His willingness to then challenge expenditures and question processes exemplified what I desire in a colleague on the commission. We have a lot of work to do as a commission in the coming year, and it is clear that Jeff was up for the challenge."
Mayor Weston Wamp verbally attacked Sharpe during a Hamilton County area Republican meeting last week, calling him an "obstructionist with a partisan agenda." He also blasted liberal leadership in Sharpe's home turf of Red Bank, claiming the city has been run "completely into a ditch."
Chosen annually by members of the commission, the chair runs the panel's weekly meetings, has some power over the agenda and also makes assignments to committees.
This year, each commissioner is receiving a salary of $27,202. The chair receives an additional $5,000, and the vice chair is paid an additional $2,500.
The commission sometimes elevates the most recent vice chair to chair. A plaque posted outside the commissioners' fourth floor offices in the county Courthouse lists all the chairs and vice chairs since 1978. In that time, approximately half of the past 47 chairs have been elected after serving the previous year as vice chair.
Graham on Wednesday congratulated Eversole and Chauncey.
"I know you all will do an excellent job," he said during Wednesday's meeting. "I'm at your service. Anything I can do to make things better for all of us, I'm happy to do it."
Elected last year, Eversole previously served as an executive at Walmart, overseeing a group of stores and at one point managing about 4,000 associates. Eversole said he ran day-to-day operations and developed growth strategies for the company. He retired in March as senior market manager for East and Southeast Tennessee after 41 years with the company.
Standing alongside his wife, Denise, Eversole was sworn in Wednesday on the Bible that used to belong to his son, Joshua, who died in a car accident last year at 33.
Eversole succeeds Commissioner Chip Baker, R-Signal Mountain, who led the board during a period when the mayor was attempting to fire longtime County Attorney Rheubin Taylor.
As part of an agreement designed to end the dispute, the commission has since agreed to pay more than $200,000 worth of legal fees stemming from the controversy, with $151,000 of that going toward a firm, Chartwell Law, that represented the mayor.
Over the past year, new members of the commission have been confronted with challenges the board has never faced in recent memory, Eversole noted. He credited Baker with helping resolve those issues, allowing the county to get a fresh start on resolving problems directly affecting residents. That includes tackling infrastructure deficiencies in growing, outlying parts of the county.
"I think we all learned from it," he said. "We all learned different things from it. That's behind us. ... Working with the county attorney and the mayor, we were able to proceed forward and kind of get this behind us."
There are plenty of strong leaders on the County Commission, Steve Highlander, R-Ooltewah, said.
"We couldn't have gone wrong with anyone we picked," he said during the meeting.
Baker pulled the panel through some trying times, he said.
"You're like the old teacher that walked out and said, 'Boy, I'm glad this is it. Here's the keys,'" Highlander said. "You may be saying, 'Hey, I'm ready to just be a commissioner for my district and the county.'"