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George Poe

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- The Cleveland City Council has appointed a new vice mayor from its ranks: George Poe.

He replaces Councilman Avery Johnson, who has served in the honorary position for 14 years.

On Monday, the Cleveland City Council voted 4-3 to appoint Poe as vice mayor in accordance with a motion made by Councilman Richard Banks. Councilmen Dale Hughes and Charlie McKenzie also supported Banks' measure.

"This is no reflection on your past accomplishments or your future accomplishments," Banks said to Johnson prior to the vote. "This is just passing the torch to someone who I think is deserving [of the recognition] for his work."

Banks cited numerous donations of Poe's time and service to the city as part of his reasons for nominating him to serve in the appointment, which last two years.

Johnson expressed dismay at Bank's call for Poe's appointment and cited his own service and dedication.

"I've done just as much as anybody up here when it comes to giving back to this community," said Johnson.

"I do what I do because I'm trying to do what's right. I have no political agenda."

One of his key concerns with the vice mayor appointment procedure, is that he always understood it went to the most senior member of the City Council, said Johnson, citing prior conversations with Mayor Tom Rowland.

He did not understand why some members of the Cleveland City Council wanted to "change the rules" at this particular point in time.

Johnson, an African-American, recalled an episode that occurred in the city's government in the 1920s in which Cleveland's commission of aldermen took measures to remove the only African-American from its ranks. After that, no blacks would hold a seat on Cleveland's governing body for more than 70 years, he said.

"I know [today's vote for vice mayor] is not about black and white, but it just appears we are repeating history in a subtle-like kind of way," said Johnson, who indicated the decision to replace him with Poe might have more to do with his voting stance on issues.

"Thank God that this commission here does not have the authority to take away my ability to vote," he said.

Johnson did not elaborate on how his voting record may have initiated Banks' call to appoint Poe instead of him.

During their discussion before the vote, Banks said he thought that he and Johnson were often of a like mind when it came to handling the city's governance.

"I hope you're still my friend," said Poe to Johnson, recalling that he voted seven times to appoint Johnson to the vice mayor post in the past.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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