NASHVILLE — Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly has tapped businessman and longtime Republican activist Oscar Brock for a newly created role as the city's director of intergovernmental relations.
It comes as Kelly seeks to forge stronger ties with leaders in Hamilton County, those in other municipalities within the county and nearby counties and cities in Southeast Tennessee, as well as state and federal lawmakers and officials.
"Oscar will be reporting directly to the mayor and really liaising with the mayor and our fellow governments," said Ellis Smith, the city's director of special projects.
Kelly, who succeeded two-term Mayor Andy Berke, a former state Democratic legislator who sometimes had fraught relations with both Republican state legislators and Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger, expects Brock to "fill a critical need for Chattanooga to re-engage with our region, re-engage with our friends at the county and re-engage with our friends in Nashville and D.C. in a more consistent and deeper level, and really have that be a two-way relationship," Smith said.
Smith said Brock's job will be "managing, directing and implementing the city's agenda at every level of government."
Smith said Brock will attend some meetings Kelly can't get to amid other pressing mayoral business.
Brock, 58, is a realtor and has served as a managing partner of several real-estate management companies. He is one of the Tennessee Republican Party's two national committee members. He is being paid an $84,000 annual salary in his new role.
Kelly won the city's nonpartisan mayoral post in an April 13 runoff election against Kim White. He took office as mayor several days later and his 100th day as mayor is fast approaching.
Brock, who assumed his new duties in June, said Kelly has a "compelling vision for a community where we work together not only within the city, but throughout our region, state and country for the benefit of Chattanooga residents."
He said, "I look forward to working with folks I've known for years: elected officials at the cities and counties throughout Southeast Tennessee, my friends in the state legislature and, of course, our outstanding federal delegation, as we work together to build a better community."
Brock will not be registered to lobby state lawmakers and other officials and won't be lobbying, according to Smith. City government also has a lobbying firm representing its interests at the state level.
The head of Hamilton County's seven-member legislative delegation, state House Finance Committee Chair Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, praised Kelly's selection of Brock.
Calling him an "excellent choice," Hazlewood noted she has known Brock for three decades going back to when he worked for the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce and she, as a businesswoman, served as a volunteer on chamber-related matters.
"He's already reached out to me and other members of the delegation, as has Mayor Kelly," Hazlewood said. "So I'm looking forward to, let us say, maybe [improving] relationships between the delegation and the city government, just more communication than maybe we've had in the past."
Hazlewood said she's hoping for "more open communication, there's a myriad of things that happen in Nashville that impact the city."
Efforts to reach Coppinger through a spokesperson were unsuccessful on Tuesday.
Many, but not all, the Southeast Tennessee local officials, as well as state and federal lawmakers, are Republican.
Brock, the son of the late U.S. Sen. Bill Brock, R-Tenn., has run for office himself, losing a 2006 bid as the GOP nominee for state Senate District 10 to Berke. He later ran unsuccessfully in 2014 for a nonpartisan seat on the Hamilton County Board of Education.
Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, a former Chattanooga city councilman, is one of just three state Democratic legislators in East Tennessee and was complimentary of Brock's selection.
"Firstly, I think Oscar, when I say he's suited for such a position, I do think he has the ability to work with people," Hakeem said. "I'll use the term: both sides of the aisle. He knows how to build relationships, and I think he's a good selection for the position."
But the newly created liaison position — and Brock's appointment — was news to Hakeem.
"No, this is my first hearing of it. Quite frankly I'm not tied into the inner circle," Hakeem said. "Some things I know about ahead of time, some I don't. This is one I have no knowledge of."
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550.