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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Hamilton County District 9 School Board member Steve Highlander is seen during a Hamilton County Schools budget work session on Thursday, March 14, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

This story was updated with additional information on Wednesday, June 9, 2021 at 6:31 p.m.

Hamilton County Board of Education member Steve Highlander, R-Harrison, was appointed to the Hamilton County Commission on Wednesday.

Highlander, 69, who has served on the school board for seven years, was appointed in a 5-2 vote to fill the District 9 commission seat vacated last month by Chester Bankston, R-Ooltewah.

"I am praying for wisdom to make the right decisions in this seat," Highlander, who made a name for himself on the school board by advocating for safety issues and creating a performance evaluation with incentives for the superintendent, told the Times Free Press late Wednesday.

"I'm a Republican but I like to work with everyone," he said of his political bent. "I'm a progressive Republican, or like a Theodore Roosevelt Republican."

Highlander was a teacher in Hamilton County for 29 years, then taught in Georgia for 14 years. Now he serves as a pastor at Tremont Baptist Church in North Chattanooga and raises livestock.

Last week, the eight remaining commissioners failed to appoint a replacement for Bankston out of the eight community applicants seeking appointment to the seat.

With the commission at loggerheads, the vote was taken back up today, with seven commissioners present.

Commissioner Warren Mackey nominated Highlander, who was supported then by Commissioners Tim Boyd, Randy Fairbanks, David Sharpe and Sabrena Smedley, giving him the five votes required for the seat. Commissioners Chip Baker and Greg Martin favored applicant Jeff Eversole.

Neither Dean Moorhouse nor Shannon Stephenson, the subjects of unsuccessful votes last week, received nominations.

Highlander was sworn in at the end of the meeting after thanking the commission for the appointment.

"I'm very thankful for the opportunity to continue to serve," Highlander said to the commission.

"I'm very thankful to serve the citizens of District 9, but also all the citizens of Hamilton County," he said. "Thank you ladies and gentlemen for your confidence."

With Highlander joining the commission, the county must now make another appointment: someone to replace him on the school board.

While the county attorney said he is unaware of any county rule that prohibits Highlander from serving in both capacities, Highlander said he would not want to sit on both panels long term.

"I'm not sure if you can serve the short term or not, but my intention is not to serve long term. I think it would be a conflict of interests," Highlander said. "And I would need to concentrate on the commission job."

Highlander will represent Harrison, Ooltewah, Collegedale and Apison as the District 9 commissioner, mirroring the area he now represents on the school board.

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at staylor@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.

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