Wednesday morning was business as usual for the Hamilton County Commission.

There were some new faces. New commissioners were sworn in Tuesday and took to governing as soon as possible.

There also was a vote to name Sabrina Smedley as the new commission chairwoman.

After the swearing in and the photos, it was the nuts and the bolts of local government that can end insomnia and make a "Downton Abbey" rerun look like part of the "Die Hard" franchise.

Commissioners voted to continue some contracts and to buy a couple of ambulances. The votes were quick, the words few, other than Tim Boyd making sure he clarified things that did not need clarifying.

Business as usual. Businezzzzz as uzzzual.

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Helen Burns Sharp

Then Helen Burns Sharp stepped to the mic and reminded all of us about the power of good questions.

The power of individual interest. The power of decent discussion.

Burns Sharp is a regular at Hamilton County Commission and Chattanooga City Council meetings. She is the Yoda of local folks trying to keep an eye on the folks who spend our tax dollars.

Case in point: After the commission finished its votes, the members moved into announcements — a collection of shoulder patting and smiles of "Welcome aboard" and "looking forward to getting to work" with you.

"You will never be more popular than [Tuesday]," Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger told the three new commissioners Wednesday about the swearing-in process the day before.

We'll spare you the particulars, but it felt like the first day of middle school. Heck, Smedley's mom made cupcakes for everyone, for Pete's sake.

Then Burns Sharp spoke up. She asked about the Opportunity Zone and the investment opportunities in impoverished communities within our county. TFP columnist David Cook discussed the topic last Sunday.

Burns Sharp raised the topic in the most meaningful way possible. "How can we get more people in the discussion?" she asked.

And it's a fair and proper ask.

Which leads us to the question I posed to her after the meeting: "Have you ever thought of running for political office?"

I asked it not in jest or sarcasm. I asked it because after 40 minutes of details and political back-slapping, the most important 20 minutes of Wednesday's meeting — and potentially the most important fallout 20 years from now — came from a woman who had to state her address before she spoke on the fourth floor of the Hamilton County Courthouse.

"Not really," she said. "I didn't choose to become an activist. And please tell everyone I am a big admirer of the people who are willing to run for office and serve. My hat's off to people who are willing to serve 'in the arena,' as Teddy Roosevelt said."

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Jay Greeson

The back-and-forth about the Opportunity Zones — places in need that the federal government would allow tax breaks for private companies to invest in — was great.

It was cordial and informative. It represented so much of what local government should be that Randy Fairbanks asked Burns Sharp for a copy of her presentation.

Burns Sharp was quick to say that Coppinger was not to blame for the controversy over which locations were submitted for Opportunity Zone inclusion. She was quick to point toward future solutions rather than focusing on the 20/20 hindsight of quick proposals submitted under tight deadlines.

This productive discussion was brought about by one invested citizen.

Someone like you. Or me. Or your neighbor three doors down who always makes the cookout more fun.

It's a great lesson for all of us, whether we point an outraged finger at the tweeter in chief or want that swamp completely drained.

Yelling or posting on social media in all caps does not get you heard. Being informed and engaged and involved does.

And that makes a difference, with or without the hashtag.

Contact Jay Greeson at or 423-757-6343.