"Having any elected position," Chattanooga City Councilman and Hamilton County Commissioner Ken Smith said, "is not for the faint-hearted."
However, at least for another couple of months, he has two such posts.
Smith has represented District 3 (the Dupont, Hixson 2 and 3, Murray Hills 1 and 2 and Northwoods 1 precincts) on the city council since 2013. In May, he sought and was appointed to fill an interim position representing District 3 on the Hamilton County Commission.
(About 62% of the registered voters in his county district are in his city district, he said.)
Since Chattanooga and Hamilton County adopted new forms of government in the latter part of the 20th century, Smith is the only person to hold a seat on both bodies at the same time.
After the Aug. 4 election, he hopes to only have one — the county commission seat. However, a set of ducks must be put in a row before that happens.
State Rep. Greg Martin, R-Hixson, was the previous occupant of the county seat Smith now holds, and Martin is the only name on the county general election ballot for the seat. But Martin, appointed to the state legislature in April, wants to stay in the House and is also running for the position in the August primary election. When he is re-elected to the county commission seat, he said he plans to resign at the appropriate time and continue his campaign for the state House.
Smith, meanwhile, will hold the seat until the swearing-in of the new commission in late August or early September. At that point, he said, "I don't know what it's going to look like."
His understanding is things depend on when Martin resigns and when ballots for the November election are printed. If he resigns before ballots are printed, then Republicans would caucus and select a candidate to run in November for the remainder of Martin's term (and Democrats would do the same). If the ballots are already printed, another interim commissioner would be appointed, and the election to fill the remainder of Martin's term wouldn't occur until 2024.
Regardless, Smith hopes to be the caucus pick and subsequently elected, or re-appointed as an interim commissioner until 2024.
In the meantime, he has two jobs smack in the middle of budget season.
"It's an expanded amount of work, no question, and at a time when the city and county are working through their budgets," Smith said. "I want to make sure I have a full understanding and go through the budget in both areas."
In addition to budget votes, he may have critical votes in both bodies on funding for a new South Broad stadium and perhaps in the council on pieces of Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly's gun violence initiative.
However, he said nearly 10 years of experience on the city council and paying attention to the work of the county commission have made things easier.
"There's not any kind of learning curve," Smith said. "That's saved quite a bit of time."
The city council also familiarized him with how a legislative body operates, how a meeting is run, when to ask questions, when to interject a point and when to bring certain issues to the forefront.
The budgets have some differences, too.
The bulk of the county's budget goes to the county school district and cannot be less than the previous year, Smith said. The county also funds its numerous constitutional officers (sheriff, assessor of property, register of deeds, etc.).
With the city, he said, budgets are largely approved by the council and expenditures driven from the mayoral administration.
Outside the budget, Smith said the main difference is the city's home rule, meaning the council passing ordinances has the effect and enforcement of law. The county, as a subset of the state, is largely resolution-based. There, he said, "issues can be considerably easier when you're not being pressed for legal changes." With the city, you have to be careful "to protect one but not restrict others. It can be extremely complicated to navigate."
The city council, he said, meets every Tuesday evening but often for committee meetings all Tuesday afternoon.
"We're together a lot more," Smith said.
The county meets Wednesday mornings, and meetings may be 30 minutes or an hour or more, he said.
"You still need five [votes] to support anything you want done," Smith said. "Every one of my colleagues is important for what I want to do for my constituents, or the body as a whole. Each is equally important. I'm focusing on that."
The fact the city council is elected on a nonpartisan basis and the county commission on a partisan basis is not intrinsic to the work, he said.
"I want to do what I feel is best for my constituents, based on what they ask of me," Smith said. "[The work] is not partisan at the end of the day."
No matter which government he's representing, he said, his job is to "work with many different people who want different things; to bring them together and come to the best decision."
Ultimately, Smith said, everybody will be a little unhappy but also a little happy. Knowing how to work with constituents and colleagues, to listen, to get results — that's a huge part of what you're trying to do. There will be hard times and easier times, depending on what the requests are. But "you try to be respectful to everybody," no matter their viewpoint.