Regionalism hit the road when seven of the county mayors from the northeastern Tennessee region traveled to Nashville.
Governor Bill Lee called the trip historic and told the group it was the first time county mayors from an area have visited Nashville as a cohesive group.
The county mayors of Carter, Greene, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Washington and Unicoi counties discussed the trip for about a month before setting their own legislative agenda and holding meetings with commissioners from several state agencies. .
“Each mayor has had the opportunity to discuss important projects for their county with the governor and commissioners,” said Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable. “It was very important that we met so many of our lawmakers with the group to discuss county specific issues that benefit the region as a whole.”
Topics covered were economic development initiatives in a post-COVID environment, mental health, inmate professional reintegration, opioid litigation and tourism.
“We have a lot of projects here that will impact across county lines,” Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy said. “When we approached various offices to meet, it raised a few eyebrows. But we approached it with a mutual support program in various projects, and it had a huge impact.
“I think seeing the seven of us walk into a room made an impact, but seeing us all actively supporting each other is what left an impression.”
In addition to our region’s lawmakers and the Governor, the group met with State Comptroller Jason Mumpower, Finance and Administration Commissioner Butch Ealey, Corrections Department Commissioner Tony Parker, Tourism Commissioner Mark Ezell and representatives of the Ministry of Economy and Community Development, in particular Deputy Commissioner of Rural Development Sammie Arnold.
“We did a lot of ground in two days,” said Carter County Mayor Patty Woodby. “Our tourism discussions, while aimed at bringing groups together for specific events initially, can only help showcase all that our region has to offer. We want people to see our region and want to come back. “
Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” said showing up in front of the right people “hopefully spurred projects” that have stalled in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Projects such as a visitor center in Unicoi County – with improved parking and a ranger station – were in the budgets for the previous year, but did not appear to be moving forward.
“It was good for the seven of us to be there together to show a united front for projects in our counties,” Everly said.
Since the trip, Everly has received follow-up calls regarding the reception center project and said it appears to be moving forward in the coming months.
Mayors said the Everly project was not the only one to garner immediate attention after the mayors of Nashville returned.
“In Johnson County, we lost our probation office,” Johnson County Mayor Mike Taylor said. “The resolution of this issue with the Commissioner of the Corrections Department was enormous.”
As a result, the following week, three deputy commissioners representing the Department of Corrections and Probation visited Taylor in Mountain City to begin work needed to bring the probation office back to Johnson County.
“This trip and the quality of its welcome is a testament to our evolution towards regionalism,” said Taylor. “Even though our counties are all different in terms of needs, we have a lot in common, such as labor and tourism.”
Hawkins County Mayor Jim Lee said the whole trip seemed to attract a lot of attention no matter who the group met.
“This trip had an impact,” said Lee. “We have raised issues that need to be put back on track, such as funding for radio communications to keep our law enforcement and first responders connected during calls. We want them to remember we’re here in Northeast Tennessee, and we can take a trip to Nashville whenever they forget about us.
Contribution to the press