Loudon will see a familiar face at mayor.
Incumbent Jim Greenway is being challenged by incumbent Loudon City Councilman Jeff Harris.
Both are running with a similar goal — keep up the momentum each feels has been built over the last four years since both took office.
“We have a new city manager and we’ve gotten on a path now of Loudon growing, and I would like to continue working with the manager and the council and see where we can take Loudon,” Greenway said. “I’m excited about where we’re going, and the opportunity to stay with the council and try to get something done is something I want to do.”
For Harris, it’s a matter of building on what has been accomplished already.
“I think the biggest thing for me is I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the four years I’ve been on city council,” Harris said. “I believe we’ve left some things undone. Going forward I think we’re in a position where the future looks really bright and I want to just keep moving forward and being involved with the decisions that we’ve got. There’s a lot of things going on in the background that are going to come to fruition in the next four years. I really want to be a part of that and those things get completed and just see our town continue to move forward.”
His biggest focus will be on making sure current projects come to completion.
“In my mind the first thing we’ve got on our plate is to get the relocation of city hall and Loudon Utilities service center going,” Harris said. “That’s the biggest thing right now is I think we’ve got to get that going, get everybody out of this building, get them transitioned, relocated and get that all up and running.”
In addition, Harris hopes to see road projects, specifically at Queener Road, completed. Clearing the former Hutch property should also be a priority once remediation of underground storage tanks and asbestos abatement is complete.
“Then we can start tearing the buildings down,” Harris said. “I would just like to see the buildings torn down, the property disposed of and the riverfront cleaned up. Let’s just plan some green space for now and let’s see what kind of interest that provokes with developers and see what kind of interest that generates. For me, I don’t know that we need to just go in there and start building things right now. Let’s just get it cleaned up. I think that would create a lot of interest and people would see it moving forward.”
For Greenway, while the city hall move and beginning development of the riverfront are vital to the future, so is making a shift into more commercial recruitment versus the current heavy reliance on industry.
“I would like to see in the next four years a way to shift our revenue dependency from industry into commercial and try to attract younger families in here to come and live,” Greenway said. “If we can get young people living here Loudon will grow. They can work in Knoxville, they can work in Blount County, but we want to make Loudon a place they want to raise their children. We’ve got great parks and the opportunity to grow down here on the river. That’s the direction I would like to get Loudon growing in. … We’re running out of industrial land, so we’ve got to figure out a way to shift gears and get in on the commercial end of it more.”
Plenty of challenges face the city in the next four years.
Greenway said those including remediating wastewater overflows, increasing capacity of the water treatment plan and moving forward with development of city owned properties, all of which come with a price tag.
Doing all that while also maintaining current infrastructure such as roads is where the challenge surfaces, Greenway said.
“We’re getting all this money but we’re not getting any streets paved unless we’re getting grants for it,” he said. “We’re beginning to work on the sidewalks and the public works department since we have a new head in there with Ellis Scruggs, he’s beginning to get more things underway than we had. So that’s promising for the future.”
Harris sees recruitment of industry to the industrial parks, retail to highway 72 and housing for those working in those areas as the biggest challenges ahead.
“I think we’re running out of housing for people to live here,” Harris said. “They come and work here, but then they leave and go somewhere else to live. I think we’ve got plenty of jobs here, we’re getting more industry to come in here, but I think housing has got to be a top priority and I think it’s going to be a challenge for us.
“... I think the biggest thing we need to do is look at our subdivision regulations and our planning documents and our building codes,” he added. “I’ve talked to some developers and a lot of the communities around us have a minimum lot size of 50-foot frontage. Ours is 75. When you calculate that into the price per foot, that extra 25 feet drives our cost way up. So if you an get that down to 50 feet, which is what all the counties around us are doing, I think that would attract more business.”
Each candidate boasts different leadership skills.
For Greenway, experience as a ranger in a state park, managing other personnel, as well as time working as a teacher and school administrator give him a leg up working with people.
“Whatever you can say about school teachers, you need to thank them and praise them because of the effort they put forth with children, with parents,” Greenway said. “It’s an education in itself working with that many people and being able to reach some sort of consensus with them. … That’s the experience I think I have is being able to work with people regardless of personal feelings.”
For Harris, it is time in management, whether it be staff supervision, department manager, plant manager or general manger positions.
“Through all those experiences I have been well-trained and facilitated self-training, self-directed work teams,” Harris said. “I really believe that teamwork is the way we’re going to get things done. I believe that’s the path that we need to take and I just think we all need to work together. So I think my strength, No. 1 is I think I’ve got leadership qualities and those leadership qualities could be put into play to just help us get together, get our team together.”
Challenger in Greenback
Tom Peeler has served Greenback for four decades.
“Forty years of the most experience and interesting thing I’ve ever done all my life,” Peeler said. “I wasn’t a politician, I hated politics. My dad was a big politician and I got fed up with politics when I was a kid and I swore I would never get involved in politics, but then when I decided to run for mayor, they told me, ‘It’s not political, Tom. There’s no parties, Democrat or Republican. It’s just somebody runs for mayor, they get elected and they take it’.”
Now he’s hoping to get re-elected after initially mulling retirement. That changed when people approached him to continue, he said.
“This is my life right here,” Peeler said. “I love this community, it’s been good to me, and I want it to stay that way and I just feel obligated to help. I can’t live in this town with somebody that I thought might take it the other way, downhill. So they told me to run and, anyway, I’m back in the race again. I’m looking forward to it.”
Peeler hopes to see through a project to rework the city park.
“We’re going to enlarge the city park here in town and the tennis courts behind the community center ...,” Peeler said. “We couldn’t afford to keep them up and the kids tore them up from playing on them, baseball, football. ... If I get elected, the tennis court’s going to come down. Probably about one quarter of it or so will be used for additional parking and the baseball field will remain as is for the kids to play on. We’re going to build an additional building right behind the existing fire hall, we’re going to build another building to house our mowing equipment in.”
The fire department will also build a new fire hall on property behind the People Promoting Animal Welfare clinic, Peeler said.
Dewayne Birchfield hopes to bring a new, but still known, face to the mayoral seat after serving 2010-16 as an alderman.
The city’s prior consideration of doing away with the baseball field was also an initial point of contention.
“Ronnie Lett (fire chief) — our fire department does a fantastic job, but I couldn’t see giving up the baseball field for them to build a building to put that ladder truck in,” Birchfield said. “... That upset a lot of people and I thought, ‘Well, nobody else ain’t going to stand up, I’m going to try to.’ They changed their mind last night at the meeting I went. They’re going to give him the land behind the PPAW right there to build his building.”
Hopes are to get younger people involved in the city’s workings because “it’s going to be their future,” he said.
“A lot of kids I think today the ones that are growing up that are in their late 20s or early 30s, they’re wanting to come back to Greenback to the little town they grew up in or whatever,” Birchfield said. “I just think they should get involved. They’re the future of this little, old town.”
Birchfield believes communicating more to the public about what the city is doing could help involve more youth.
“These young kids, these little kids that are playing these balls and going right on up — little boys and girls — right on up to high school, their parents have got to get involved not just with the kids up there but they got to take a little pride in the community because that’s where these kids are raised up at,” Birchfield said. “... I ain’t got nothing against Tom, the current mayor, but I think it’s just time that we get a little more closer to the people in this town.”