Brooks seeks second term on City Council
Gene Brooks, far left, is seeking his second term on Morristown City Council.
Morristown City Councilmember Gene Brooks has spent his professional life in the service industry.
He started working at the restaurant he now owns – which began as Jack’s Drive-in and is now Justin’s – at the age of 14. Since then, except for a four year stint in the Navy that included 13-months in the Vietnam War, Brooks has worked in the restaurant business, owning one restaurant or another since he was 24 years old. He bought Justin’s in 1980.
Now, after four years on the city council, Brooks wants another term of serving the people with fiscal responsibility instead of chicken fingers.
“I just want to keep serving the people,” he said. “I think I’ve done a pretty good job, I’ve got a pretty good rapport with the people.”
Sometimes, however, Brooks says, too much service can be a bad thing, citing fellow councilmember Paul LeBel and his opponent Gary Chesney, who is filling the unexpired term of former School Board member Charles Cross, who died in a car accident.
“I’m totally against Paul LeBel serving on County Commission and serving on city council. There’s a conflict,” Brooks said. “And I think by serving on the School Board, I mean Mr. Chesney has an $80 million budget, 10,000 kids and 600 teachers to take care of, ya know?”
Brooks, who says he is a conservative but not a Tea Party conservative, is not optimistic that the economy is turning around locally.
“I know our business is off some, I know everybody says theirs is off,” he said. “As far as factory jobs we’ve lost Berkline and Shelby Williams and all those places and, gosh, we need to replace some of them.”
He is also not hopeful that the current tenor of the city council, with fairly clear divided lines, will improve any time soon.
As for the relationship with the staff, Brooks said he has “no problem” with the management team running the city, especially the fire chief and the police chief who, run highly rated departments.
In terms of the job performance of City Administrator Tony Cox, Brooks preferred not to comment specifically, noting Cox faces difficulty trying to serve a divided council.
Brooks did say he’d like to see the city administrator take a more hands on role in the operations of the city, going down to public works and getting known, and working with the employees.
Looking forward to the looming election, Brooks takes issue with a pair of directions the city has taken lately, namely the transferring of sewer responsibilities to Morristown Utility System and the creation of an airport commission to oversee operations of the city’s airport.
“Here’s the things that bother me: this airport committee and stuff, you know?” he said. “I think city council ought to be smart enough and sharp enough to be able to make a decision on whether they want (a Fixed Based Operator) … that decision ought to come through City Council. That’s what the people elected us for is to make some decisions. And to let them out to individuals, and most of them probably don’t even know what’s going on, you know? I just don’t like that. When it was going on, that’s what I told them, I think the City Council ought to make those decisions. Let us do our job.”
One of the issues Brooks is hanging his hat on is the residential garbage pickup fee of $10 per person. Brooks said he understands that Cox has worked to move the individual sections of the budget to the “enterprise system,” essentially meaning they are self-funding. But he has stood against the $10 fee since it has been first discussed.
“There is a move to raise it … there is talk to raise the fee. There’s a possibility” Brooks said. “Here is the way I feel: we cannot do the budget on the backs of our citizens.”
Brooks said, if the surpluses in the audit are correct, he’d like to see the money come from the surpluses.
During a recent budget committee discussion, it was stated that there may be an ordinance that requires the city to have a certain percentage of its operating budget in reserve. Brooks said he’s never heard that, but he’s asked to be shown that law, but hasn’t seen it yet.
Brooks said that citizens are already paying for the mistakes of the past as the city makes up for lost time doing millions of dollars in infrastructure work on roads, sewer and wastewater treatment. The city shouldn’t add to that burden.
Brooks says he does feel like he saved the citizens $1 million by working to scuttle the public-private partnership between the city and Wild Construction to build a downtown parking deck in line with the downtown aesthetics.
“Paul Diggs told me, ‘Mr. Brooks, if it’s not done right, the taxpayers will have to pay these $1.2 million tax dollars back,’” he said.
Whether or not there was actually anything wrong has been a matter of extensive debate with Brooks maintaining there was and several of the project’s planners – including Todd Morgan who has since accepted a similar job in charge of downtown improvement for the state – saying there was not.
Brooks said he doesn’t have anything personally against the Wilds.
“I want the deal to go through,” he said. “I just want it done right.”
Brooks has two daughters and a son from his first marriage. He and his wife, Kelly, have been the legal guardians for 11 years for another four children, all brothers and sisters, who were in the legal system and soon to be broken apart.