Chesney hopes to bring history of community service to City Council
Gary Chesney, second from left, is running for an at-large seat on the Morristown City Council.
Gary Chesney has an uncommon perspective on what’s widely perceived as a sharply divided Morristown City Council, a legislative body he hopes to join following the May 7 municipal election.
“I don’t see clear lines at all,” Chesney said. “I know some times it may seem like (there are) seven different directions the council is trying to go. I think good leadership makes those lines go away. Poor leadership causes divisions.”
Chesney isn’t seeking to replace the council’s leader, Mayor Danny Thomas. He’s targeting Gene Brooks, an at-large councilmember who is the mayor’s most frequent political ally on council.
Chesney says he decided to run because he was disappointed in the way council has been run for the past two years since Thomas was elected.
“It just seems some times to be a battlefield, and I don’t think councilmembers need to be rock stars.” he said.” I think I will bring experience in public service.
“I hope to get council to focus on things that matter – to create jobs and have an efficient delivery of services and just be a good place for people who want to move here and live hear to believe their elected officials are quality leaders,” he added.
Chesney, an agent with Price Raney/Southern States Insurance Co., has served on the Boys and Girls Club board for approximately 25 years. He served on the boards of Rose Center and the Morristown Parks and Recreation Department and on committees for the United Way of Hamblen County and Morristown Area Chamber of Commerce.
Also, he has served on the Hamblen County School Board for 19 years, and is currently filling the unexpired term of the late Charles Cross, who died in office and succeeded him on the school board. The term expires on Aug. 14.
Councilmembers have hiring authority over just three people, the chiefs of the police and fire departments and the city administrator.
Chesney says he’s known Police Chief Roger Overholt and Fire Chief Bill Honeycutt since they started in entry-level jobs, they “both have good leadership skills, they’re professionals and they know their work.”
The candidate says he met City Administrator Tony Cox only recently, but from the outside looking in and from his first impression, the city administrator makes the grade.
“I think he’s been able to stop the bleeding,” Chesney said. “I have a very favorable impression of Tony, and I think he knows what he’s doing … Tony Cox has a plan, and that plan is under way, and we need to continue to work the plan.
“I think a city manager-style of government is the best combination of people receiving services and a trained, professional city manager making the decisions that you have to make with the proper amount of oversight,” the candidate added.
The city administrator’s job approval has been an issue for some city councilmembers and Chesney’s opponent Brooks stops well short of singing the City Adminstrator’s praises.
Chesney also supports Cox’s plan to fund state-ordered improvements to the sanitary-sewer system and the long-ignored wastewater treatment plant, as well as pay for repaving and state-ordered stormwater upgrades.
Chesney says he particularly applauds Cox’s and the majority of council’s initiatives to transfer management of the sanitary-sewer system to the Morristown Utility Commission and oversight of the airport to the Morristown Regional Airport Commission.
“(The boards) require people on them who have some business savvy and can recognize and make hard business decisions,” he said. “I think there are some qualifications that need to be present for those appointed, but I would be willing to work on how (council) appoints.”
Chesney, who vows he will run a clean campaign, also likes the idea of having a dedicated garbage fund to pay for most or all of the costs associated with picking up and disposing of trash.
“I think user fees are better than raising property taxes to get the amount of money you need because it’s a fairer distribution of payers,” Chesney said. “Like the wheel tax, everybody that gets garbage pickup pays, not only taxpayers.
“That doesn’t make it more digestible for the public, but it’s a fairer way to collect fees to get the proper service,” he added.
Chesney and his wife, Sharon, will celebrate their 20th anniversary on June 20. They have five children, and are members of First Baptist Church of Morristown. Before accepting a job with Price Raney/Southern States, he worked in real estate for nine years and was general manager of Johnson Oil for 17-plus years.
The council candidate, a charter member of the local Big Brothers chapter, was news director at WRCK radio and coached both boys and girls Little League teams for several years.