Chattanoogan: Jerry Mitchell – Forever Chattanooga

Tuesday, September 24, 2013 - by Jen Jeffrey

Born and raised in Chattanooga, City Councilman Jerry Mitchell is quite passionate about his hometown. It isn’t just the place he enjoys living, but it is the place he enjoys serving.

Jerry’s father Ben had worked at Dupont all of his adult life and passed away when Jerry was just 19. His mother Gertrude worked up through her 80s. Jerry learned impeccable work ethics from his parents and had a heart for serving people when he was just a young boy.

“I wanted to be a priest. I was raised a Catholic and I really liked the religion. Being a priest was a way for me to feel like I could serve people. That desire went away about the time that I started getting interested in girls - it pretty much ruined the priest thing,” Jerry laughs.

Being the youngest of his brothers and sister, Jerry teases that he was the ‘spoiled brat’. 

“I enjoyed early childhood on Signal Mountain because you could run around and you could get in a little trouble, but not too much trouble,” Jerry jokes.

Jerry has lived on Signal Mountain and St. Elmo, but has lived most of his adult life in the North Shore area.

“I played a lot of baseball growing up. We just hiked around, and played outdoors – I grew up around a lot of woods and I love the outdoors. I was outside as much as I could be,” Jerry says.

He attended St. Jude Elementary, Notre Dame, and in his college years he attended both UTC and UTK, majoring in political science. During the summers Jerry would take off out west and work summer jobs in Colorado. He enjoyed outdoor activities there.

After school, he came back to Chattanooga and started a small carpentry business. “My first real job - or what I call ‘when-I-started-putting-on-a-tie-job’, was with Senior Neighbors. It was a place that provided services for elderly. Alexian Brothers owns it now. It was a 501 (c)(3) United Way-funded agency.  I was director of an employment training program for senior citizens for about two and a half years,” Jerry says.

In the early 80s, Jerry worked with a human resource training and development company and ran its international operation for the next 10 years traveling all over the world. He had already been out of the United States to Mexico during his college excursions, but the first country he traveled to with his job was Turkey.

“It is awesome! The history is unbelievable – it is just civilization upon civilization, upon civilization… we started going to Europe and then ended up eventually traveling to Asia more often,” Jerry states.

Jerry never had kids and stayed single for nearly 20 years after his first marriage. “I was always afraid to have kids and end up having somebody who was like me – I was a pain in the rear-end to my parents,” he jokes.

Jerry dated his current wife Carla for eight years before they married. Carla has three grown children which Jerry teases were his ‘rental kids’ during the time he and Carla were dating.

“I have to say, that my greatest passion today is Chattanooga. When I was younger and kept going away in the summertime (and this was back when Chattanooga was not so great and called the dirtiest city in America) I kept coming back because of school, but people started making rumblings about ‘changing the city’. I was kind of a part of that early on, but then I didn’t get to participate as much when I traveled with my job. It was then, in the mid-80s-90s when Chattanooga began to transform itself,” Jerry maintains.

“Our company headquarters was here in Chattanooga and we would bring our international clients from overseas back to Chattanooga. They would say, ‘Man, this city is cool!’ and you could see it changing - that made me very proud to be from Chattanooga. It kind of hooked me on it, to where I knew that I would be here forever…” Jerry insists, “to such an extent that, at the end of my employment with that company, when the company from Dallas had bought us out and wanted me to move to Dallas to run the international operation, I just said, ‘I am not leaving Chattanooga - I will just find something else.’”

Not long after Jerry left, he spent the next six and a half years as the administrator of the former Parks and Recreation Department for the city of Chattanooga.

“The city continued to grow and Mayor Jon Kinsey had asked me to run a volunteer citizens task force. What he envisioned was to create a 10-year plan on how to upgrade parks and recreation facilities because this place was really becoming about ‘quality of life’ and one of the things you can do as far as quality of life is to upgrade our parks system and recreation system. For about three to six months we worked on it and came up with a 10-year plan,” Jerry says.

Jerry would involve as many people as he could who would come to the table.  Mayor Kinsey was happy with the way Jerry had involved citizens in the planning process and asked him if he wanted to implement the plan.

Chattanooga had originally transformed itself in that same way when Vision 2000 was implemented. To replicate that effort, Jerry worked with Mayor Kinsey for two and a half years and worked under Mayor Corker the next four.

“It was so great during that time because that was when we did the 21st Century Waterfront. We also created the Public Art Plan for this community and we created the Outdoor Initiative for Chattanooga,” Jerry upholds.

“It really intensified my passion for Chattanooga and it was so rewarding to be able to work with so many in the city and to watch things change and just get better and better.”

Jerry dabbled in commercial real estate development for the last eight years before running for city councilman.

“I was traveling again and it would take me away from Chattanooga. When it was coming to the end of Mayor Littlefield’s term, I kind of got the itch to get passionate again about being involved. That is why I ran for office of city councilman because I wanted to serve. That has always been in my background,” Jerry says. 

Since the 2013 March election which saw seven new council members voted in, Jerry joined the council in creating an agenda; passing Mayor Andy Berke’s budget and watching him restructure government.

“There is no longer a Parks and Recreation,” Jerry says. “It has been made instead into three departments - Youth and Family Development, Economic and Community Development and Public Works actually has parks maintenance now.”

The council has joined efforts with Frances McDonald’s Mark Making and Jerry’s wife Carla is the president of Ms. McDonald’s board.

“As far as what we are planning ahead, we are getting ready for the first North Chattanooga Summit. It will be to discuss design and to implement a master re-development that will focus on economic development and quality of life issues in North Chattanooga such as signage, traffic, zoning, safety, and beautification. We want to assure smart growth going on there,” Jerry says.

Jerry is also excited about the upcoming city-wide event called, CAPTURE. CAPTURE is a unique, community-sourced 48-hour film project led by the Association of Visual Arts (AVA). Participants will meet on Sept. 27 at 5:30 at Walker Pavilion in Coolidge Park. Those who have registered will have 24 hours to shoot footage of Chattanooga.

“My wife’s company, UBS, is a corporate sponsor of this and literally everyone in the community that wants to participate will shoot video through their iPhone or video camera. It can be anything and they will bring the footage back and three editing teams will edit,” Jerry says excitedly.

They will have short films and three different musicians or bands will create a score or sound for these films. On Sunday evening at Track 29 the winners will be unveiled.

Jerry also has confidence in the younger generation who are getting involved with the events in Chattanooga as well as beginning small businesses.  “We have a really cool younger crowd - half of them are geeks, but there are really cool, young folks in this town that are going to make us even greater,” Jerry says.

“I just want our city to be the best place to work and play and …I don’t mean the best medium-sized city – I want us to be the best city.”   

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