Roy Exum: The Truth About Curtis

Friday, April 11, 2014
Curtis Adams
Curtis Adams
There was a time during the 22 years that Curtis Adams served on the Hamilton County Commission that he did an informal study of the Hamilton County schools. He took five subjects he thought every child should know, got the results in each from every school, and then graded their performance against state averages.

He found that schools on Signal and Lookout Mountain were higher, that schools in the communities surrounding Chattanooga were a little better than average, and that urban schools badly missed the mark. He demanded something be done and promptly stirred a hornet’s nest.

“Our next commission meeting was packed with angry blacks,” he remembered yesterday, “and this one notorious rabble-rouser back then stood at the microphone and demanded I either apologize publicly or resign right then. I stood from my chair, walked to the center of the podium and looked him right in the eye. ‘Sir, it will be a cold day in July before either ever happens … I don’t apologize for the truth.’”

I remember it well and I remember how Curtis worked hard to improve schools all over Hamilton County. I remember he was the chairman of the County Commission when Volkswagen was lured here but, most of all, I remember working elbow-to-elbow with him for more than 30 years when we thought we lived in Camelot, working at the old News-Free Press for my grandfather.

I’d venture to say I know Curtis better than most and, while I’ll freely admit I love the guy, I must also present a disclaimer of sorts because anybody running against him ain’t got a cut dog’s chance with me. I am begging that when early voting begins in Hamilton County next week, the good people who live in District 8 will return my friend Curtis Adams to a post he once held for 22 years – the longest tenure in history.

My reason is because when I asked Curtis what in the heck his 80-year-old mind was thinking when he qualified for another four-year term, he told me the truth. A direct question always gets a direct answer. “I want the best for Hamilton County. Some people think we might have a problem right now and, after I was repeatedly approached, I believe I can mend some fences and right some wrongs in a way where county government will run most effectively.”

Privately I have been told the names of many in county government who want Curtis back, who have missed his steady hand, his leadership and his ability to work in a team-like fashion with the other commissioners. As the only man to ever be elected for six terms, Adams is respected as a friend and a colleague to countless people in the Hamilton County Courthouse.

“I believe the 22 years I served were very productive and, when I left midway through my last term, it was because I took a job as the city manager of Crossville that was too great an opportunity to miss. I loved every minute of it but then my back quit working, I underwent surgery and due to a lengthy rehabilitation I figured my time in public service was over. I never planned to run in this election,” he said.

“I knew some people were upset but at first I thought it was just East Ridge politics. This is a demanding community when it comes to politics,” he said with a wry smile, “but it developed into more than that and many longtime courthouse friends started making special trips to see me. It became obvious District 8 needed different representation.”

For the past four years the district has been represented by first-time commissioner Tim Boyd and his relationship with the other commissioners has been contentious at times. Recently he was chided for instilling “false hope” in parents during a volatile school issue and was the lone dissenting vote on a proposed recreation use of trails in Enterprise Park, for example. Worse, he is held in light regard by many elected officials for his brash and seemingly arrogant stance when often it is hardly necessary.

That is why Curtis Adams was urged to run for a record seventh time and to use his calming presence in the face of the storms that most certainly will arise in the next four years. “I feel I can help, just like I have done in the past. I have no health issues – my back is fine – and I think the key to our future is the education of our young. My goodness, I have great-grandchildren that are now in our schools!”

Asked about his chances, again he was honest. “If you think it is hard to predict the weather, try an election. I see some good young people getting into politics but then I think about what Fred Skillern, Warren Mackey, Greg Beck and some of our others have done for the citizens of this county. I believe in Hamilton County and we’ve always had good leadership at the top.

“Jim Coppinger as mayor is tremendous but then I really enjoyed working with Dalton (Roberts) and Claude (Ramsey). The key to anything great happening is when great people work together for a great cause. I’ve seen it happen before,” he said, “so I think it can happen again."

“That’s why I’m willing to try one last time,” said Curtis Adams, my longtime friend. And, again, he told the truth.



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