Roy Exum: A Time For Change

Thursday, October 21, 2021 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

There are a lot of us who are surprised that Jim Coppinger has decided not to run for re-election as Hamilton County mayor. Friendly and amicable, he has done a superb job since 2011 and his sudden change of heart startled even some of his closest friends who knew he would be an easy winner in the 2022 election. Then again, his path hasn’t been as smooth as he has made it appear. Between his pet - our beleaguered public schools - and 18 months of grueling seven-days-a-week anguish on the COVID front lines, I am betting his abrupt exit is because he’s darn near about worn out.

Coppinger’s decision makes for interesting thought. Weston Wamp, bright-eyed and eager at age 34, has told sources he’ll announce a run for the Mayor’s post today and County Commission chair Sabrena Smedley is “strongly considering” becoming the first female to lead the county. Another member of the nine-person commission – Greg Martin – is rumored to become a candidate and Commissioner Tim Boyd is said to be giving it some thought.

Outside names being bandied about include Greg Vital, who was just elected to fulfill the remaining term of Mike Carter in the State Legislature and Bo Watson also in the State Legislature. It is believed some others who live in the county are studying the situation. The Hamilton County mayor is paid $179,460 per year - about $10,000 more than the average mayor’s pay across the state.

Any sitting commissioner who runs for Coppinger’s chair must relinquish their seat on the dais. With Commissioner Katherlyn Geter having already announced she will not seek re-election, the commission itself could change dramatically next fall. Add in the two new districts, which will likely be approved early next month, and you could have more fresh faces on the 11-person governing body than familiar ones.

The 11-commissioner format is a great idea. No longer would Red Bank, East Ridge, Birchwood, Ooltewah, and some other close-knit municipalities be split on district lines and the county’s growth would assure today’s 366,000 county residents would be more evenly represented. Commissioners have attended four workshops to study the change from the current nine commissioners and the change is anticipated to occur.

Weston Wamp, who unsuccessfully challenged Rep Chuck Fleischmann in 2012 and 2014, is currently the founder of the Millennial Debt Foundation and is eager to become the county’s next mayor but what muddies the picture is that his sister will also be on the county ballot. Coty Wamp has announced her campaign to unseat the current District Attorney, the highly respected Neal Pinkston.

Weston Wamp says, “This isn’t a ‘Wamp Takeover’ at all. My wife, my four boys, and I dearly love Coty, but she has planned to run for some time. When I spoke to Mayor Coppinger before 7 a.m. on Wednesday, I had no idea he was stepping down - I was certain he was going to run for re-election. I have talked with him often about the challenges of becoming the county mayor. It’s the best way I know to help people in the county as well as the city. I had no idea this opportunity would happen this fast.

“My dad (former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp) taught all of his children the importance of fulfilling the dream of ‘service’ to others. I am proud of Coty’s decision. But, candidly, the office of Mayor and District Attorney are quite different. I hope people won’t intertwine the two and will judge each of us on our individual qualifications as candidates instead of one-and-the-same.”

Weston has lived in both the city and the county while raising his young family. “Tim Kelly (the city mayor) is a good friend of mine and we need to build some bridges between the two entities. My main interest is in the county, where recent growth is really exciting, and in trying to perpetuate the marvelous job that Jim Coppinger has done. He leaves some big shoes to fill,” said Weston.

Smedley, in a prepared statement, responded, “Serving with Mayor Coppinger for the last eight years has been an absolute privilege. As chairman of the County Commission, I have had the honor and important responsibility of leading the commission forward to conduct the essential business of the county alongside the mayor, and I am proud of all the great things we have achieved.

"Together, we have maintained the highest fiscal position with a Triple-A bond rating, supported public education, invested in critical infrastructure needs, supported new and local businesses with a focus on increased job opportunities for the residents of Hamilton County, and the list goes on.

"Following the mayor's announcement yesterday, I received numerous calls, texts, and emails from folks encouraging me to consider running to be the next Hamilton County mayor. I am honored and humbled that so many folks reached out and asked me to consider this important leadership position.

"At this time, my plans are to stay focused on the county business and to continue praying about this possibility. Serving the residents of District 7 for two terms on the county commission has been an incredible honor, and from Day One I have taken this responsibility seriously, remained fully engaged with my constituents, and served my community with integrity, honesty, and transparency.

"I will continue to actively talk with my family, constituents, and peers and strongly consider this leadership opportunity. I am confident that I will be able to fulfill any future role in which God calls me to serve."

* * *

A PERSONAL NOTE: Wonderfully religious Smedley quipped: “I hope God sees this as a way for me to serve others rather than a way to teach me a lesson …”

* * *

PERSONAL NOTE NO. 2 – When Coppinger announced he was not seeking re-election of the courthouse steps, he stood alone, this instead of having the in-vogue crowd of supporters gathered behind him for the press photo-op: “Oh, look,” quipped a cynic, “even his best friends didn’t show up.” (He could have filled the steps if he wanted…)

* * *

WATCH FOR SOMEONE who is the last person you might suspect to enter the race … and have a legitimate chance a year from now.

* * *

“Only the extremely ignorant or the extremely intelligent can resist change.” – Socrates

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