Jenny Hill right now is the ultimate Chattanooga multi-tasker, who wants to be a positive contributor in all the various facets of her life, too.
Not only has she served on the Hamilton County School Board from District 6 since 2018, when she beat Michael Henry for Joe Galloway’s vacated seat, but she was also recently elected to the District 2 City Council seat in the April 13 runoff election.
And her victory over successful businessman Thomas Lee by a vote margin of 2,721 to 1,762 for the open seat came as some outside her circle of support tried to use her school board position, and failure to relinquish it if elected, as a campaign issue sure to bring about defeat.
But it didn’t.
Now that she has been elected to the seat formerly held by Jerry Mitchell, this woman who also spends her waking hours as a business owner, wife, and mother of two teenage children is ready to get moving helping Chattanooga.
“There is a lot to learn, but it is already very rewarding work,” she said in a recent phone interview.
“I love it.”
She mentioned several areas of focus she hopes the council can turn its attention to, including having a city with adequate infrastructure, including even its stormwater and sewer pipe systems. She thinks businesses would be interested in locating here if they know they can count on basic city services.
The resident of Berkley Circle in North Chattanooga – who also enjoys reading and cooking -- also wants Chattanooga to be what she called a Smart City. “People in District 2 care how educated our workforce is and how we can access early childhood care,” she said, saying she knows of families being on waiting lists for 18 months or longer for childcare.
She also believes worker training programs need to be increased.
“I’ve seen white collar jobs become obsolete,” she said, adding that she has learned this from being a business owner. “The need for our economy to always be ready to innovate and our city to be open to change is critical for our long-term economy.”
Her third and last main goal as a Council member, she said, is to create a city where everyone belongs and where leaders are seeking out diverse perspectives on the direction of the city. This could partly come, she said, through the different boards to which she has opportunities to appoint people.
“As I look at boards, I am looking at people who are being innovative thinkers,” she said. “And we need more women and more people of color and those who have a different awareness.”
As Ms. Hill recently talked about her life and career to date and how she hopes to balance everything now and in the immediate future, an obvious determination and plenty of enthusiasm were present in her voice. In fact, she is part of a seemingly new generation of women under 45 who are getting elected to various local offices and see as the limit the sky, not any glass ceilings that have hindered previous generations of females.
But she is aware of the longtime ways of society, and she said that came to the forefront on one occasion when a man who had seen her numerous City Council election signs stopped her and wondered if her family or a rich husband was bankrolling her campaign.
“I worked my tail end off talking to people and raising money,” she said in explaining how her name became more visible.
While she has felt few such obstacles in her life, she also knows situations for people of color and others representing minority communities might be different.
Ms. Hill has felt confident about her own opportunities in the world – and has tried to enjoy them – since she was young. Her father was a DuPont employee who brought the family to Chattanooga when she was in the second grade. She thought they might continue to move around, but they ended up staying in the Scenic City.
The former Jenny Kellogg went to Big Ridge Elementary and then graduated from the Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences in 1996.
She credits CSAS as being a big factor in teaching her leadership and in not being afraid to dream.
“The Paideia seminar at CSAS played an important role in my education and now in my approach to leadership,” she said. “In seminar, we learned to discuss difficult and complex topics in a civil way. Often our peers had very different perspectives on the same topic, and we learned to use source material to support our opinions.”
She also had an opportunity to practice leadership at a young age when she organized her senior class to partner with Habitat for Humanity to build a house. That work resulted in her receiving the class Volunteer Award to go along with other academic honors she received in middle and high school.
Ms. Hill then went off to Furman University in Greenville, S.C. While searching for a career path, she found something else while home for a break – love. She met Jason Hill, a 1991 Hixson High graduate who was five years her senior, and she became engaged as a sophomore. She ended up accelerating her classwork to graduate early and get married.
Her first big break in the world of leadership came shortly after, when she was able to get a job as one of the first employees of True North, which did custom publishing and grew quickly after she was hired.
She did copy writing and editing and eventually took on additional positions of responsibility.
“I was put in situations more rigorous than someone my age would have normally been,” she said, adding that she eventually helped such business clients as hospitals with strategic planning. “It was a steep learning curve. I had to learn fast and work a lot.”
Nearly 20 years ago, she started Papercut Interactive with her husband as a business offering web development and digital strategy services. Due to her increased demands on her time with her two elected offices, she is primarily doing business administrative work these days and not overseeing individual accounts or doing sales work.
Her husband, Jason, who founded Papercut Interactive with her, has also recently started a leadership coaching business focusing on first-time business owners.
Even while a businesswoman, Ms. Hill also raised two children who are now students at CSAS, and she and her husband have stayed active with Hixson United Methodist Church, where they are longtime members of the Great Expectations Sunday School Class. She said the class members have raised children together, and it is a very supportive group.
“I consider them my people,” she said proudly.
She also stayed active with such volunteer boards as the Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise, which promotes home ownership, and was also an active parent with her children’s school. As a result, she decided to run for the school board in 2018.
While serving on that and in her other work, and with all that has taken place with the pandemic and other issues in Chattanooga in recent months, she also felt the pull to run for City Council.
“I recognized our city had tremendous energy toward positive change and was facing challenging circumstances in wake of the pandemic,” she said.
Based on some editorials and letters to the editor, some questioned if she could or should continue serving on the school board as well, but she said she plans to give the needed attention to both. She said that question came outside her realm and, for her, being able to adequately do both was never a question.
“I have a full grasp of what it takes to do the school board work and will see that I do the same with the City Council,” she said, adding that those who have closely watched her on the school board encouraged her to keep serving on it as well.
However, she does not plan to seek re-election to the school board in August 2022, she added. But she wants to serve until then.
“I believe the people of District 6 will be best served by someone the people elect rather than someone the County Commission appoints,” she said in explaining part of her motivation for wanting to complete her term.
While she is currently keeping busy with her various jobs and duties, such as devoting certain days to the Council and school board and other areas, she is also cognizant of staying healthy and taking care of herself. She encourages others to be mindful of their health as well.
As far as her life career wise at present, this woman who holds the District 2 City Council seat once held by woman Council pioneer Mai Bell Hurley feels she is definitely at a very healthy place.
“I love where I am,” she said, adding that she feels blessed to be able to use her God-given gifts in service.