Ken Smith told the Pachyderm Club on Monday that he usually stays out of other local political races, but he said there is one that he will not ignore. That is the runoff race for Chattanooga City Council for District 8 on Sept. 15. Early voting for that race began Friday.
He said one of the candidates (Marie Mott) "has come to the City Council meetings for years obstructing the council from doing their jobs and leading demonstrations and protests in the city. This person has stolen a flag and then videoed it being burned. She also has led the defund the police movement in Chattanooga and led a demonstration that took place at Mr. Smith’s Hixson home."
The speaker said, “I’m not interested in serving with people like that. I won’t stay out of this race.”
Mr. Smith said the demonstration at his home was a "life altering" event for himself and his family, when a large group of people showed up outside his house protesting with bullhorns and shouting. He said it terrified his family and the neighbors.
He said, “I’m not a racist because I am a male, white and a Republican. That is a mistake that some people in the Black Lives Matter protests make."
Mr. Smith, who currently serves on both the City Council and the County Commission, said a lot of “new” is coming to the county. He said, "There will be a new county mayor with zero government experience. That is not a good or a bad thing, but the first time it has happened in Hamilton County for a long time." He said that he "has heard about some great people that Weston Wamp will be surrounding himself with." The board will expand from nine to 11, this year, and there will be four current commissioners, four new commissioners and three who previously served who will be returning. Commissioner Smith said he eventually plans to step down from his seat on the Chattanooga City Council, but he said he would like to continue in that position until next April, which will complete his tenure of 10 years.
Mr. Smith was introduced by outgoing County Mayor Jim Coppinger, who described him as "an elected person who is accessible, he studies an issue to really know about it, he knows the answer before he asks a question and he cares about the city of Chattanooga and Hamilton County.
"He is exactly what you want as an elected person. I look at Ken as the future of the Republican party.”
Mr. Smith grew up in Hixson and his professional career is an IT Engineer for a national health care company. Since 2013, he has also represented District 3 on the Chattanooga City Council. The district is made up of areas of North Chattanooga, Middle Valley, Lakesite and Hixson. City Council was the first political race he entered and he won over a two-term Democratic opponent. In the almost 10 years in that position, he has served as council chairman once and as vice chairman twice.
He told the Pachyderm Club that he tackled that race on being a Republican and by running on values that are important to him. He said it took a lot of time and a lot of working plus a tremendous amount of support to get the job.
Last May, he got an opportunity to represent his district on the Hamilton County Commission, an opportunity that rarely comes along because it is not often vacant. County Commissioner Greg Martin resigned when he was appointed to fill the vacancy at the Tennessee House of Representatives after the resignation of former Rep. Robin Smith, until the November 2022 election. In turn, the County Commissioners appointed Ken Smith to the seat left vacant with Greg Martin’s move. He was chosen in a vote of seven in favor to one opposed.
Mr. Smith said the county post "has been a blessing and a privilege." With Hamilton County District 3 representing 62 percent of the district he represents on the Chattanooga City Council, he said it made sense to pursue the representation on a county level.
There are a number of points of difference in the way that the city and the county operate, said Mr. Smith. Many of the decisions made on behalf of the city include essential services that take a lot of long-term planning. This includes paving, which has a budget five times higher today than when he was first elected, largely due to Mayor Tim Kelly, he said. The City Council participates in massive economic development projects that create many new jobs. A City Council member ensures that essential services are provided and he said he has worked to create an equitable play plan for the police and is working on one for the fire department personnel. And he said he has been instrumental in getting a new Greenway conference center in Hixson that has been worked on for four years.
Doing small things such as getting the city to repair car damage from a pothole is also a part of the job of a City Council member. Since May when he assumed the County Commission seat, Mr. Smith said he has tried to carry on the same way. In those four months, he said he has helped to secure funding for each of the nine schools in his district. This money has been used for projects such as building playgrounds and athletic fields and to install sound systems. These types of projects are difficult to get funded in the school board budget, but the smaller projects are important to the kids, he said. He has also been successful in getting funding for the ball fields at the Middle Valley Park to improve drainage.
Also, while on the County Commission, he has helped the Dallas Bay Fire Department. He said that the firefighters had been trained in water rescues but did not have the equipment to do it until the county fully equipped them. It is not all about the large picture, he said, there are also small needs to meet at the county level.
Serving on the City Council for the last several years, he said they have dealt with issues that are both emotionally and financially draining, such as the COVID pandemic and with the protest movement. Some decisions that were made had the potential to destroy businesses and families, he said. One example he cited was the City Council’s decision locally to allow small breweries to serve beer off-site and to allow curbside sales at restaurants that prevented those businesses from going out of business.