Blount County Mayor Jerry Cunningham announced in a press conference Monday morning that he will seek re-election to the post he has held since August, 2006.
In an 11 a.m. press conference in his office at the Blount County Courthouse, Cunningham said, “There has been a lot of speculation, rumor and innuendo. I have decided to seek re-election. I have been privileged to serve as mayor for four years. I have a lot of things to finish up.”
Cunningham, 68, mentioned various projects and initiatives he wants to see completed as mayor, including relocation of some county operations to the former Ceramaspeed facility and getting animal control up and running. The mayor said he wants to continue to make county government more transparent.
“My administration has been the most transparent in the history of Blount County,” Cunningham said. “We want to continue to make it more open so that the people will know what is going on.”
The mayor said he has enjoyed working with the Blount County School Board on planning for the new Prospect Elementary School. “We’ve got a school to build and open at Prospect,” he said.
The mayor said fiscally he hopes to keep the county on firm financial footing. “We want to try to keep the tax rate as low as possible,” he said.
Highlighting financial accomplishments, the mayor said he was proud of his administration and the department heads for how they tightened up their budgets and raised the rainy day savings to $11 million.
“When I took office, the rainy day fund had dwindled down to $800,000,” Cunningham said. “It was frightening. The good things we’ve done -- there is plenty of credit to go around. We are on sound financial footing.”
One of the major initiatives in the next four years will be recruiting the right anchor tenants to Pellissippi Place, the research and development park on East Broadway Avenue at Pellissippi Parkway, the mayor said. “We want to bring in the kind of high tech companies so kids who want jobs here can have one.”
The mayor said he would like to see the Pellissippi Parkway extension completed. Litigation currently has stalled the project as opponents raised questions of how it will affect the environment and whether there is a need for completing the parkway. Plans would extend the road from East Broadway Avenue to East Lamar Alexander Parkway near Morningside Baptist Church.
“Personally I think it is in the best interest of Blount County for that highway to be completed,” he said. “I anticipate the litigation will end in the next four years and, as the complexion changes in Nashville, particularly if we get a governor with East Tennessee roots, Pellissippi Parkway will be completed.”
Cunningham said that any criticism he has received from individual citizens or commissioners at commission meetings had no effect on his decision to run for re-election.
“I’m not much of a person to get a siege mentality. I know right from wrong, there’s no gray area,” he said.
The mayor said citizens who “rail against” him at commission meetings, “are never happy, and no administration is going to make them happy. I feel sorry for them,” he said.
Cunningham said it was because of constant criticism from certain citizens and others that he refuses to stay in the commission room during the call for “Public input for items not on the agenda” at the end of meetings. “It’s degenerated into a Hyde Park, and you are just a stage prop. I don’t have to sit there. I’ve got a wife, children and grandchildren, and they sometimes see those things,” he said. “I choose not to listen as they play to the camera.”
When asked if there was a fair amount of mistrust between certain commissioners and himself, the mayor said he wouldn’t describe it as such, but did say there appeared to be some jealousy.
“Two or three have their agendas. They may not like what I say, and two or three may not like me,” he said. “If they can do a better job, they need to step up.”
Cunningham said his wife, Janis, supports his decision to run for re-election. “Janis has been with me 41 years and is my biggest fan,” he said. “Some people may not like me as mayor, but they could not have a better First Lady.”
The mayor said his desire to run for re-election is rooted in his memory of how his parents worked hard to ensure he and his brother got an education. Cunningham said his time in the U.S. Marines in Vietnam also instilled in him a desire to serve his community.
Cunningham said there was the temptation to retire after one term or take the more “arduous” path and seek another term and keep working. “It’s a question of retiring or getting in the harness again every day,” he said. “I guess the hard part was the temptation to take the easy road and play with my horses and grandkids but I’m healthy, and that will come in due time.”