Back home: Jennings is mayor’s pick for finance director

Steve Jennings is the county mayor’s choice for Blount County finance director. He must first be approved by the commission.

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

Steve Jennings is the county mayor’s choice for Blount County finance director. He must first be approved by the commission.

If Steve Jennings gets the job he wants, the Maryville native and current Manhattan resident already knows how he will spend his free time.

“I love to play golf. We own a lot on the lake at Lowe’s Ferry, and I am going to start fishing,” he said. “You don’t fish much in Manhattan. I’m looking forward to getting back to recreational activities.”

Not that Jennings, 54, is planning on an abundance of free time. The retired Alcoa, Inc., executive has his eyes set on becoming the Blount County finance director, taking over the job left vacant when Dave Bennett became CEO of Cherokee Millwright.

Jennings put in 30 years before retiring from the company’s New York City global headquarters in January of 2008. He then spent two years as a consultant.

Jennings, a University of Tennessee graduate, is County Mayor Jerry Cunningham’s choice for the job, but he must be approved by the Blount County commission at tonight’s meeting.

Jennings met with members of the press on Tuesday and shared his background and talked about his thoughts regarding moving from private industry to public service.

Jennings grew up on South Maple Street where his parents, Charlie and Helen Jennings, still live. He graduated Maryville High School in 1973, earned a degree from the University of Tennessee and then went to work at Alcoa, Inc., in accounting and finance.

“I spent 30 years working for Alcoa over various parts of the world and lived in upstate New York. I lived in Australia three years and finished my last five years in New York at the Alcoa Global headquarters. I still live in New York,” he said.

His last post with Alcoa was as CFO of Alcoa Primary Products Croup. “It’s Alcoa mining, refining and smelting divisions. It was called the ‘upstream’ part of Alcoa, Inc., which included the two smelters we have here in Alcoa,” he said.

During that time Jennings said he had a number of jobs. “I was in operating management for several years in addition to finance roles,” he said. “I decided several months ago that if a job came along and seemed interesting to me in this area, I would like to move back.”

One day his phone rang, and it was his father, Charlie, on the line to tell him about the county finance director’s job being open. Steve Jennings said he checked out the listing on line and was intrigued by the prospect of switching from private industry to the public sector.

“I applied, sent my resume, and Jerry gave me a call,” said Jennings. “One thing led to another and here we are,” he said. “This is home.”

Jennings said he has three siblings who still live in the area. His brother, David Jennings, is an assistant U.S. attorney in Knoxville. Sister Lori Ott teaches at Middlesettlements Elementary and sister Linda Lairamore is a speech pathologist in Blount County Schools.

Jennings and his wife, Charlotte, have been married 32 years. They have three children. Brad Jennings, 28, is a student at the University of Tennessee; Catherine Jennings, 26, is a teacher at Cedar Bluff Intermediate School; and Doug Jennings, 24, works at Barnes and Noble in New York and is making his way in the theater business.

Mayor Cunningham said he knew Steve Jennings family but had never met him. “I think the caveat is I knew him by reputation before I met him in person,” the mayor said.

Jennings described himself as being fiscally conservative from the standpoint of protecting citizen’s money.

“I believe it would be my role to advise the mayor and budget committee of the commission on the bond indebtedness and ways to manage risk associated with indebtedness - that being interest rates and working with the state comptroller’s office to bring Blount County’s debt management to a new level and a higher level to where it’s totally transparent and well understood.”

The county commission will consider Jennings’ appointment, which could come as soon as tonight’s meeting, Feb. 18. Cunningham said Jennings has been meeting with commissioners individually and that responses from the commissioners were positive.

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