Oak Ridge Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Smith is seeking appointment to a second two-year term as mayor pro tem on Monday.
But she has a challenger: Rick Chinn.
The mayor pro tem is someone who can carry out the duties of the mayor when the mayor is temporarily unavailable. That includes leading Oak Ridge City Council meetings and serving as the city’s ambassador when the mayor is not available.
In a letter to her fellow city leaders, Smith said she has tried, during her two-year term, to conduct city business in an efficient and respectful manner and to present a positive image for Council and the community, both locally and when representing Oak Ridge outside the city’s borders.
“I think it is important that people perceive that individuals in positions such as mayor and mayor pro tem are representatives of the city leadership and not also of business entities with special interests, and I believe I have been able to convey the appropriate perception,” Smith said. “I would be happy to have the opportunity to continue in this role, with your support.”
Smith said the seven City Council members are community leaders who share collective responsibility for setting the city’s direction.
“We have a fine set of leaders for this upcoming term,” she said. “Positive things are happening in Oak Ridge—and I expect that the decisions we make over the next two years in response to the challenges and opportunities we face will have a major positive impact on the shape of this community for years to come.”
Chinn also wrote a letter to other city leaders. Chinn said the current mayor, Warren Gooch, has done a “fine job in bringing Council together to accomplish our common goals,” and he supports having Gooch continue as mayor.
But the office of mayor and mayor pro tem are about much more than cutting ribbons and running monthly meetings, Chinn said.
“The mayor, in my opinion, is the chief lobbyist of the city with the mayor pro tem assisting in a similar role,” Chinn said. “We are unique from most cities in the fact that our health as a city is tied closely to the choices that are made by both state and federal lawmakers. Maintaining that health depends on a mayor that has strong relationships with state and federal elected officials that will result in making meaningful accomplishments for our city. In my many years of working behind the scenes in local politics, I have been able to build these strong relationships with our senators and congressmen. Likewise, I have worked over the years to build incredibly strong relationships with our two state senators (lieutenant governor) and our two state representatives, as well as the speaker of the House.”
The City Council and mayor positions are not partisan in Oak Ridge, Chinn said, and that should never change.
But, “the reality is that all of our state and federal legislative officials are currently members of the Republican Party,” he said. “The years I have had working with the local GOP and helping to elect these officials gives me a unique ability to call on and compel them to work for what is best for Oak Ridge. However, I feel my ability to collaborate with members of either party is a strength of mine as well. I also feel that I will be able to play well off the leadership that Mayor Gooch can provide from the Democratic side of the house.”
The current mayor is City Council member Warren Gooch. He is finishing his first two-year term as mayor and has asked to be appointed to a second. So far, he is the only Council member to announce an interest in being appointed mayor.
After the last municipal election two years ago, four City Council members sought to be appointed mayor. Besides Gooch, they included Chinn, Smith, and Council member Chuck Hope.
Smith was the only Council member who sought to be appointed mayor pro tem two years ago.
The Oak Ridge City Council appoints two of its members as mayor and mayor pro tem after each municipal election every two years.
The mayor does not run the city on a daily basis. Oak Ridge has a full-time city manager appointed by the seven-member City Council.
The City Council meeting on Monday starts at 7 p.m. December 12 in the Oak Ridge Municipal Building Courtroom at 200 South Tulane Avenue. See the agenda, which includes the letters from Smith and Chinn, here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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