Jefferson County Mayor Palmieri Starts 12th Year in Office

Jefferson County Mayor Alan PalmieriStaff Photo by Jeff Depew

Jefferson County Mayor Alan Palmieri
Staff Photo by Jeff Depew

September marks a month of change in weather, seasons, and government, as it is the month that local county elected officials are sworn into office. This month marks the twelfth year of service as the Mayor of Jefferson County for Mayor Alan Palmieri. A veteran of Jefferson County politics, Palmieri is entering his final year of his third term as Mayor of Jefferson County. With the bulk of three terms in the rear view mirror, Mayor Palmieri reflected on some of his prouder moments in office and some of his regrets.

Though September marks his twelfth year as county mayor, Alan Palmieri’s career as an elected official began years before his first term with Jefferson County government, when he served five terms as Jefferson City Mayor and one term on the Jefferson City Council. All-in-all, Palmieri has successfully weathered nine local elections, and has seen much change in Jefferson County over the course of his service in local government. “I never dreamed that Jefferson County would look like it does today. During the boom years of the 2000s, we were the third largest growing county in Tennessee. That both hurt us and helped us. Nobody could have expected the sudden attention and growth that we experienced and, certainly, nobody expected it to come right before the biggest economic downturn since the Depression. It was a challenge for Jefferson County, but we have come out the other side much stronger and better,” Palmieri said.

Much of that challenge landed on the plate of newly-appointed Mayor Palmieri, as Jefferson County experienced growing pains. Schools were overcrowded, money was tight, and Jefferson County was hit with high unemployment rates as the former bedroom and agricultural community struggled to provide jobs for its newly increased population, who had previously worked outside the county limits. “We are not an industrial community, but we can be a community with certain types of industry. Large projects like the mega site are too expensive for this county without a buy-in from the State or TVA or some other entity. Initially, I was on board with the mega site, but as information became available and was confirmed that there was no buy-in, no money coming from the State, I changed my position. I have to say, that change in position lost me some supporters. It lost me some friends, but it was the right thing to do. I would like to see us focus on corporate offices for industry. We have the unique position of being within four hours of major metropolitan areas, and location is everything. We can offer location and quality of life that it is difficult to find in large cities.”

Mayor Palmieri believes that Jefferson County could have and still should take advantage of her natural assets. He would like to see investment in a large scale recreation facility that could bring tourist dollars and more retail opportunity to Jefferson County. While he acknowledges that Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg scooped up the opportunity for some sports like baseball, he believes that there is still room for Jefferson County to make its mark if it chooses well. “There is a lot of money in travel sports and it doesn’t have to be the big three anymore. Soccer, volleyball, softball, and wrestling all have thriving travel programs, as well as more traditional sports like baseball and basketball. There is still time for Jefferson County to establish itself as a recreation hub, but the clock is ticking. I count it as one of my disappoints as Mayor that we have not established a Recreation Department and have not cashed in on our ability to be a regular destination for travel sports. It fits in with what many in the community are saying they want: an influx of businesses and revenue-generating tourism without great impact to the quality of life or the beauty of the area. It would be win-win for Jefferson County.”

Though lost opportunities for wide scale recreation complexes is one of Mayor Palmieri’s regrets, he sees availability of health care and emergency services as some of his prouder accomplishments while in office. Health Care and services were an important issue to Palmieri even before he ran for County office. As the Mayor of Jefferson City, he and city officials, along with County officials, were able to negotiate a contract with Saint Mary’s Hospital to keep the doors of Jefferson Memorial Hospital open for the community. While serving as Mayor of Jefferson County, Palmieri’s interest in strong emergency services for the community has been strong. During his tenure as Jefferson County Mayor he was instrumental in the building of a new, state-of-the-art Emergency Medical Center to house emergency services, as well as proudly taking part in the addition of “green houses” to the Jefferson County Nursing Home, which offer residents a more independent experience. “Of course, I didn’t accomplish any of those things alone. It takes many people committed to a project to see it come to completion, and there were many great people involved in each of those projects. But, I consider myself fortunate to have been a part of bringing some things to Jefferson County that truly improve the quality of life of the community.”

Education is always a hot topic, locally, but one accomplishment of Jefferson County is an unqualified positive, according to Mayor Palmieri. Jefferson County was the second county in the state to get on board with the, then-newly-minted, Tennessee Achieves Program, which provided much-needed scholarship money to local students. Palmieri said that the program was rolled out in Knoxville by Randy Boyd and Former Mayor Mike Ragsdale. Jefferson County was able to take advantage of the program early on, and it has morphed to the Tennessee Promise, which funds two years of community or vocational college for all Tennessee students. And, there were other moments of growth for Jefferson County, such the completion of the Justice Center, a project that was underway when Palmieri took office but completed during his tenure.

Along with the hits come some misses, and Mayor Palmieri has been vocal over the years with his dissatisfaction with some parts of the County government. He has lobbied for several years for a County Complex to house County government offices, most recently this last fiscal year, but has been unsuccessful in his attempts to pull the County offices from their current location. Palmieri is also an opponent of the ACT of ’81, which Jefferson County currently operates under. He feels it is cumbersome and contrary to how government should run, but, as of now, there are no signs that change is on the horizon. Perhaps his most vocal disappointment is in the number of County Commissioners (21) that currently sit on the County Legislative Body. Mayor Palmieri, who openly admits that his relationship with some members of the County Commission is strained, would like to see a serious reduction in the number of members that guide the County. Palmieri contends, “It is difficult to get 21 people on board with any issue. Jefferson County would run much smoother with fewer County Commissioners. Ultimately, when you have that many people, some will start to over step their duties. County Commissioners legislate; they should not be involved with the day-to-day operations of county government, and they should not be micromanaging at every turn. I would like to see fewer County Commissioners, but, also, we need County Commissioners that are quality. And if that means that we reduce the number but pay them more for their time, then I would be all for it.”

When asked what his wish list would be for his twelfth year, Mayor Palmieri says that he would like to see some departmental additions, like a Recreation Department and a Human Resource Department, as well as looking toward someone in house to direct economic, retail, and business recruitment. Palmieri would also like to see some resolution to the issues that plague the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce and the Jefferson County Economic Development Alliance, and for Jefferson County to focus of their strengths when it comes to economic development. As for his relationship with the County Commission, Mayor Palmieri remains cautiously optimistic that, given 22 different perspectives, there can be compromise and accomplishments in the next 12 months.

As Jefferson County Mayor Palmieri enters his twelfth year at the helm of Jefferson County, will this be his final tour of duty, or is he looking to go for win number ten in 2018? “I have been asked that question a lot lately, and I have given both yes and no answers, depending on the day of the week and the minute of the day. What I can say for certain is that serving Jefferson County for three terms as Mayor, and Jefferson City before that, is that the people of Jefferson County have been good to me and I am always, always thankful for their confidence and support.”

Source: K. Depew, News Director

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