Monday, April 22, 2024
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Could Cookeville Elect Its Mayor As Separate Office?

It’s the first Monday of a new election year.

The mayorship of Cookeville will be open come August as Ricky Shelton reaches his term limit. It’s a position not elected on its own, but rather the top vote getter for council takes the mayor title.

Former Mayor Dwight Henry said it might be time to reconsider that system as Cookeville’s population has grown.

“If I were probably on the city council at this point and time, I would suggest some sort of blue ribbon panel, committee or study group, which not only consists of a council member or two, but some members of the community at large to take a look and see how other cities have made that transition.”

Former Mayor Matt Swallows said he thinks Cookeville should not change how its mayor is appointed.

“Whoever is the highest vote getter in the city council becomes mayor,” Swallows said. “Now granted, technically they’re elected by the city council, but its always been a formality. Everyone knows whoever gets the most votes, so in essence, I think it is already voted by the citizens.”

Cookeville is one of 12 Tennessee cities with populations between 26,000 and 40,000. Cookeville remains the largest that does not elect a mayor separately. Three cities elect mayor from council members: Oak Ridge, Maryville and Bristol.

Henry said having an elected mayor creates a political position which could impact decision making. Cookeville currently operates as a city manager form of government. The administrator serves as chief operating officer and runs daily affairs while the mayor is part-time and a council member.

“Assuming we change, we move from a city manager form of government to a mayoral form of government, then the city manager could effectively be down away with, and then the mayor would come into office as a full-time city employee. The mayor would come in and develop its own agenda with a team around him. Of course if the mayor was in charge, he or she could come in and maybe decide this person that heads the electric department isn’t doing a good job. They could make radical, immediate changes.”

Swallows said he does not see an advantage in a separate election. Swallows said he thinks the current system has a balanced system that keeps politics out of decisions.

“I think it keeps us above that a little bit, because we have a professional city manager that runs the city day-to-day,” Swallows said. “He has to answer the council. Each of the council members have to answer to each other. It just seems like a really good balance of power the way we have things.”

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