“Typical Tim Burchett,” said one of the county employees who set up the mayor’s farewell party on the first day of his last week in office.
“Vanilla cake and ice water.”
The room filled up quickly as she explained that this was the penny-pinching Burchett’s choice, which they ascertained as they negotiated the delicate dance of throwing the boss a “surprise” party while making sure he likes his cake.
Burchett, who will be campaigning full-time for U.S. Congress after Friday, got a little misty as he thanked the crowd for its support. He kept it short and hugged wife Kelly and daughter Isabel. Burchett will face Democrat Renee Hoyos in the November general election.
Meanwhile, there was more going on in the room than giving Burchett a rousing send-off.
District 3 Commissioner Randy Smith took a few minutes off from his day job as Knox County Schools risk manager/Knox County insurance coordinator to come pay his respects.
Smith will be stepping down as the commission chair and believes the gavel should be passed around to allow others to benefit from the broader perspective that the position affords. He is reluctant to talk about his replacement, citing Sunshine Law considerations.
Former chair Brad Anders said he will not be a candidate to repeat that duty, and that he will vote for District 4 Commissioner Hugh Nystrom, “for the sake of unity.”
Vice chair Charles Busler, who represents District 7, is also interested in becoming chair.
“We haven’t had any vice since I’ve been on the commission,” he quipped.
District 8 Commissioner Dave Wright, another former chair, won’t be a candidate, because he’ll be leaving in November if his run for the District 19 state House seat being vacated by longtime officeholder Harry Brooks is successful.
Wright will vie for the right to represent the heavily gerrymandered district, which winds around the county from north to south like a fat snake that must avoid Democrats at all costs. His opponent, Democrat Edward Nelson, is an energetic young veteran who will have to run hard if he hopes to corral that beast.
Busler and Wright are part of a voting bloc that has generally supported positions taken by publisher Steve Hunley. This group is in flux because of the impending departure of Commissioners-at-large Ed Brantley and Bob Thomas and possibly Wright.
It is unknown how their successors, Justin Biggs and Larsen Jay, will vote.
If Wright departs for the legislature, he’ll leave a vacancy to be filled by his commission colleagues. He, of course, would not have a vote, but said that he’s got a favorite:
“I lean toward (Phil) Ballard,” he said, explaining that Ballard’s past experience as a commissioner and as county property assessor makes him best suited for the position.
Others who have expressed an interest are Rebecca Longmire, Laura Cole and Herb Anders, all of whom have served on the Metropolitan Planning Commission.