Powell guy Van de Vate heads state group

Sandra ClarkFeature, Powell

Dwight Van de Vate isn’t exactly wrapping up his career, but he’s reached an apex. The low-key Powell resident and long-time public administrator is serving as president of the Tennessee County Services Association.

TCSA is an umbrella organization representing over 1,800 elected and appointed officials of both the legislative and executive branches of county government – county mayors, county commissions and highway superintendents.


Van de Vate told members that he launched his career in 1984 as a correctional officer for the Knox County jail – working the evening shift. “I never could have imagined that someday I would have the honor and privilege of serving as a leader in an organization like this one.”

Van de Vate has held a variety of positions in Knox County.

In the Sheriff’s Office, he worked his way to chief deputy before resigning to join the administration of Mayor Mike Ragsdale.

For the past eight years, Van de Vate has worked for Mayor Tim Burchett as senior director of Engineering & Public Works.

In this position, he oversees a workforce of 200 full-time staff in several departments, including Codes Administration, Construction Services, Fire Prevention, Highway Maintenance, Planning & Development, Fleet Services, Solid Waste and Stormwater Management.

“Our employees are responsible for construction inspection and regulation, transportation planning and maintenance of public infrastructure,” he said. “Staff includes nine licensed Professional Engineers (PE), as well as experienced and credentialed experts in every department.”

For the final five years of Ragsdale’s administration, Van de Vate was chief administrative officer, responsible for 340 employees including county departments of Parks/Recreation, Engineering/Public Works and Information Technology. He was the county’s contact with the school board, county commission, legislative delegation and other elected officials. He oversaw Homeland Security initiatives for the Mayor’s Office and was the county’s primary media liaison, handling interaction with all print and electronic media.

“It is no easy feat to continuously do more with less, but we do,” he told members of TCSA. “As county officials, we have all answered the call to public service.

“Each day, our citizens count on us to provide the essential services most important to them, including schools, roads, public health and so much more.

“We solve hard problems, make tough decisions and set important priorities to make the lives of those we serve better. This type of leadership – servant leadership it is often called – -is both an attitude and a commitment. It requires, every day, that we take responsibility for critical tasks and do everything we can to ensure the best outcomes.”

With his dad a well-known philosophy professor at UT and his mom an internationally renown classical composer, Dwight had many career options. He chose UT Chattanooga, graduating in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. In the Sheriff’s Office, he worked as a jailer and officer. He and wife Tracy have three children: Victoria, Dwight IV and Holly Van de Vate. All graduated from Powell High School.

Volunteerism is important to both Dwight and Tracy. He has served as Echota District chair for Boy Scouts of America (2013-17) and was appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam to represent the state of Tennessee on the Land Between the Lakes Advisory Board. He also serves as the public works point of contact for the Tennessee Office of Homeland Security District 2 Executive Council.

“As the proud father of an Eagle Scout, I have seen first-hand what a difference Scouting makes in the lives of young men and women everywhere.”

Land Between the Lakes manages over 170,000 acres of forests, wetlands and open lands on a peninsula between Kentucky and Tennessee.

Initiatives at Engineering & Public Works

Over the past eight years, Engineering & Public Works has:

  • Installed GPS units in all EPW vehicles, for better asset management, enhanced risk management and improved policy compliance.
  • Developed and implemented a liquid brine system for winter weather response.
  • Implemented remote video monitoring of six household waste and recycling centers. This enables department managers to monitor center activity from their central offices, by computer, tablet or by smart phone. Complaints of rude behavior by staff have been reduced, or in other cases, successfully refuted based on center video. On average, 46,000 citizens a week visit one of these facilities.
  • Developed a tablet-based inspection application for building inspectors, code enforcement officers, fire inspectors and stormwater management construction inspectors. Inspection data is collected directly on the tablet, with photographs, and uploaded for real-time report availability.
  • Created the position of environmental crimes investigator, to concentrate on the chronic problems of illegal tire dumps, illegal landfills and household litter, and illicit discharges to waters of the state.

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