From a very young age, Commissioner Richie Beeler “talked the talk” as a Christian. But he admits there were troubled years when he did not “walk the walk” as a young adult.
Beeler wrote candidly of those years in “Beyond the Cross,” a 2011 memoir recounting his struggle with drugs, pornography and gambling. Eventually, he says, “the Lord took hold” and brought him back.
“It’s been a wonderful journey (since),” Beeler says.
In 2018 that journey led him to the Knox County Commission to replace Dave Wright when Wright ran for and was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives.
Although he had been “around politics since the age of 5” and had worked in the courthouse for 30 years, he was initially reluctant to accept an appointment to fill the vacated District 8 commission seat.
“I laughed it off at first,” he says, but then decided to pray about it. His pastor was very supportive, and in 2020 Beeler was elected to a four-year term. He is eligible to run for re-election in 2024.
Beeler, who became commission chair in 2020, says there are an “almost endless number of things” citizens bring to their commissioners for help. Decades’ worth of experience in the courthouse helps him point constituents in the right direction.
He sees managing growth and development as the county’s greatest challenge.
“When I was growing up in the ‘70s,” he said, “there were about 267,000 people in Knox County and about 174,000 in the city. Do the math, and you have around 93,000 living in the county (balance).”
Today, Beeler noted, there are close to 500,000 people in Knox County. While the city’s population has inched up to about 191,000, the number of residents outside the city has exploded, essentially tripling since the 1970s.
With such growth, infrastructure improvements are sure to be on a lot of county residents’ minds, and there’s the rub. Beeler ruefully agrees with Commissioner Larsen Jay’s observation that Knox County voters decided years ago they will never elect any administration that might raise taxes.
Beeler hopes that “good growth” will provide the answer to infrastructure funding.
Meanwhile, he’d like to see once lively locations like 4-Way Inn in East Knox County revitalized. Beeler also mentions Harbison’s Crossroads as a location that with investment has potential as a town center. (Beeler’s district contains by far the most remaining developable land in the county.)
Long before he assumed elected office the commissioner was known for his involvement with Gibbs High baseball, basketball and football.
“Gibbs High School is my greatest love on this earth,” he says.
He started keeping statistics for the teams as a high school freshman. This fall he will celebrate 42 years as the Gibbs football play-by-play announcer.
Looking beyond the community for a moment, Beeler shares his disappointment with the national political divide. The days when political opponents could reach across the aisle with an open hand instead of a clenched fist seem to be gone.
“That beautiful tension made our country great.”
Larry Van Guilder is a former editor, reporter and columnist for Knox TN Today. He has recently returned following a prolonged absence.