Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd’s first year in office has been a time of big ideas and some controversy.
The District 8 commissioner, a Republican who replaced longtime Commissioner Curtis Adams in September, calls himself a goal-setter and a problem solver.
“My constituency needs to understand that Tim Boyd is a visionary,” he said. “I like to look at options for the community. I like to understand the pros and cons and make good, sound decisions, not only for my district but for the entire county.”
But he’s had a rocky relationship with officials in East Ridge, the biggest portion of District 8. Since open conflict this year over a bill to allow fireworks sales in the city and a Boyd push to paint a mural on the side of the Bachman Tubes, there’s little effort by either side to hide the irritation.
“I simply don’t think there’s good leadership out there,” Boyd said.
East Ridge Councilman Denny Manning and Mayor Brent Lambert said Boyd needs to understand that city leaders don’t need his blessing to do their jobs.
“I’m not sure he has a clear understanding of the division between county matters being county matters and city matters being city matters,” Lambert said.
Boyd has held several jobs in his career and currently works at private security company TriState Security, a division of ERMC. In the past, he’s worked as a salesman, a consultant and has run his own business, an environmental consulting firm.
He has not previously held political office, but he got off to a fast start. When Hamilton County Schools leaders needed to cut $14 million from their budget proposal, Boyd offered his own $7 million plan that included substantial cuts to the central office, transportation services and employee benefits.
He also pushed state lawmakers to enact special transaction fees for payday lenders, which have a strong presence in East Ridge.
And Boyd generated headlines in January by announcing plans to help raise money for a multimillion-dollar medical research facility in Chattanooga headed up by his son, Justin Boyd, a research scientist at Harvard Medical School.
Backers said the Chattanooga Research Institute would put the city in the forefront of biomedical research based on the mapping of the human genome.
Boyd said recently the media overplayed his role in the center. He said a Chattanooga Times Free Press article about the project made it seem as if he simply is trying to find a job for his son.
“I try to identify the stakeholders and set up the players at a local level so Justin can make the next hurdle,” Boyd said. “It got convoluted and it hurt the whole program when ... it seemed to be more about Commissioner Boyd trying to get Dr. Boyd a job.”
The freshman commissioner has worked closely with Chattanooga City Councilwoman Carol Berz on a Brainerd revitalization project that includes trying to lure a Trader Joe’s store to the area.
“We’ve worked on a lot of issues together in that area,” Berz said. “We’re able to sit down and toss about new ideas for the area. He’s just pleasant to work with.”
New East Ridge City Manager Tim Gobble said he also has a good relationship with the commissioner, saying Boyd has always been “personable and kind” toward him.
But some East Ridge City Council members aren’t nearly so collegial.
Manning said Boyd “needs to get a different personality.”
“His attitude is what hurts him,” Manning said. “He thinks what he says ought to be the law.”
Boyd was irritated that the council didn’t brief him on the fireworks legislation that the city has backed for decades. Boyd lobbied state legislators against the bill, calling the issue “tacky” and fireworks stands “gaudy.”
Vince Dean, the state representative from East Ridge, said he didn’t understand Boyd’s actions. He wants to work with Boyd, he said, but hasn’t taken up Boyd’s idea of fees for payday lenders.
“I’d be more than glad to work with him on issues that I can buy into, that I can agree with,” Dean said. “I’m not just going to blindly endorse any project he brings forth just because he brings it forth.”
Adams, Boyd’s predecessor who is now the city manager of Crossville, Tenn., said he thinks Boyd erred by lobbying against the fireworks bill.
“That wasn’t a good political move,” said Adams, who served on the Hamilton County Commission for 22 years. “I never would have thought about calling Nashville to convince them to vote against something the people were trying to do.”
In turn, council leaders got huffy at Boyd’s quest to paint a mural on the outside of the Bachman Tubes, the tunnel leading into East Ridge via Ringgold Road.
Boyd planned to commit $10,000 to $20,000 of his county discretionary money to the painting, which would be done by a professional artist evoking a mix of scenes. The City Council is worried about the cost of maintaining the mural.
“If you keep pressure-washing something, next thing you’re going to have it all repainted,” Manning said.
Tension swirled at an April 28 council agenda meeting when Boyd challenged the council members about delaying the mural project. Boyd said if it did not move forward, other projects would be off the table.
That outburst prompted Lambert to remind Boyd that he was able to speak at the meeting only because the council allowed him to do so.
“(He) started wagging his finger at me,” Lambert recalled. “My thought at that point was, ‘Our City Council agenda is not going to be dictated by your mood swings.’”
Gary Hayes, with the University of Tennessee’s County Technical Assistance Service, said county commissioners don’t have any control over the city councils in their districts. He said that both bodies give each other input on issues that mutually concern them.
“East Ridge is the biggest portion of [the district] and you’ve got to have a working relationship to be effective at the county commission level,” Hayes said.
A WAY FORWARD
Boyd said there’s a difference between the elected officials of East Ridge not getting along with him and the entire city being mad at him.
When asked if he should try to repair the relationship, he responded, “I would think they would want to rebuild that relationship.”
Boyd said he did a “straw poll” and couldn’t find one person among his constituents who wanted fireworks sold in the city. He said East Ridge officials should have consulted with him about their push to get the bill passed.
“It’s odd that the elected officials that were pushing for this are representing the same constituents I’m representing,” Boyd said.
Richard Wilson, a professor of political science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said Boyd would be wise to try to mend fences with local elected leaders. He said making East Ridge officials unhappy is not going to help Boyd win re-election.
“I wouldn’t want to do that because they all have friends [in the city],” Wilson said.
Boyd said he’s not giving up hope on East Ridge. He praised the council’s decision to hire Gobble as the new city manager and said he looks forward to working with him.
Lambert said he is willing to work with Boyd on other projects.
“I think he needs to understand his role and what our role is,” he said.
Dan Whisenhunt covers Hamilton County government for the Times Free Press. A native of Mobile, Ala., Dan earned a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Alabama. He won first place for best in-depth news coverage in the 2010 Alabama Press Association contest; the FOI-First Amendment Award in the 2007 Alabama Press Association contest; first place for best public service story in the Alabama AP Managing Editors contest in 2009 for economic coverage; and ...