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Mayoral battle looms following election




There’s a storm brewing for the next Norris City Council meeting on Dec. 14, as the two newest members of the council – who also were the top vote-getters in the Nov. 3 election – seek to be chosen as mayor and vice-mayor.

William “Will” Grinder, who came in first place with 654 votes, and Jill Holland, who polled second with 646 votes, say they expect the five-member council to follow “tradition” and choose them for mayor and vice-mayor, respectively.

But two other winners in the election – incumbent councilmembers William “Bill” Grieve and Loretta Ann Painter – said late last week that they plan to vote to keep current Mayor Chris Mitchell in that position. Mitchell came in third with 625 votes, Grieve was fourth with 604, and Painter was fifth with 561.

If Grieve and Painter vote to keep Mitchell as mayor, his own vote would be the tie-breaker in a 2-2 deadlock, either giving himself another two-year term as mayor, or choosing to pass the post on to Grinder, who will be serving his first term on the council.

Mitchell has been mayor during all 12 years he has served on the council, and always had received the highest number of votes.

During the Nov. 9 City Council meeting, the members discussed the selection process and heard from several citizens who suggested the council follow tradition and choose the top two vote-getters.

But Painter said during the meeting that she intended to break with tradition and choose who she feels would be “most qualified” for the positions. She followed that up with similar comments to The Courier News.

‘The most-qualified’

“I tried to be as clear as I could be,” Painter said of her comments during the meeting. “I think [Chris] is the most-qualified person.”

So far, though, Mitchell has not said for whom he would vote. He has said he would reserve his decision until the December council meeting, when the new members will be seated, and the mayor and vice-mayor positions filled.

In an email Monday, Mitchell said: “Citizens may be focused too much on who is mayor and not enough about the development of a strong City Council team and goals for the next two years.

“My goal is to help bring the City Council together as a team, no matter what formal role I play (mayor or councilperson). We each have one vote and can provide leadership from whichever role we play.

“How can this be accomplished? I think the key in developing a strong city council team is to have honest and transparent communication in an attempt to build trust between council and citizens.

‘Conflicts of interest’

“At our upcoming meeting, I plan to openly talk about perceived conflicts of interest, goals we each have for the next two years, and skills we bring to the team, all with the end goal of better understanding how each councilperson can contribute to the team,” Mitchell concluded.

Leaving the council Dec. 14 will be Larry Beeman, who chose not to run again, and Ron Hill, who came in last among the six vying for the five council seats. Hill received 551 votes.

With Grinder outpolling Mitchell by just 29 votes, and Holland receiving just 21 votes more than the mayor, neither of the newcomers can claim a clear “mandate” to serve as mayor or vice-mayor, Grieve and Painter suggested.

Following tradition?

But in an emailed statement Monday, Grinder said he would expect tradition to be followed.

“Thank you to all who supported me for the Norris City Council,” Grinder said. “I am honored and humbled by the community’s support, indicated by receiving the highest number of votes. I look forward to serving with all the other council members.

“As for my role, traditionally the council member who receives the most votes rises to the mayor’s position. If nominated and selected by the council, I will happily accept this responsibility. This is something I would like to do and, given years of public service and business ownership, feel qualified to do.

“The current discussion to change this tradition is unnecessary and promotes an unproductive atmosphere. If the council votes to follow tradition, they and the community will find me experienced, hardworking, and forward looking. I will listen to everyone, motivate our city staff, and promote a positive difference in the community to the best of my ability. It is about the community, not me.”

Holland, an English teacher in Knoxville who taught 14 years at Norris Middle School, said in an email that she, too, expects the council to follow tradition.

‘A little disappointed’

“I am surprised and a little disappointed by the turn of events last council meeting,” she wrote. “I am a longtime resident and cannot recall a time when the ‘ranked’ voting system was not used to instate the mayor and vice mayor to Norris City Council.

“One of the current council members kept repeating that she ‘wanted what was best for the community.’ When the community cast their votes November 3, it was with the understanding that the two with the highest votes would be welcomed as mayor and vice-mayor. What is best for the community is to honor their wishes.

“I will be a team player no matter what happens December 14. I want what is best for our citizens and will continue to listen to their voices,” Holland said.

Painter said she has doubts about Grinder’s commitment to the mayor’s position and even the council.

“He was appointed to a three-year term on the [Norris] Planning Commission in 2018, but resigned after just 15 months, saying he did not have enough time to do that job,” Painter said.

“It seems that being on the council and especially being mayor would take a lot more time than that.”

Experience counts?

Grieve said last week that he believes experience makes a difference in the mayor’s job, and that “it’s not necessarily the person who gets the most votes” who should get the position.

“I do feel that Chris Mitchell has done such a tremendous job,” Grieve said. “I have talked to some people who have suggested putting Chris back in because of his experience and his knowledge [of city government]. I think we’re doing really well now in the city of Norris, the way it’s being done.

“My relationship with Will has been nothing but positive,” he said. “But I don’t know what experience he has in running a city government. He does have a lot of experience in construction and managing people. But we’re talking about running the city government.

“I have not always agreed with Chris on some things in the past, but I think he has the experience to lead our city through the next two years,” Grieve said.

As for the vice-mayor’s spot, Painter might be in line if the council does not support Holland, and she would have Grieve’s vote, he said.

Holland said she does want the position.