As the current Mayor of Jonesborough, Kelly Wolfe is proud of the progress Tennessee’s oldest town has experienced since he won his first election eight years ago — from a much improved water and wastewater infrastructure to a new senior center and arts center.
But there is, he said, so much more he wants to do.
“A part of me has said, ‘OK, we’ve done enough. It’s time for somebody else,” Wolfe admitted recently as he looked around downtown Jonesborough. “Another part of me says, ‘Hey we’re on a roll here.”
And he’s just not quite ready to let go.
When Wolfe first decided to run for the position of town mayor in 2008, he said he was motivated by a strong desire to make a difference.
“It was definitely a case of looking around and being frustrated,” Wolfe recalled. “I knew we had potential. I knew we could be better, but we just never seemed to get anywhere.”
He added, “That’s not to diminish the people working for the town or anything. There was a dysfunctionality to it that seemed to be persistent and consistent.”
A self-identified problem solver, Wolfe stepped into town hall to see what he could do.
“The contribution I think I have been able to make over the last 8 years is a consistency to problem solving, reorganizing departments so they are actually functioning in an efficient manner. And insisting on us getting results,” he said. “I think you can look around town today and see the results of that team effort over these 8 years.”
According to Wolfe, the town has paved its streets, built a new senior center and “we went from losing 61 percent of our water we produce to only having 18 percent water loss.”
“We were chronically polluting Little Limestone Creek and under a moratorium from the state with our sewer plant,” Wolfe added. “That’s all been fixed.”
And staff, once woefully underpaid, are now being paid what they are worth, he said.
Wolfe believes there has been a positive transformation of much of Jonesborough’s town government. But, he said, “We lack still some major components before Jonesborough is on the path it needs to be on.”
One of those components is the current Jackson Theatre project, a project Wolfe and his wife, Jennifer, believe in so strongly that they donated $100,000 to the town for its development.
Its completion, Wolfe said, could be a defining moment for the tourism infrastructure in the town, bringing in more people, business, revenue and jobs.
“Just the promise of the Jackson is getting people excited about making investments downtown,” he said.
Another project important to Wolfe and the town is the relocation of the city garage.
“We’ve got to get the remnants of our town operations updated and the last part of that is our town garage,” he said. The garage is currently housed in a neighborhood near the senior center and has long been viewed as insufficient in size or location for the Jonesborough fleet.
“We’ve got to move that down to the Rosenbaum property by the sewer plant, screen it from the surrounding neighborhood and set up a facility adequate for at least the next 50 years,” Wolfe said.
And, of course, the mayor wants to see continued enhancement and maintenance of the town’s infrastructure.
Through it all, Wolfe said, the town must maintain a careful stewardship of its finances – something he believes they have managed to do well over the past eight years.
“We are fortunate because interest rates have been at historic levels,” he said. “The blessing was there, and we were smart enough to take advantage of it and I think, in every instance, use it in a way that will bring a return to the taxpayers of Jonesborough.”
Wolfe is also a strong believer in smart growth.
“There are things we value, like personal service from your town employees, like knowing all the neighbors on your street,” he said. “Being able to walk to church or ride your cart downtown or go to your community theater.
“We need to always be aware of how we got where we are and be true to who we are. Our unique Jonesborough needs to remain intact.”