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Gearhart resigns from alderman post

Jonesborough Alderman Mary Gearhart has resigned from the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, citing ongoing health issues as the reason for her departure. In stepping down, Gearhart has asked her colleagues to appoint former town mayor Homer G’Fellers to serve the remainder of her term, which expires in November 2014.
Gearhart, who was elected to serve her second term in 2010, suffered a stroke last year. She has been grappling with the idea of resigning ever since, she said.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but I gave my letter of resignation to (Mayor Kelly Wolfe) on the first of August,” Gearhart said when contacted by the Herald & Tribune late last week. “It’s really the right time for me to do this. I’m too old and I’m too ill to be the old fighter I used to be. I’m finding I’m not as effective as I used to be.”
While Gearhart intended for the September meeting of the BMA to be her last, she said she decided to bow out a month earlier after talking with her doctor and extended family.
“I had some help with this decision. I have a very large extended family and they’re really encouraging me to do this,” she said. “Everybody’s pushing me to get away from these conflicts.”
With blood pressure problems and other issues caused by the stroke, Gearhart said her doctor strongly urged her to step away from the political scene, one that can often be fraught with stressful situations.
“You know how much I love that job,” she said of her role on the BMA. “If I had any choice, I would still be doing it.”
Gearhart moved to Jonesborough more than a decade ago at the age of 60.
“I didn’t know one soul,” she said.
Seven years later, she said she was “surprised” when she was elected to serve on the BMA.
“I’ve always been political and love being involved in things,” Gearhart said. “I began going to town meetings and I started asking questions.”
After months of speaking during the citizens’ comments portion of the BMA meetings, Gearhart said she became incensed when leaders voted to put a limit on the amount of time a resident was allowed to talk at a meeting.
“I decided right then that I was going to run,” she said. “People thought I was crazy.”
Joined by two friends, Gearhart knocked on 900 doors during her first campaign to be elected.
“I had so many people say, ‘You’re the first person to come and personally ask me for my vote,’” Gearhart recalled. “I still about fainted when I won.”
Since first being elected in 2006, Gearhart says she is proud of her voting record and has “no regrets” about her time on the BMA.
She is particularly proud of the progress she has seen in the creation of a new senior center in town, a project on which she heavily campaigned in 2010.
And in late 2011, the BMA voted to raise taxes by 10 cents to construct a new senior center on East Main Street.
“That’s my one big accomplishment,” Gearhart said. “I’m very proud of that. Even the fact that I had to vote to raise taxes for it. I think it was well worth it.”
While Gearhart will not get to vote on who will replace her, she has recommended the BMA appoint G’Fellers to the seat.
G’Fellers, who served as an alderman in Jonesborough for eight years and then as mayor for another three years, recently retired from his CEO role at the Johnson City Power Board.
Gearhart said she wanted G’Fellers to take her place because he he has left a lasting impression on her.
“When I first came to Jonesborough, he was an alderman and I was so impressed with him. He did things the way I would want them done,” Gearhart said. “When I found out he retired from the Power Board, that’s when I had really started thinking about resigning. He was my very first thought of who should fill (the vacancy).”
When contacted by phone last week, G’Fellers said he is willing to return to the BMA if leaders agree to appoint him to the position.
“When I retired, I was doing something around the house and I ran into (Wolfe),” G’Fellers said. “He said, ‘You really don’t think he people in Jonesborough are going to let you sit around and do nothing, do you?’”
G’Fellers said he then talked with Gearhart, who told him of her health problems and asked if he would consider filling the role when she resigned.
“I told her that I hoped her health improved and it wouldn’t get to that point, but that I am open to trying to be of some help wherever I can be,” G’Fellers said. “With being retired and loving Jonesborough, sure. I want to be active.”
A decision on who will replace Gearhart on the BMA was expected to at least be discussed during the Monday night BMA meeting.
Prior to that meeting, Wolfe said he was new to this particular process and wasn’t sure how it would go at Monday’s meeting.
“As far as I know, we’ll accept Mary’s resignation as tendered,” he said. “From that point, it’s a board decision.”
In the mean time, Wolfe reflected on his years spent working with Gearhart on the BMA.
“It has been a real privilege to serve with Mary Gearhart. She is a tireless advocate for the town of Jonesborough who loves the people of this town,” he said. “I admire her strength, tenacity and courage. She is always willing to fight for what she believes in. We will miss her here on the BMA.”
Gearhart has asked to remain on the town’s Senior Center Advisory Board and the Visitors Center Advisory Committee, a request Wolfe intends to honor.
“We’d love to have her continue with the town as much as she’d like to,” Wolfe said.