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The race for mayor: Wolfe wants town’s progress to continue

Seeking a fourth term, Mayor Kelly Wolfe points to his record of success as the reason voters should keep him in office.
“I think Jonesborough is a dramatically better place than it was six years ago due to the team we have in place, which includes the administration and employees,” he said.
Accomplishments he listed include paving more than 40 percent of the roads, building a new sewer plant that will take care of the town’s needs for the next 30 years, and making significant improvements to the water system.
When he took office, Wolfe said, the town had an abysmal bond rating and a $400,000 fund balance. “We were literally living hand-to-mouth when it came to paying bills,” he said. “Now we have an AA- bond rating, which is only one step below Washington County, a $1.2 million fund balance and folks can see a dramatic difference in how town government operates.”
Another interesting fact, according to Wolfe, is the amount of retail sales tax collected in Jonesborough has grown by 50 percent during the last six years. “This is due to a keen effort that has brought many businesses to town,” he said. “This keeps operations more stable because we don’t just rely on property taxes for town services.”
The local business owner said there should be no other motive for participating in town government other than keeping the government moving forward. “As I talk with people every day, folks are generally very happy.”
If elected, Wolfe said he wants to continue the momentum with economic development. “We’ve seen a lot of good growth, but this is an effort that requires constant attention,” he said. “I also want to see us continue to improve the water system. We have a plan that is working, and we should be able to complete it in the next couple of years.”
The greatest challenge, but one with equal potential, is completion of the trail system through town that will stretch to Jonesborough Middle School, allowing residents to reach almost anywhere in town without having to get in their cars. “There are many properties that will be impacted and obstacles to overcome,” he said of finishing the project.
Another challenge that required several tough decisions was dealing with the fallout from the International Storytelling Center’s bankruptcy filing at the end of 2010. “Ultimately, (the ISC) is a private organization, and we did the best we could to keep tabs on what was going on,” he said.
While the announcement may have come as a surprise, Wolfe said he was painfully aware of the consequences that could come to Jonesborough if the organization were not successfully reorganized. The town worked out a deal with the lien holder and purchased the building on Main Street last year for $1 million.
The ISC continues to operate from its headquarters, but now as a renter in an arrangement that covers the town’s mortgage costs. Wolfe said it was a good business decision for everyone involved, and one that preserved tourism and the millions of dollars that are received by the town as a result of ISC events.
“We did a great job dealing with the hand we were dealt, and I’m proud of the way Jonesborough and the community pulled together,” he said.
Wolfe drew attention for a couple of his actions during a campaign year that so far has seen more than half of the county commission replaced with new members. As one of the organizers of a political action committee, he was involved in a targeted effort prior to the Republican Primary that may have impacted Mark Ferguson’s losing his seat. Ferguson was one of the three commissioners representing Jonesborough in the 6th District.
“This was an unfortunate situation where factors and people were at play, and a more organized and larger effort was needed,” said Wolfe, who maintains he still sees no conflict with exercising his freedom of speech as a private citizen. “I agreed with the majority of folks in Jonesborough who thought county government was an embarrassment and change was desperately needed.”
The second came from his hosting of the Farm, Fiddle and Friends event in July with Mayor Dan Eldridge that offered a meet-and-greet opportunity with Sen. Lamar Alexander and Gov. Bill Haslam.
“This was an event to showcase the fact that relationships are in place that can greatly benefit folks in the community,” he said.
While criticism was received from many who thought the event should have been open to the public, Wolfe said he was incorrectly tagged in the media as the person who made out the invitation list.
“I was a junior partner in the event, and I invited 100 (of the approximately 1,500) people,” he said. “If you know me, you know I am not an exclusionary type of person.”
Looking ahead, one long-term project still unfinished is the new Jonesborough Senior Center. “It’s under construction, and I’m very pleased to see great work going on and progress in the building,” Wolfe said. “It’s more important to get a good end product than rush along and make mistakes. I’m looking forward to its completion.”
Another project that caused some stir but has yet to even make it to the table is the Historic Jonesborough Parkway, the suggested name for a bypass that would go from Boones Creek Road around the north side of town to Highway 11E at the intersection of Persimmon Ridge Road.
“It’s a concept that has been discussed, but before anything is done, it would have to come before the board,” he said. “I don’t think there is any way we could afford to build the parkway, and I don’t see that situation changing.”
With his term as Republican State Committeeman ended, Wolfe said his future political aspirations are to be the best mayor he can for the people of Jonesborough. “Other than that, I have none.”