House divided, the U.S. Postal Service and Elizabethton’s next manager

Robert Houk • Dec 3, 2012 at 11:10 AM

Republicans hold 70 of the 99 seats in the Tennessee House of Representatives. With a super majority in the House, a respectable majority in the state Senate and a Republican in the governor’s office, you might think the new session of the state General Assembly will find GOPers all singing off the same page.

Don’t count on it.

There will be issues that will divide the GOP majority — much as they divided the Democrats who ruled the roost decades before them.

As I noted in a column last month, the widest divide will be between lawmakers from urban districts and those who represent rural areas. Urban lawmakers want a bigger share of the pie, and rural legislators think Nashville, Chattanooga and Memphis are already getting too much from the state’s coffers.

It’s the same division often seen on other governing bodies, such as the Washington County Commission. In the latter case, rural folks don’t want to see any of their tax dollars going to Johnson City, and city residents wonder what the heck they are getting for their property taxes.

A few years ago, I wrote a column reminiscing about the glory days of the Post Office. I turned to three local veterans of the U.S. Postal Service to tell me how things used to be.

Sadly, two of those gentlemen — Haynes Elliott and Dal Jones — passed away earlier this year. I was pleased, however, to catch up recently with Fred Lockett, who told me he is “getting along fine” and is looking forward to turning 90 in a few months.

Fred joked last week that he thought it was a good idea for me to do a periodic column on things that have stood the test of time. He certainly qualifies, as does the Postal Service, to which Lockett dedicated 28 years of his life.

During that time, Lockett rose to postmaster of the Johnson City region — overseeing 19 post offices with 376 as the first three digits of their zip codes. Back then, mail arrived daily to Johnson City by train. Lockett told me letter carriers prided themselves on delivering mail three times a day to the downtown area.

I personally have no complaints about the Postal Service today. While others grouse about the cost of a stamp (which goes up a penny next month), I marvel at what we get for a mere .44 cents.

Elizabethton City Manager Fred Edens announced last week he will retire soon. That means we can begin speculation on who might replace him. The names of several elected officials have come up, including state Rep. Kent Williams and the chairman of the Carter County Commission, Yogi Bowers. The name of Gate City, Va., Police Chief Kim Birchfield, an Elizabethton resident who recently served on the city’s Board of Education, was also mentioned, as was that of Kelly Geagley, the director of the Elizabethton Housing and Development Agency.

Possibly the most interesting name I heard last week for Elizabethton city manager was that of the son of former Carter County Mayor Truman Clark. Larry Clark currently serves as the director of administrative services for the city of Morristown.

Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at rhouk@johnsoncitypress.com.

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