Vance Cheek Jr., the youngest city commissioner ever to be elected when he won a seat on the five-member board in 1997, said Wednesday that his frustration over the stagnant local economy was the deciding factor in his quest to win one of two open seats in the April municipal election.
“Johnson City has been there for me, and I want to be there for it,” he said during a visit to the Press. “We have to refocus on jobs, jobs, jobs. When I became a commissioner, I spent all my time cutting ribbons, and opening schools and the public library. We’ve got to have things in the pipeline. Right now we’ve got to fill that up — aggressively.”
He zeroed in on the Med-Tech corridor, saying plans for the area have gone off-course.
“The original plan was to recruit business and industry to a class ‘A’ business park,” he said. “I think that element of the vision has been lost. I think it’s just turned into a place where businesses relocate.”
Cheek, 45, is following in the footsteps of his father, Vance Cheek Sr., who served on the City Commission from 1969 to 1973. The one-term commissioner who also unsuccessfully ran as a Republican for the 1st Congressional District seat in 2006 is now the COO and general counsel for Stableconvergence, a Johnson City technology and marketing firm.
He graduated from Science Hill High School in 1983 at 15, earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at East Tennessee State University in 1987 at 19 and graduated from the UT College of Law in 1990 at the ripe old age of 22.
He went to work at a law firm with Home Federal Savings, a place his father had worked at for 30 years. In 1994, he opened his own firm The Cheek Law Firm, where he focused mainly on civil and general business law. In 1998, he took in a partner, Jim Wheeler, who now operates the firm Wheeler & Seeley.
“In 2001, I was appointed by then-Gov. Don Sundquist to become the state’s commissioner of claims, where I heard civil claims against the state,” he said. “I stayed in that position until 2006 when I retired to run for a seat in Congress.”
After a stint with Baker Donaldson, where he provided legal services on a contract basis, Secretary of State Tre Hargett appointed Cheek to serve as an administrative law judge in Knoxville, but being away from his wife and daughter at length caused him to return.
“Political appointments come and go, and I was trying to serve two masters — work and home,” he said. “Home wins every time.”
Cheek, and his wife, Jody, who is a Washington County special education teacher, and daughter, Catie, have been lifelong residents of Johnson City.
During his one term on the City Commission, he served as both as mayor and vice mayor.
“Our city leads the region in education, medical services, retail and quality of life, but we are not leveraging what we have to gain ground in jobs creation,” he said about his motivations to return as a commissioner.
Cheek also pointed to sharpening the city’s focus on support to new business as the city’s best way to hold the line against tax increases.
“Smart growth not only pays for itself, but increases income to the city that reduces the need for property tax or fees our citizens must pay,” he said. “Now is the time to activate our existing strengths, and I promise to do my best to do just that.”