William “Bud” Hill refers to himself as “a child of the projects.”
He’s come a long way, and he wants to see his hometown of Johnson City do some catching up as well.
Hill, 59, first ran for the City Commission in 2007. Though he did not win a spot on the board, he tried again in 2009, finishing fourth among the six candidates. He garnered 365 votes that year, or 6 percent of the total votes cast. In April, he will try again.
“I’ve never had a large group back me, but I continue to head to Jonesborough and pick up filing papers,” he said during a visit Thursday to the Johnson City Press. “I keep doing it out of a sense of duty. I’m trying to show folks it doesn’t matter where you come from. You’ve still got the main man upstairs that will get you to where you want to go.”
He said he’s learned to relax and speak his mind about the issues in the six years that have passed since he first attempted to become a public servant.
“If you don’t speak up, things will stay the same,” he said. “If we don’t push ourselves, we’ll stay in the same spot. I think I would be a good choice because I would bring a sense of someone who wants to preserve historical culture and to be a liaison between the city and county to work on issues that involve both of us.”
He also strongly recommends the city getting financially involved in helping East Tennessee State University bring back its football program, saying the city would profit from sales tax revenues, which would lessen the need to raise property taxes.
Seniors also will get a nod from Hill. He continues to support a stand-alone center.
“Maybe one out of 50 people I’ve talked to say they like the new center,” he said. “Most said there’s just too many taxpayer dollars involved. Plus if you make a promise (to build a stand-alone center), and don’t keep it, your words are not taken seriously after that.”
He also strongly supports the city’s stormwater projects and feels the city needs to improve employment opportunities by recruiting manufacturing jobs to the area.
Hill was born and raised in Johnson City when it was still segregated. That changed the year he left Dunbar Elementary School, but hard times followed as he helped his mother raise his four sisters and six brothers. He attended North Junior High School and then Science Hill High School, where he played football and basketball.
After high school, he joined the Army and eventually served in Vietnam. He was assigned to a special unit before he went overseas that developed weapons that are being used today in Afghanistan. He did a stint in Vietnam and was sent to Nuremberg, Germany, where he was a tank commander.
“I came back to the states — the real world — but I had no skills,” he said. “I had to learn some jobs skills that were applicable to the work force. From 1976-1998 I lived in Wichita, Kan. I found a job at a woodworking shop. I put in an application with Beechcraft (civilian aircraft) as a router operator. Then I was hired by Cessna. They had tool and die classes there and I gained some skills.”
He left that job to work with Boeing, and one his first tasks was to design parts for Air Force One. Wichita is where he raised his two sons and two daughters. One son lives with him in Johnson City today.
“I stayed away for so long, I was getting homesick,” he said. “I found that things hadn’t changed, as far as opportunities for black business owners. There’s a lot of unfinished work to be done here. A lot of people don’t realize that the first bricks laid on Main Street were done by black men. They also laid a lot of the rails. The people that did that were my ancestors. We’re still not being treated fairly.”