Leader Blues

Friday, January 16, 2009

TOP STORY > >Swaim to quit job as mayor

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim, who has held office for 22 years, told the city council Thursday that he would resign.

After his state of the city address, Swaim said that even though he was just midway through his sixth four-year term he would be stepping down July 1.

The resignation announcement was a surprise to almost everyone on the council. Shortly after Swaim dropped his bombshell, Alderman Kenny Elliott announced his candidacy for mayor.

The city will have to hold a special election to replace Swaim. The winner of that election will serve out the remainder of Swaim’s current term, through December 2010, and will then be able to run for reelection.

The council will set the date for the special election at its next council meeting, Feb.5.

Swaim said his family played a major role in his decision. He told the council he missed a lot of his children’s activities while mayor and didn’t want to do the same with his grandchildren.

“It was a hard decision to make, but the right one,” he said. “I’m comfortable with leaving. The city’s in good financial shape and has good employees.”

In looking back, Swaim, who also served on the city council, said he ran for mayor because he wanted to fix the Vertac-dioxin problem that was plaguing the city.

“I was naïve in thinking I could solve it in four years and then get back to my realty business,” the mayor said. “It wasn’t solved until August of my twelfth year.”

The mayor said that the dioxin problem was the biggest issue of his long career. “It determined the future of our community,” Swaim said, “which is looking very bright now.”

The Vertac plant, which shut down when Swaim became mayor in January 1987, was finally cleaned up in 1998 with $150 million from the federal Superfund program, which paid for the destruction of thousands of contaminated barrels at the old chemical plant.

Swaim called himself an infrastructure person and said he was most satisfied when something was completed that was good for the city. He cites, with satisfaction, a new city hall, a new community center, the new library and the fact that every fire station has been remodeled and expanded.

Construction will soon start on the $14.8 million joint-education center to be built outside the air base with $5 million from the city and the remainder from the Air Force.

The $5 million, one of the largest single donations ever made to the Air Force, comes from a penny sales tax approved by Jacksonville voters five years ago.

Swaim also pushed for a millage increase that helped fund a new library on Main Street.

The library will cost nearly $4 million and will open on Feb. 14.

Alderman Elliott, the first to announce for mayor, has been on the city council for 12 years. He is coordinator of energy management for the Pulaski County Special School District, where he has worked for 26 years.

Previously he worked for Bond Consulting Engineers in Jacksonville.