Leader Blues

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

TOP STORY>>Race to draw crowd

Leader staff writer

Most aldermen felt it was coming but were still surprised and saddened by the news that Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim would resign July 1.

The mayor made the announcement at Thursday’s city council meeting.

“I could sense it coming,” said Alder-man Bob Stroud, “but I’m still saddened like everyone else.” Alderman Bill Howard had spent most of the day with the mayor in other meetings. “He gave me no indication,” Howard said, even though the alderman half expected the mayor not to finish out his term which would have expired on Dec. 31, 2010.

Howard said Swaim has been good for the city and he’s leaving some big shoes to fill. “There’ll be a lot of people wanting to try,” Howard said.
Stroud felt the long dragged-out negotiations to save the city’s hospital did the mayor in.

“He agonized for that for months,” Stroud said, adding, “I appreciate that he got us through numerous trouble spots and has the city on a super foundation.”

The council will set the date for a special election to elect Swaim’s replacement.

“It will probably be in May,” Stroud said. Whoever wins that election will complete Swaim’s unexpired term and will be able to run for the next complete four-year term.
Stroud said the city will continue to move forward. “We’ve got a number of good people ready to step up,” he said.

The only candidates to step into the race for the mayor’s seat so far are Alderman Kenny Elliott, who announced at the council meeting that he would run after Swaim said he was resigning, and Randy (Doc) Rhodd of Family Motorcycle Ministry, who said Tuesday he’s decided “to throw my hat into the ring.”

Alderman Marshall Smith was at Thursday’s meeting to be sworn in with the rest of the council, but then left to be with his wife, who wasn’t feeling well after recent surgery. It was only the 10th meeting in 28 years that the alderman has missed.

“The mayor called me after the meeting and told me about his resignation,” Smith said.

“I was not totally surprised. He had indicated to me earlier that he was thinking in that direction. He’s been at this a longtime and I know how he feels,” Smith said, adding that the mayor has done an excellent job. Smith, himself, has submitted his resignation as chairman of the city’s advertising and promotion commission.

“I’ve been running it since its inception in 2003 and it’s just time for other aldermen to be involved,” he said. Smith’s last commission meeting was Tuesday.

Howard said many people aren’t aware how tough the mayor’s job is. “There’s always another meeting to go to. It’s not an eight-to-five job,” the alderman said.

Alderman Terry Sansing, who admits to bumping heads with the mayor probably more than anyone else on the council, was equally surprised. “The one good thing is the shape of the city,” he said, praising Swaim’s accomplishments. “The mayor’s conservative fiscal management and principles have been a blessing to Jacksonville.”

Elliot had planned to run for mayor in 2008 if Swaim opted not to run again, but Swaim announced he was going for another term and ran unopposed. The mayor had already said he would not seek reelection in 2010.

“I was going to run in 2010. This just moves up the timetable,” Eliott said.

Swaim, who is in his 23rd year as mayor, said 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.”

"I was looking forward to the mayor finishing out his term," said Alderman Reedie Ray. "This took me by surprise, but I wish him the best."

Ray called Swaim a workaholic. "And a workaholic for the city means a lot," he said, adding that he expects at least five or six people to run for the mayor's seat.

"I hope we get another person who has the city in mind," Ray said.