LaPorte, Shipley retain leadership positions on city council

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   In keeping with city election results, the Elizabethton City Council stuck with the status quo in selecting a mayor and mayor pro tem at a swearing in ceremony for council members on Tuesday afternoon.
   Mayor Sam LaPorte was selected to a second two-year term as the council's top executive while Sam Shipley won a second appointment as mayor pro tem when the four after the council convened to select a mayor.
   "I'm honored," said LaPorte, an attorney who won an uncontested specially held election to the council in 1998 and a full four-year term on the council in 2000. "You talk with people in hope that they appreciate the effort you put into it."
   Shipley, along with fellow incumbents Janie Smith McKinney, Pat "Red" Bowers, and Diane Morris retained their seats in the Nov. 5 city election. Shipley led the eight candidate field winning over 2,700 votes -- a feat he also accomplished when he was elected to his first council term in 1998.
   "Quite naturally I would've liked to have been mayor," said Shipley, "but as I've said in the past, things are going rather well with the city. "The partnership that mayor LaPorte and I have is very, very good. We're working well together, and, to be honest, I can't see rocking the boat."
   Shipley, Bowers, and McKinney received their oath of office from the Honorable John Walton, Carter County Sessions Court judge, at city hall. Bowers and McKinney also ran strong in the election, raking in 2,240 votes and 2,185 votes, respectively.
   Morris did not attend the ceremony due to illness. She has been undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment for rectal cancer since mid-October and has been hospitalized since late last month.
   LaPorte said he had hoped for a second term as mayor and that the past two years had been a significant learning experience in government operation and consensus building with council members.
   His two years in the council's most visible seat required considerable work, said LaPorte.
   "I've also learned even with the government, resources are limited; anything you want to accomplish or hope to accomplish, there is always a give and take," he added, "and you have to make hard decisions on where it is going to go."
   After members took their oath of office, the council convened in session where Bowers nominated LaPorte for another two-year term as mayor and also voted to close nominations with his motion for LaPorte.
   The council voted 6-0 with Morris absent to elect LaPorte as mayor for the next two years. Shipley was elected by 6-0 to a second term as mayor pro tem.
   The Elizabethton city charter requires the council to reorganize its mayor and mayor pro tem no later than two weeks after a city election.
   "I do have aspirations down the road to hopefully become mayor," said Shipley, who's mother, wife, sister and brother-in-law attended the ceremony.
   Shipley noted the city's major challenges included annexation, expanding the city's services, and the fate of the old county hospital property on West G Street.
   He said he was hopeful that an individual or group form the private sector might step forward to purchase and restore the property, but added "I don't expect it to happen."
   The council voted last week to permit the city to place a bid of over $71,000 to purchase the tract when a public auction is opened for the hospital property on Thursday.
   The bid price would cover delinquent real property taxes owed the city and county. Carter County commissioners voted to forgive the delinquent taxes if the city purchased the property. The city would be expected to pay the county roughly $2,000 in legal costs if the bid was successful.
   If the city is the successful bidder, the property owner would have a one year "right-of-redemption" to pay the taxes, legal fees and penalty of 10 percent on the total delinquent tax amount.
   "I would hope we could get it down as soon as we can," said Shipley.
   LaPorte agreed, saying the redevelopment of the hospital could have more to do with the council's will and commitment.
   "It is a question of priorities," said LaPorte. "I guess the real question is are we willing to?"
   The council approved the 2002-2003 city budget in April that sliced 13 percent from the general fund and approximately 33 percent from the water and sewer fund.
   LaPorte said the city's revenue stream should not be adversely affected in the short-run by the state's decision to raise sales taxes.
   "I think that will alleviate the problem temporarily; income will continue to flow to the municipalities and counties will increase; a lot of that depends on the economy," said LaPorte.
   "Obviously, the state needs to take whatever actions are necessary to a steady cash flow."