Pete Paduch brings irascible style to Betsy

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Peter Paduch knows his style does not endear him to everyone, and he doesn't much care.
   The iconoclastic mayor of Johnson City talked about his city, its problems and its relationship to Elizabethton at a luncheon of the Elizabethton Rotary Club on Wednesday afternoon. He also stated the success of Johnson City relied on the success of neighboring towns and counties.
   "Johnson City doesn't do well unless Elizabethton does well," Paduch, who grew up in Carter County's west end, said.
   He also said most perplexing to him was why Elizabethton didn't have an ordinance permitting liquor by the drink.
   "You're driving everybody to Johnson City," he said. "I think it's crazy that I have to drive to Johnson City instead of driving over here because I like driving over here."
   Paduch said his city needed to review employee retirement plans, the structure of the public safety officer program and get an infrastructure plan in place.
   He felt the city management and some commissioners had green-lighted decisions that proved economically crippling to the city in recent years. Paduch cited the construction of the former Adelphia Center and the purchase of Buffalo Valley Golf Course as two examples of city spending he felt were unwise. After purchasing the golf course in 1999, the city had consistently lost money on the course's operation, he said.
   "It is going to take us years to drag ourselves out of the debt we are in," he said. "You can't make stupid mistakes, and these are pretty easy."
   Debt prohibited the city from spending any money to repave city streets during the current fiscal year, Paduch said.
   A graduate of East Tennessee State University and private businessman, Paduch was initially elected to the commission in 1995. He was subsequently reelected in 1999 and won his third term in April receiving over 5,100 votes. His fellow commissioners appointed him mayor shortly thereafter. Paduch has become well known for butting heads with city management and fellow commissioners during his time in office.
   Among the strides the city made during his tenure on the commission, Paduch cited the monthly financial statements each commissioner now receives and the reduction of potable water lost by the city in production. 
   Paduch said he did not believe the animated commission meetings discouraged outside investors from coming to the Tri-Cities area. He said prospective citizens did not worry about "a few commissioners worrying about who was going to sit on the power board", but a good labor force, taxes and infrastructure.
   "What I look at is do the people believe in me," he said. "Well, three times they said 'yes.'"
   Of course, the mayor's tenure in public service has not always been rosy. He and his brother Ben Paduch were served with a summons in Aug. 2002 for failing to obtain a building permit and submit proper plans on additions to their Hometech Industries building. Paduch also got in hot water last summer after he ordered a reporter from the Johnson City Press to leave a meeting where he and fellow city commissioner Dr. Ricky Mohon were speaking with members of the city's fire department.
   Once a staple of the Charter cable network, Johnson City commission meetings are no longer televised to most Elizabethton homes. While Nielsen ratings were not applicable, the meetings were quite popular with Elizabethton and Carter County residents.
   While praising the operation of Elizabethton's city government, Paduch said he had no plans to seek political office in Carter County. He also made subtle reference to the county commission's decision to pass zoning regulations in all eight county districts - a decision that ignited heated opposition from residents of the county's most rural areas.
   "If they don't like you here," Paduch said of citizens' regard to government officials, "they shoot you."