Meet the Candidate Tony Gilliam: Rising to the Challenges
by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of interviews with some of the local candidates running for office. Tony Gilliam was interviewed on Oct. 1. The first Monteagle mayoral candidate interview is in the Oct. 9, 2020 issue.
Tony Gillian joined the Monteagle City Council in November 2018. In January 2019, his fellow council members elected him vice mayor. How Gilliam grappled with the city’s challenges underscores his mayoral candidacy. By February 2019 Gilliam had jump started the stalled firehall project and oversaw the design and construction process through to completion within budget, making the long awaited and desperately needed firehall a reality. During the same month, Gilliam guided the city through road repair and purchase of an access road to allow passage for the 70 Laurel Lake area homeowners trapped when heavy rainfall washed out a culvert. In the aftermath of the disaster, Gilliam arranged for Monteagle to sign on to Marion County’s Hazzard Mitigation Plan so the city could more easily avail itself of FEMA assistance in the future.
“So much had been let go in Monteagle,” Gilliam said. In his two years as vice-mayor, Gilliam took the lead in ushering in long overdue roof replacement at the post office, water plant, and library; insulation and heat for the town shop, which had only a wood stove; the purchase of utility trucks, computers for the water plant, and cardiac defibrillators for the police and fire departments; a technology grant for new computers for the library; signing off on a grant to enable a Mountain Goat Trail project to move forward; a cardboard compactor at the convenience center earning the city recycling revenue; and lighting upgrades at I-24 exits 134 and 135, saving the city $350,000-$400,000 by coming up with a plan for refurbishing the lights rather than doing a full replacement.
Careful monitoring of the city’s finances is a top priority for Gilliam. “For the first time in Monteagle’s history, the auditor had zero findings to report this past year,” Gilliam said.
Gilliam’s long career as an HVAC technician honed his skills for managing money and navigating loan processes. He ultimately took a job with the University of the South and recently retired after 26-years as an HVAC technician there.
Gilliam also serves on the Monteagle Planning Commission. He stressed “the problems” the commission was having with managing the Petro Travel Center project stemmed from there being no protocols for requiring performance bonds and escrow accounts. “We’re learning from our and past boards mistakes,” Gilliam acknowledged.
Regarding the dispute over whether a 7-acre parcel of the proposed travel center has the adequate zoning, Gilliam said, “We [the council and planning commission] are waiting for an [written] opinion from the Municipal Technical Advisory Service and city attorneys. If the parcel reverts back to residential, that [the rezoning of 7-acres] won’t stop the Petro [21-acre project].” The rest of the travel center tract has adequate zoning, Gilliam explained. But, he also noted, 5 acres of the 7-acre parcel were wetlands and could not be developed regardless of the zoning.
“Monteagle’s single biggest challenge is bringing revenue in and promoting tourism to do that,” Gilliam said. “The area has a lot to offer.” Pointing to enticements like the Savage Gulf, Stone Door, ziplining, and Mountain Goat Trail, Gilliam highlighted the importance of “cleaning up the town” and making Monteagle an attractive welcoming place to visitors.
Gilliam praised Monteagle’s police and fire departments and excellent elementary school. “I want all three to remain on top.” He proposed a citizen group to create a Monteagle 10-year plan.
Gilliam and his wife of 40 years have one son. Summing up why he wants to be mayor, Gilliam said, “I was born and raised here. I love the people. I want Monteagle to be a place where everyone would want to live. A place where people feel safe and wanted.”