​Iva Michelle Russell: Championing a New Image for Grundy County

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
Editor’s Note: This is the last in a series of interviews with some of the local candidates running for office. General election voting is Aug. 2.
Talking about her decision to run for Grundy County mayor, Iva Michelle Russell said, “My adult life was getting my children grown, to make life better for them.” Russell has transferred that energy to Grundy County. Her message: “It’s about hope.”
“People are tired of feeling bad they’re from Grundy County,” Russell said. “They want more for the next generation.”
“Jobs are key,” she stressed. Russell points to the need to expand water and sewer capacity at the industrial park, as well as increasing the availability of broadband internet and natural gas.
To satisfy new industries’ needs for a skilled work force, Russell wants to see a Tennessee college of applied technology on the Mountain.
Likewise important, Russell said, the government needs to provide public safety and infrastructure and that requires prudent business management and increasing revenue.
Russell argues for bringing back recycling. “Rather than paying people to take our trash, our trash should pay for itself,” Russell said. “We can sell 85 percent of our waste.”
She opposes increasing property taxes to generate revenue, instead favoring the hotel-motel tax and sales tax mechanisms.
Bed and breakfast enterprises provide tax revenue paid by visitors, Russell noted, and also generate income for local residents.
Highlighting the potential of revenue from tourism, Russell said, “We need more places for people to spend money.” She supports facilitating startup businesses and expansion of existing businesses. She also proposes creating a visitors bureau to make guests aware of the many attractions.
Russell cited learning “to work together and agreeing on our goals” as the county’s most pressing need.
Russell comes well prepared for tackling that challenge. A fifth-generation Grundy countian, her father’s job took the family to the Chicago area. After earning a degree in public relations with a marketing minor, Russell held positions as the public relations director for the Junior Miss America Show, assistant manager handling VIPs for the Chicago Hilton, and membership director for Wheaton Sports Center.
The 9/11 attacks prompted Russell to move back to Grundy County. “I wanted to get my two daughters to a safe place.”
Russell started a public relations and communications consulting business and immediately got involved in local politics. “Local elections matter far more than state and federal elections,” she insists.
Russell also serves as co-host of GCTV’s “Morning on the Mountain” and has an intimate knowledge of the area from interviewing people for the program.
Russell lobbied for off-road vehicle enthusiasts and aided Coalmont in its successful application for a $1 million grant for an off-road vehicle park. “It’s a lesson in working together,” she said, “a win-win. Off-road vehicle people spend 8 to 1 compared to hikers.”
As vice-president of the Monteagle Chamber of Commerce, Russell chaired the “Make Monteagle Marketable” campaign, which earned the town a $560,000 grant to complete a section of the Mountain Goat Trail to facilitate pedestrian traffic and revitalize business.
Addressing the problem of Grundy County’s low health ranking, Russell said, “Natural remedies like diet and exercise are key.” She emphasized the importance of educating people about healthy lifestyle choices and making them aware of exercise opportunities like the South Cumberland State Park and Mountain Goat Trail.
“What’s needed is a mind-culture change,” Russell said. “When you’re depressed, you don’t take care of yourself.”
Russell’s vision is “to rebrand Grundy County” by coupling residents’ hope for the next generation with the county’s “sipping tea on the porch” charm. “I want to see an ‘I’m proud I’m from Grundy County’ mindset here.”