By Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
Grayson city council met in special session last week with one item on their agenda – the replacement of city councilman Jerry Yates. Yates stepped down at the last regular meeting of council, citing a planned move to a farm outside of city limits.
There were actually two items; the first being an extended executive session related to Yates’ replacement. During that executive session, council spoken privately with the five candidates who responded to calls to fill the roll. They included a schoolteacher, lawyer, firefighter, social worker, and a retired educator – two of whom are currently running for political office.
The person they ended up choosing, though, has no political ambitions beyond finishing out the unexpired term. Retired teacher and former alcoholic beverage control officer Willis Johnson was chosen by council to fill Yates’ unexpired term.
Councilman Terry Stamper, who chaired the meeting until the arrival of Mayor George Steele, said it wasn’t an easy decision, as each of the candidates had their own merits, but that Johnson was the candidate they all agreed would best fill the role at this point.
“We had five good candidates, and it was a really hard decision, but I make a motion to nominate Willis Johnson to fill the vacancy left by Jerry Yates,” Stamper said. Councilpersons Sudy Walker, Troy Combs, and Pearl Crum voted aye with Stamper to appoint Johnson to the role. Councilman Bradley Cotten was not present for the special session.
Johnson was sworn in the same evening, by city clerk Duane Suttles, in the council conference room.
“I always wanted to do something like this,” Johnson said. “I taught history for year and enjoyed teaching the constitution and government, and I wanted to feel what it was about.”
Though he takes the role seriously, he said he doesn’t have any further political ambitions beyond serving his community on council.
“In 1993 I ran for county office, and in the middle of the campaign my dad died,” Johnson explained. “I just stopped. It took the wind out of my sails.”
“This is my last go around,” he continued. “I’m 74 years old, and it’s only for six months, so I thought, ‘go for it.’”
He said he’s honored to be selected from among a highly qualified pool of candidates.
“Once I applied, I didn’t know if I would be selected, because the four other candidates were all really qualified and good people,” he said. “I feel lucky in being selected for the post. I will work hard and do my best for the city.”
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