Philadelphia, Tenn., not being dissolved

By Hugh G. Willett

The reports of Philadelphia's demise have been slightly exaggerated.

The town of 533, one of the four incorporated communities in Loudon County, may not have a candidate for mayor or alderman in the November election, but those in charge insist the town is not going to be dissolved, at least not for a few more years.

When the deadline for certifying candidates for the coming election passed recently without any candidates filing for the top political positions in the town, speculation began to rise about whether Philadelphia, founded in 1820 and incorporated in 1968, would continue to exist.

Loudon County election commissioner Dana Zehner said she wasn't sure why there were no candidates from Philadelphia and was even less sure what it might mean to the future of the town, which occupies 1.6 square miles in the southwest corner of Loudon County.

"The town charter says the currently elected officials remain in office," Zehner said. "It would be up to them to decide to dissolve the town."

The current town leaders have no intention of dissolving the town, but they were trying to send a message when they decided not to file for the coming election, said Terrie Waddell, alderwoman and wife of town mayor Robert Waddell. "If nobody runs, we will fulfill our jobs," she said.

The positions of mayor and alderman are not paid and require a large investment in time, Waddell said. It's hard for the couple to balance family obligations with the duties of public office, she said.

Both Waddells work full-time jobs, and Robert Waddell also operates his own air-conditioning repair business on the side, she said. The couple also have two teenage children.

"This is my eighth year on City Council," Terrie Waddell said. "I'm also on the Volunteer Fire Department. My husband has been mayor for four years, and he's also assistant fire chief."

Waddell said she and her husband checked with the Municipal Technical Advisory Service about what might happen if they declined to run for office this year.

"We know we'll have to stay in office by default," she said. "If we have to, we will put in another four years."

Waddell said that, if she and her husband are forced to continue in the role of mayor and alderman for another four years, they hope someone else will step in and help by running for office.

It's not always easy to find someone to volunteer to help run a small town, said Roy Bledsoe, chairman of the Loudon County Commission. Bledsoe was Philadelphia's first mayor when the town incorporated in 1968, and he held the position for another 13 years. At one time, he mowed the grass in the town's public areas himself.

Bledsoe said the Waddells are not the first reluctant officeholders in Philadelphia.

"I think it was 1981, I tried not to run, and I told people I would appreciate it if they didn't write me in," Bledsoe recalled. "Nobody ran, and they held us over another year."

Philadelphia isn't much of a political empire, Bledsoe acknowledged.

The town, which owns a few buildings, including the Volunteer Fire Department headquarters, has lost businesses and tax revenue, such as the local IGA grocery store, to competition from stores such as Wal-Mart over the years.

"There really isn't much of a budget to manage. Maybe a hundred thousand dollars per year," Bledsoe said.

Through the use of state funding and local volunteers, the town has been able to keep the roads paved and the Volunteer Fire D epartment in working order.

At one time, back in the 1980s, the town hired its own police officer but has since relinquished law enforcement to the county sheriff's department. If no one wants to run the town, the county would have to take over, Bledsoe said.

"I guess they could turn it all over to the county," Bledsoe said. "Most of the people wouldn't notice the difference."