Johnson City mayor David Tomita still has a vivid recollection of the first budget he helped pass as a member of the Johnson City Commission.
It was 2013, and the Commission chambers were packed with folks wanting to speak out about the fact that funding for seventh- and eighth-grade sports at Liberty Bell was on the chopping block. With sales-tax revenue at a premium thanks to a sharp rise in online shopping, Tomita leaned into his microphone and called it like he saw it.
“I suggested to them – which I still stand by – that if you want to fund your local school system, buy your stuff here,” Tomita recalled. “Don’t order it online because we don’t get that money directly back as we do when you buy it here. Quit going and looking at your shoes at Mahoney’s and buying them on Zappos.com. And they booed me.
“It was the first time in my life I’d been booed by a large number of people.”
Tomita was able to chuckle at that memory last Thursday as he prepared for his final meeting as a member of the City Commission. The mayor did not seek reelection and will be officially replaced by John Hunter on Dec. 6.
A reception was held in Tomita’s honor prior to the meeting, and he received a Presentation of Appreciation from his fellow commissioners at the start of Thursday’s proceedings.
Tomita’s five years on the commission included several noteworthy accomplishments for Johnson City – the Tweetsie Trail and King Commons were completed, a bike park at Tannery Knobs and a regional Aerospace Park in Blountville are well underway and the groundwork has been laid for a potential sports science center.
But Tomita was quick to point out that the progress has been a team effort. He credited previous commissions for leaving the city better than they found it, acknowledged the hard work of those who worked alongside him. Vice-mayor Jenny Brock – who joined the commission along with Tomita in 2013 – echoed the sentiment that progress has been the result of teamwork.
“I think we’ve done a lot together,” Brock said. “You can see around Johnson City that we’re making some innovative investments, and David and I have been really lined up on those things we’ve been doing in the community. As he leaves the service of the commission, he has a lot to be proud of.”While Tomita expressed some frustration at how slowly things move in government, he is excited to see how some of the long-range plans he has been part of will develop in the future. Tomita spent a few moments chatting with former Johnson City mayor Steve Darden prior to Thursday’s reception.
During his decade on the commission – which included a stint as mayor – Darden got the ball rolling on the flood mitigation project that eventually became Founder’s Park as well as the massive undertaking that was the Tweetsie Trail. Darden was out of office before either of those projects came to fruition.
Likewise, Tomita believes a lot of the work he’s put in over the last five years will bear fruit in the future.
“It’ll be something I’ll be proud of,” Tomita said of his stint on the commission. “It will be fun to come back in 15, 20 years and see things built on what we started.”
During his final meeting, Tomita was able to enjoy some closure as the commission moved a pair of longstanding projects toward completion.
First, commissioners voted to approve the third and final reading of a rezoning request that will lead to the construction of an apartment complex on land located behind the Mall at Johnson City. Second, the city officially took possession of a newly constructed bike park located on Tannery Knobs.
Grant Summers has been working on the project with the understanding the 49 acres of land that looms just behind City Hall would eventually be transferred to the city. While the city is now officially in possession of the mountain biking park, it will take another 45 days and some action on the part of the city government in order for the transaction to become official.
By then, Tomita will be on to the next chapter of his life, free from ribbon cuttings and groundbreakings, but also missing many of the folks he’s worked closely with over the past five years – especially the late Ralph Van Brocklin.
Tomita walked out of City Hall for the final time thankful for the opportunities government service has given him. He also took a bit of delight in shocking some of his former teachers and classmates who didn’t see a political career in young David Tomita’s future.
“If you go back to Science Hill High School, Class of 1979, I was the guy they would have voted Least Likely to be Mayor of Johnson City,” Tomita said with a laugh. “There are still some people that are still scratching their heads, and I think that’s kind of funny.”