(Part 10 in series on Dwight Kessel)
By Ralphine Major
He was first elected as Knoxville City Councilman in 1963, served as Knox County Clerk from 1966-1980, and became the first Knox County Executive (County Mayor) in 1980. Dwight Kessel’s 14 years as Knox County Executive brought significant results to the citizens of Knox County. He inherited a $105.5 million budget in 1980 with $312,000 in the general fund balance of Knox County. His last year, 1994, the county’s budget was $334.9 million and the fund balance at the beginning of 1993-94 was $10.4 million. During Kessel’s tenure, the county had also taken on the responsibility of city schools along with the county schools, and by 1993 expenditures on schools went from $40 million to $191 million plus a capital budget of $26 million. The schools fund balance went from $1.5 million in 1980 to $18.8 million in 1994.
As county executive, Kessel combined the city library system with the county system, computerized the combined system, increased funding, and added new branches. He also reestablished the Knox County Air Pollution Control Board; renovated the health department; designed an indigent care program contracting with all the hospitals; and provided space for the startup of Interfaith Health Clinic. In other areas of growth, Kessel established a bid process for ambulance and fire service, a Knox County Fire and Building Codes office, a Drug Rehabilitation Program, the E-911 call center and board, and a Geographic Information System. Many new buildings were added under Kessel’s administration including schools, senior centers, Dwight Kessel Parking Garage, and an unwed mother-child home at John Tarleton, as well as the county’s first golf course surrounding the Penal Farm. Other accomplishments included the paving of 120 miles of roads per year, three times as many miles in the past; opening 1200 acres of new industrial parks; and a more aggressive job of recycling Christmas trees in conjunction with the Knox County Beautification Board. Some extensive renovations included the Old Knox County Courthouse; purchase and renovation of Andrew Johnson Hotel Building for the school’s administrative offices, and renovation of the Sears Building on Central Avenue, establishing the first central receiving facility for the county and schools. The West Virginia native was making his mark in Knoxville. Words of Faith: “But the word of the Lord endureth forever.” 1 Peter 1:25 (KJV)