Ashland Mayor Tom Kelley’s career as a public servant has touched six decades.
It began when he was hired as an Ashland police officer in 1963, and continued as he rose through the ranks over the next three decades, eventually becoming Ashland’s police chief.
At the end of this year, he will close yet another chapter in his distinguished career when his term expires as Ashland mayor.
On Thursday, Kelley presided over his final city commission meeting at the city building, where he was praised by his fellow commissioners as a vital part of the “team” that has led Ashland through some of the most challenging years faced in recent memory. In January, a new mayor and one new commission member will be sworn in.
“Our motto is Proud Past, Bright Future,” said City Manager Steve Corbitt. “I think we have a proud past. This commission should be very proud of what they’ve done, and also you have positioned us for a bright future.”
Under Kelley’s leadership, the city weathered the Great Recession, which brought with it a wave of foreclosures, bankruptcies and unemployment. AK Steel’s Coke Plant was shuttered last year and there have been several rounds of layoffs at King’s Daughters Medical Center, which have impacted the city’s bottom line.
Kelley gives most of the credit for the city’s success to its staff and employees.
“I wanted to be a mayor who didn’t get in the way,” he said. He explained that during his tenure as police chief, he’d experienced a few elected officials who did, causing headaches for city staffers who ultimately are supposed to get their direction from the city manager.
Kelley instead described mayoral duties as being that of “major cheerleader.” The calling card of his leadership style has been: “A pat on the back to city staff,” he said.
“They are providing services to the community. Taxpayers are paying for it and you have got to let them know that they are doing a good job, and we do,” said Kelley. “We have a tremendous staff. Overall, they do a good job and our people are proud of the work they do and accomplish.”
He had this advice for incoming mayor Chuck Charles: “Don’t get in the way. You still get involved and you make suggestions. But, my advice to him is to make your suggestions and back away.”
Kelley, a cancer survivor who just turned 71, said he never intended to run for a second term in office. He described the job as “stressful and both mentally and physically challenging” and said he always figured one term would be enough.
Public service, Kelley said, “gets in your blood.
“You do affect other people’s lives and I’ve tried to do it in a positive way. It is just something that gets in you, something that you can do for the good of the community. Ashland is a great town.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Kelley added, “This is home.”
He will now spend his time, he said, “doing whatever (his wife) Brenda tells me to do.”
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2653.