Former journalist Lance Coleman is Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell’s choice to head up the county’s emergency management agency.

Coleman has been hired as the Blount County Emergency Management director to replace outgoing Director Kathy Shields, who is retiring.

Known locally for his years spent covering county government for The Daily Times and then as an employee of the now-defunct Blount Today and the Knoxville News Sentinel, Coleman is responsible to Mitchell and to the Homeland Security Board. This is made up of representatives of the county as well as the cities of Maryville and Alcoa, which will each pay a share of the salary through an intergovernmental agreement.

“I’m honored that Mayor Mitchell chose me for this job,” Coleman said. “In my time as a reporter, I had the opportunity to build relationships and tell people’s stories here in Blount County while working at The Daily Times, Blount Today and the News Sentinel. In this job I’ll have the chance to do the same thing but in a different capacity. I’m excited for this new opportunity to continue to work with the community and build a better place for us to live and work.”

According to the Mayor’s Office, the emergency management director position provides leadership and coordination in building community readiness in the case of disaster.

“Lance Coleman comes into this position already established with relationships and support from our local public safety agencies,” Mitchell said. “Anybody who has had contact with Lance in his former profession knows he is a person of high character and integrity. Lance’s love for the community and his knowledge of the departments and agencies will be a great benefit for Blount County.”

Coleman will be paid $55,000 per year. Mitchell chose Coleman out of eight other candidates, several with direct experience in emergency management for counties in East Tennessee and North Carolina and on a state level.

According to the minimum requirements of the job, a candidate must have: a bachelor’s degree in a related field preferred, five years of public sector experience in managing projects and experience interacting with the public and government officials, or equivalent training, education and/or experience.

Asked why he chose a candidate without emergency management experience, Mitchell said the role of the position has changed over the years.

“The role of emergency management has most certainly evolved with the needs of the community,” he said. “In the past, especially during the times directly after 9/11, emergency management was a front-line responder. Since that time, the role of emergency management, at least here in Blount County, has evolved into one with more of a focus of relationship building and public communication. Our EMA position is a valuable role in coordinating training for our first responder agencies in Blount County, along with the ability to reach funding opportunities that we can apply for through TEMA or FEMA. These grant funds in the past have provided valuable tools and training to our county agencies.”

The position had been known as the Homeland Security director in the past. The county’s first Homeland Security director, Kelley Mure, was fired in October 2005 because “confidence had been lost” in her, according to official minutes of the Homeland Security Board.

Bart Stinnett, a former Pigeon Forge police detective, became Homeland Security director in 2007 and served in the position for several years. Shields, the longtime assistant director, officially took over the position this past January.

“We undoubtedly lose a great asset with Kathy Shields’ retirement,” Mitchell said. “She has benefited our public safe agencies in immeasurable amounts with the safety equipment, support and funding she has been able to obtain, which ultimately improves the entire community. Kathy will remain with us during Lance’s training, so he will have her knowledge base as well as the support of the local public agencies.”

Joel Davis covers state and county government as a reporter at The Daily Times.

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