Written by SJC Summer Journalism Campers Grace Federspiel, Sedona Farquharson, Aleson Moralde, Caron Ross, Warren Jefferson and Maria Moraes
Collegedale Mayor Katie Lamb shared her story on June 14 with a group of summer journalism campers during a “mock press conference” organized by the School of Journalism and Communication (SJC) at Southern Adventist University. The event, held via Zoom, took place as part of an annual three-day program that exposes high school students to journalism practices and techniques in a hands-on environment. In addition to the journalism camp, the SJC also held two other virtual camps focusing on media production and photography for high school students interested in those fields.
Katie Lamb, mayor of the city of Collegedale, Tenn., grew up in the hilly countryside of Keene, Texas. In 1972, Lamb moved to Collegedale when her husband, Ed, was hired to teach at Southern Adventist University. Lamb herself also worked at the university and held several positions including nursing professor, dean of the School of Nursing, associate vice president for academics and dean of graduate studies. In 2006, she retired from the university after serving a total of 33 years.
Lamb said she loved being a nurse and educator, but wondered how else she could fulfill her passion for serving her community, a legacy she inherited from her parents. In 2009, she decided to run for a Collegedale commission seat and eventually became the city’s first female mayor, a position she still holds today.
As a mother, she raised her two children in Collegedale and believes it is a great place to live.
“I have always had an interest in what goes on in my city … and I wanted to give something back,” Lamb said, reflecting on her decision to run for office “… And so I thought, ‘Well, if I can contribute in some way, that’s what I will do.”
Since 1969, the population has almost doubled from about 6,000 to 11,000 residents and is still growing.
The City’s Religious Roots
Lamb said Collegedale was a different place when she relocated to the area in 1972. The city — originally founded as the location of Southern Adventist University (then Southern Junior College) — was officially incorporated in 1969 to accommodate Seventh-day Adventist residents negatively affected by Sunday Blue Laws in Hamilton County.
“… Blue Laws are … where you could not have any stores open or you could not buy or sell anything on Sunday,” Lamb explained to the journalism campers. She said the city consisted mainly of Seventh-day Adventist residents at the time, and most businesses closed on Saturdays in observance of the Sabbath. Being closed two days of the week infringed on some business owners’ abilities to make a living.
“… If we incorporated, then they [Collegedale residents] could have their own policies and regulations, and we could have our stores open on Sundays,” Lamb said.
Today, the city’s Adventist to non-Adventist ratio is reversed, according to the mayor. She estimates there are about 85% non-Adventist to about 15% or less Adventist residents now living in the city.
A Rapidly Changing Community
Throughout her nearly 50 years in Collegedale, Lamb said she witnessed many changes. Take, for instance, the growth of the city. Since 1969, the population has almost doubled from about 6,000 to 11,000 residents and is still growing, Lamb said during the interview.
From country farmhouses to new apartments, the city continues to evolve. However, a growing city carries some burdens, too. During the mock press conference, Lamb said the proliferation of multi-family units caused some consternation among long-time residents.
“[City officials] wanted to keep [the apartments] from … exploding everywhere,” she said. “So, the commission came up with a land-use plan for the city.
“Our land-use plan has really helped us a lot in determining the percentage of property — what will be utilized for apartments, for commercial and for single residents,” she said. “And that has been very helpful in … organizing the city to make it more family friendly.”
According to Lamb, another concern came in the form of a liquor and tobacco store, which caught some negative attention some years ago.
“Some of the more conservative individuals did not want that to happen,” she said. “And then, when we had a convenience store come in, and the name of the store was the Tobacco and Alcohol Store, that really did cause some criticism. But we don’t hear much about that anymore.”
“… You can’t please everyone… I’ve learned that when people say, ‘Will you promise me that you won’t vote for this?’ I can’t make those promises because what may not be good for them may be what is needed by someone else. So I have to look at those issues very, very carefully.“Collegedale Mayor Katie Lamb
Collegedale is ever changing and developing, Lamb said, and she hopes to make a noticeable difference.
Through upcoming projects and present ones like the Greenway, park facilities and other recreational areas, she hopes to cultivate an inclusive, secure and pleasant community, as mentioned in her biography on the city’s website.
Another way Lamb plans to effect change is through listening to the citizens’ voices.
“… We have to look at what all of the citizens of our town would like in developing our policies and regulations much more now than we did when the city was first organized,” Lamb said.
When asked what was the hardest part of the job, she said, “… You can’t please everyone… I’ve learned that when people say, ‘Will you promise me that you won’t vote for this?’ I can’t make those promises because what may not be good for them may be what is needed by someone else. So I have to look at those issues very, very carefully.”
Planning for the Future
Now Lamb looks for ways to improve the quality of life for her constituents. One service she would like to improve and expand is the Collegedale Public Library.
“It is one of the busiest city libraries for its size in the state of Tennessee,” Lamb said. “… People said you don’t need the library because everyone is going to start reading books online. Well, that did not happen in Collegedale. That library is busy all the time.”
Lamb expects the city to grow exponentially over the next five years, and she hopes there will be new development in the Four Corners area where several vacant commercial buildings now exist.
City commissioners will start working on creating a five-year plan, according to Lamb.
“It will be a busy time,” she said. “… We’re going to try our best to come up with a really good strategic plan that will guide us in our growth over the next five to 20 years.”