By Mike Steely
The Knoxville Focus likes to sit and chat with public officials, private citizens, or just about anyone we find of interest. Rick Emmett is Knoxville’s downtown coordinator and has served under four mayors. The Kentucky native relocated here and has a background you might not expect including a past in coal mining and surveying.
Tell us a little about your family.
Well, I’m from Middlesboro, Kentucky. My mom and dad still live up there. My mom has been the administrative assistant for several mayors there. I have a brother and sister who live here in Knoxville and another sister in Lexington, Ky. My grandfather was chief of police in Middlesboro, Kentucky and my great-grandfather was sheriff of Bell County and later served on the executive board of UMWA under John L. Lewis.
My wife, Alta, and I have been married 36 years, together 41. We went to high school together. We have two daughters, Natalie and Hayley.
What is your official position and how is it working for you?
My official position is Special Assistant to the Mayor and my working title is Downtown Coordinator. Special operations is what the job really is and it involves things that other departments don’t do, for instance the census. I am the census liaison for the city for Census 2020. We need more workers there, there’s a shortage, and the census is a pretty good job.
Is your position affecting your other interests?
No, my family knows I’ve always been interested in everything we do here at the city. My whole career I’ve made myself available after hours, social media, etc. With my title as downtown coordinator I get a ton of people who contact me or call me and I usually don’t mind.
Tell me a bit about your past.
I was a coal miner for 15 years. I’m a licensed surveyor in Kentucky and Tennessee and I surveyed deep mines and surface mines for large coal companies.
What brought you to Knoxville?
After working for almost fourteen years, in the 1980s, the coal seams started playing out. I was offered a transfer to Colorado but I opened a small Surveying office in Middlesboro and then a satellite office in Corbin, Ky. I saw an advertisement in the paper about a position in Knoxville. At the time I didn’t know what the position was but it had to do with mapping and computers and required a surveying background. I applied for it and they called me in for an interview. That was under Mayor Victor Ashe.
They told me it was a coat-and-tie job and I’d be in the office all day long writing descriptions and researching property. My usual attire was a hardhat and boots but I went and bought myself a suit, came in for the interview and there were 20 people in the room. I was intimidated. As I went back to my truck my wife asked me how it went and I told her I was the best-dressed guy there in my brand new suit.
About nine or ten months later they called me and asked if I was still interested in the job. I said “maybe.” I ended up getting hired by the city and Victor was good to me. I started getting into all these other areas of interest and slowly got out of my surveying business. I’ve enjoyed it and I’m now in my 27th year. I could have retired a few years ago but I’d like to stay a few more years. I feel pretty good and I think I am getting something done.
What are your hobbies or interests outside of your position?
I’m a gardener and play guitar. I’m not great at it but it’s relaxing and I’ve been doing it for years.
What do you see as your main accomplishments in your life?
My main accomplishments so far include having a wonderful family and helping Knoxville continue to be a wonderful place to live and do business. I have either written or been heavily involved in the creation of almost all of the political boundaries in Knox County through my involvement in redistricting locally from city council, county commission and school board districts, and of course the Knoxville city limit.
How do you think other people see you?
I hope other people see me as someone who loves his family and friends and someone they can call on when they need some help
If you had to do one thing over in your life what would that be?
That is very hard to say because every decision leads to something else. Probably getting out of the coal business at an earlier age.
What do you think of metro-form government in the future?
I am not a fan of metro government. I don’t think it reduces government and it takes away some of the local decision making.
If you had one thing in your position that is very satisfactory what would that be?
Being involved in a wide variety of issues that impacts the daily life of many people combined with getting to meet and become friends with a large group of folks I would not have known if I did not have this job.
What’s your favorite meal or place to dine?
A steak on my back deck.
How would you like to be remembered?
As someone who loved his family and his friends and someone who tried to improve the lives of others.