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A Denney for Your Thoughts – Chairwoman is loaded for bear (March 4, 2015 issue)

She occupies the seat of leadership when the Unicoi County Commission convenes to decide what’s best for the community. Don’t expect, though, to find a long resume of public service for Chairwoman Marie Rice. It’s more as if there was a job to be done, she was asked to go for it and here’s where it led.
Recalling that she became involved in efforts to keep the Unicoi County Memorial Hospital location in Erwin, Marie says people started asking her to run for the vacant first district commission seat. She did and was appointed in August 2013.
As for her decision to run in the regular election: “I felt like I should try to do my community service and the best I could to help get this county financially sound.”
With the size of the county’s debt, she sees the need for “…the logic of if we don’t have the funds we shouldn’t be spending more than we take in.” With most businesses located in the towns of Unicoi and Erwin, Rice realizes the county has “very little sales tax” and relies on property taxes. “With the economy like it is now the only thing we can do is cut expenses because most of the commissioners and property owners do not want property taxes raised.”
“Shocked” at the amount of time she spends on county business, “…almost as much time as a full-time employee,” the county native says she is a detail person and researches issues. There are, of course, meetings and calls that may be about dogs running at large or bridge construction, “and anything in between.” Most of her reading these days relates to county government, also the topic of online courses she takes.
For relaxation there’s hunting season. She likes to hunt bear, deer and turkey, with venison chili being a favorite resulting dish. “I love to be outdoors in the fall and just seeing God’s beautiful creations,” Marie says. And, yes she does dress her own deer!
As she was new to the commission, Marie was surprised to be chosen chairman but thinks “they were able to see that I was dedicated and a hard worker.” As for being a woman in this position: “I do think it is hard for some people to take women seriously but I’m pretty straight forward; and, I like to get to the point and get on with business. So, hopefully they see that and are willing to work with me.”
Having lived in the south end of the county most of her life, Marie has seen closures of stores and restaurants, affecting not just the Flag Pond area but the entire county. “Now that I have been on the commission I see even more how the loss of business and revenue in one district affects the whole county.”
Prospects brighten, though, with Rocky Fork State Park, “the biggest thing that’s happened in this part of the county in my lifetime,” adding, “It’s a natural resource that I feel we need to take advantage of and, hopefully, in the future it will bring some economic boost for the county, as well.”
Stay tuned. Marie is on the job; and, she’s doing her homework.