The days leading up to his last as mayor were bittersweet, Justin Hanson said.
“The best way I can put it is like it’s you’re a high school senior or college senior and you know graduation is right around the corner. It’s a weird feeling, but it’s good.”
Hanson’s been in the public eye since he graduated from college two decades ago. He first worked for WKBL in Covington, then the assignment desk at WMC Action News 5 in 2005 in Memphis before becoming a reporter a few years later.
First elected in November 2014, in May he announced he would not seek a third term. Instead he will begin working as a sales and marketing agent for the Tennessee Municipal League Bond Fund.
As he looks back on his eight years of service to the city of Covington, Hanson said he’s proud of the work that’s been done to make sure Covington is on a better financial footing. When Hanson took office the city was in enormous debt, like the $9.2 million pension deficit (there’s now a surplus) and the financing of the civic center and biomass gasification plant.
“When I got here we had made some decisions that weren’t the best long-term but we’ve invested more money in our fire and police, we’ve made our streets safer, reduced our debt, kept our taxes low … in fact we lowered them … and our sales tax dollars have increased, which was an unintended consequence of the pandemic. A lot of that is not terribly exciting to the citizenry, but they were tough decisions that were crucial to our long-term success. I’ve always tried to make every decision that I’ve made based on what I think is in the best interest of the citizens of Covington.”
He’s also proud that the city is more transparent with its citizens and provides greater access to meetings, agendas and minutes, financial documentation, and city leaders.
“We’ve done a lot and I’m proud of that.”
Hanson and Hensley, who has spent a lot of time with Hanson over the last few weeks to learn the job and make the transition go smoothly, recognize they are different men and bring different skillsets to the job.
Hanson wears suits and ties and has a history of not only being in front of the camera but also hosting events as emcee. He’s very comfortable in the public eye.
Hensley, a longtime businessman, is more comfortable wearing boots and getting his hands dirty. As they talk it’s clear Hanson’s legacy was laying the ground work while Hensley’s looks to be building the Covington of the future as the Blue Oval era begins.
Hensley likens it to Hanson getting the dirt work done at a site before something grand can be built.
“Now the next mayor can come in and really move the needle,” Hanson said. “Maybe to some degree I was the change agent we needed, not knowing eight years later we’d be in the shadow of the largest investment Ford’s ever made and the biggest investment in Tennessee history. It’s right in our backyard.”
Hanson is grateful for his time in office and hopes he would have been re-elected if he’d chosen to run for a third term, but he recognized it was time for him to move on.
That doesn’t mean he will ever forget the time he spent in service to the city.
No day was ever the same as mayor, he said. Once a fed up citizen brought a butter dish full of snakes to the mayor’s office to illustrate his argument about what was happening in his own yard as a result of his neighbor’s trash.
“He opened the [lid] and their little heads were popping up out of the dish,” Hanson recalled with a smirk. He said it definitely stands out as one of the most interesting days in office. “It was definitely a surprise. I never thought I’d see live snakes in a butter dish in here.”
Some of the best advice he received was from former Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, who’s originally from Garland.
“He said something that just stuck with me … ‘A lot of times as mayor you can’t fix problems, but you can manage them.’ I just never forgot that.”
About his time in office he calls it a privilege, a pleasure, a challenge, and one of the highlights of his life. His last day in office was Tuesday and Hensley was sworn in during the meeting of the board of mayor and aldermen that evening.
“I’m looking forward to the next chapter,” he said. “I can take a breather a little bit and still stay plugged in, but in a different way. It’s bittersweet, it really is.”