With his political career concluding soon, Cleveland-At-Large Councilman Richard Banks said young people should consider entry into public service and contribute to improving their communities.
“If you live in a community like Cleveland, you need to give back,” Banks said.
Banks, who has also practiced law in Cleveland for 40 years, has served on the Cleveland City Council for 15 years. He announced in December his intent not to seek re-election.
He encourages people to throw their respective hats in the ring and run for office.
“We are a government of elected officials,” said Banks who feels those who serve will appreciate the importance of city government.
“They will learn how local government impacts peoples’ lives more than anything else,” Banks said. “Local government involves roads, paving streets, police protection. You appreciate local government more.”
It’s also a matter of patriotism. In addition, Banks said low election turnouts among young people eligible to vote is concerning.
“It’s discouraging how many young people don’t vote,” Banks said. “People have fought and died for that right, and it’s not fair to them.”
He also encourages people to volunteer their services.
“They can volunteer at the animal shelter or with groups that work with the underprivileged,” Banks said.
Banks feels it is time for him to move on and that new ideas are important.
“I believe in term limits,” Banks said. It’s sad we don’t have that in Washington. “I’m not giving up city council because I don’t enjoy it. I’ve enjoyed the city council, but it’s time consuming.”
He will continue practicing law but may take more time for outdoors recreation now that his son has joined the firm.
“I love working with people and helping people, and I will continue to practice as long as I can but will probably scale back some to spend more time on the water.”
The son of a farmer and homebuilder, Banks was reared in Manchester, where his mother still resides.
“Her farm is about two miles from where Bonnaroo is now,” Banks said. “You can hear the music at the house.”
It was an idyllic childhood spent in rural Tennessee, where he would spend summer days at an ideal fishing hole when he wasn’t helping his dad tinker with old machinery or building things.
“I grew up fishing with a cane pole and a worm at the end of the hook. It’s one of the few things I’m good at,” Banks quipped.
He went off to college at the University of Tennessee and later moved to Calhoun, Georgia, to be a junior high teacher shortly after graduation. There, he taught history and social studies, as well as coached baseball and basketball. However, there was an itch to do more. Also, the pay wasn’t satisfying the ambitious young man.
“I taught school for $6700 a year,” Banks said. “That wasn’t enough money.”
While working for an attorney part time, Banks decided he wanted to return to Knoxville to attend law school. As he neared graduation, he began to consider where to start his law practice.
“I started looking around 1974 and learned that Cleveland was Tennessee’s fastest growing city behind Clarkesville, which is, of course, near where the military base is.” Banks said.
The lure of abundant lakes and streams also attracted the young angler.
“I love the outdoors and the water,” Banks said.
There was also another reason Banks was drawn to Cleveland.
“It was also rumored Cleveland had the best-looking lady in the southeastern U.S.,” Banks said of his wife, Amy. “I was finally successful in asking her to marry me.”
He also took over an established law firm when its founder was elected county judge. Surrounded by personal mementoes, as well as fish and deer wall mounts, it’s easy to see that Banks loves the outdoors.
More importantly, he’s a family man judging by the family photos displayed near his desk. He and his wife have two children, a daughter and son, of whom they are very proud. It’s another example of why he thinks Cleveland is such a great city.
“It’s a good place to raise a family.”
He describes their accomplishments with pride.
His daughter, Allison, graduated from the University of Arkansas School of Law and currently lives in Chattanooga. Although she is not a full-time attorney, she is part of a group that owns a business in Chattanooga.
“They make a drink called kombucha,” Banks said. “It’s a healthy fruit-based drink. It’s a growing business. She still practices a little law.”
His son, Bradley, joined Banks’ law practice, Richard Banks & Associates. The firm specializes in bankruptcy law.
“Bradley is a graduate of the University of Memphis School of Law,” Banks said. “He was also top in his class at Auburn. It’s rewarding having him here.”
Although Banks left teaching to attend law school, educating students was still in his blood. In addition to practicing law, he also taught paralegal and criminal justice at Cleveland State, where the Bradley County sheriff-elect was one of his students.
“One of my first students was Steve Lawson,” Banks said. “He was also one of my best students.”
Banks also taught at Chattanooga State for ten to twelve years.
“I come from a long line of teachers,” Banks said. “I have three sisters who were teachers.”
On being a member of the city council, Banks is quick to note that the council has always placed the city’s needs above partisanship. He always wanted the council to resemble the city.
“Cleveland is a friendly city,” Banks said. “We, the council, and the mayor have always wanted to carry that over in the council meetings. We may not always agree, but we’ve always gotten along.”
“One of the major accomplishments was the appointment of a seven-member citizen committee to search for the new city manager, and they did a great job in narrowing it down to a select group of candidates. And the selection of Joe Fivas was one of the major accomplishments our city council has had,” Banks said. “He’s very focused on what the community wants.”
While Banks is proud of progress the city has made, he did express disappointment that a no-kill animal shelter was never formed in Cleveland.
“I would like to see a joint city/county shelter,” Banks said. “We need to make sure all animals are adopted. Most people can’t afford to go to a kennel or breeder to purchase a dog. I would like to someday see a consolidation and have the city and county share services. It makes sense to combine service and have better service at a reduced cost.”
Recycling is also an issue important to Banks.
“We need more recycling,” Banks said. “There are a lot of things that end up in the landfill that could be recycled.”
However, whoever wins his seat will have to deal with those issues. Banks will be busy fishing and, like his father, tinkering with old machinery.
“I like building. I like restoring things. I like old stuff,” Banks said. “I just repaired a John Deere tractor that is 24 years old and it runs better than one you can buy new today.”
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