Respected alderman served longer than any other woman in Bartlett
Emily Elliott’s 48th wedding anniversary would have been June 8, but she is preparing to move into a new home and finish business at her last Bartlett Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting June 14 as a new chapter in life unfolds.
Elliott has served in Position 2 on the board for 23 years and leaves as one of its most respected members. Fellow alderman David Parsons thanked her for being a positive example others can follow.
“There has ever been a doubt in anyone’s mind about where your heart is, and your love for the City of Bartlett,” Parsons said. “And I’ve always looked up to you. You’ve always exemplified a servant’s heart.”
Ironically, Elliott finds herself in the same position many longtime Bartlett residents do when for one reason or another, they start looking to downsize. Where is there a place in Bartlett to move to after selling your house?
Elliott, whose husbandDenis died suddenly in September 2021, will temporarily move in with one of her two daughters in Franklin, Tennessee, while her new home is constructed in a 55-and-older mixed-use subdivision in Arlington. Like others, Elliott doesn’t want the maintenance and yard work that come with owning a larger home.
The board she has been elected to six consecutive times is dealing with that very issue, as a lack of alternative housing for empty-nesters has many longtime Bartlett residents moving to similar mixed-use developments in Lakeland, Arlington and other cities.
“I have to close and be out by mid-June,” she said.
It’s not the way she would have drawn things up, but “it is what it is,” Elliott said, noting she had no choice but to resign from the board because she will no longer be a city resident.
She made sure she did not sell to an investment firm that would likely rent the house out, but to a buyer (couple) that will occupy the home.
Investment company purchases of Bartlett homes are increasing and the board of aldermen is under increasing pressure to create legislation that will curb the trend.
Elliott said she was humbled by what Parsons said – “it did my heart good” – and more accolades are no doubt coming as she departs.
“I guess it says I’ve done things right. I’ve been an honest person and tried to do what was best for the community, the citizens all these years,” she said.
Elliott never contributed any of her board income to the retirement benefits program, for one, she says, because she didn’t think she would be in the position that long, but also because of public perceptions of politicians, particularly in Washington, D.C., and her own approach to being a public servant.
“I always considered this a part-time position,” said Elliott, who is a nurse by profession, “and I was always just thinking, why should the taxpayers of Bartlett pay on a pension, their tax dollars, for something that is a part-time position?”
But Elliott was anything but a part-time alderman. She attended so many community events and immersed herself in the work of committees she served on. And it was clear in meetings that she did her homework before voting on city matters.
Elliott served on demanding panels like the Design Review Commission, which decides on every detail of buildings and surrounding property to ensure construction has been properly planned, is compatible with the character of the neighborhood, and conforms to urban design and architectural standards of the city. She also served for many years on the City Beautiful Commission, which oversees the residential Yard of the Month and commercial Civic Pride awards, the Holiday Lighting Contest, Fall Garden Tour, and much more, and she served on the Parks and Recreation Committee, which has 31 parks to oversee and is involved in putting on the largest city gatherings as well.
Elliott leaves as the longest-serving woman on the Bartlett Board of Mayor and Aldermen. Local historian Sue Coleman, a member of the Bartlett Historical Society, said three other women served from 1930 to 1946 and other women were elected to the board in the 1980s, ’90s and 2000s, but none served as many years as Elliott.
A native of Monmouth, Illinois, Elliott has lived in Bartlett since 1988 and knows there are changes coming. The city in November will elect its first new mayor in 20 years and elect three new aldermen to Positions 1, 2 and 3.
Such a turnover in leadership at one time is concerning.
“Yes, it does concern me,” she said. “There is a major learning curve to being an alderman. You are trying to sort out a $90 million budget and a $90 million school budget and other issues. I mean, I know more about sewers than I thought I ever would. It does concern me having that many new people all at once.
“Hopefully, everyone will work together. They may have different ideas and different opinions but most of the aldermen differed on different things over the years, but you have to try to sort through it and be respectful.”
She has seen members of governing bodies in Memphis, Germantown and other places get too personal, “bickering, carrying on and calling each other names,” which doesn’t serve the public good, she said.
Her two greatest accomplishments that stand out to Elliott are getting the Bartlett school system established and getting the First Responders Monument at Appling Lake funded and built.
“That required lots of hours and lots of phone calls, and getting the money raised,” she said of the monument. “It took us about 5 ½ years to get the funds.”
Her advice to the new, less experienced board that will convene next year?
“You can have a difference of opinion, but you still have to get along, not to bicker,” she said. “To be honest, and to be fiscally responsible. Because that money, so many elected officials forget, is not your money. It is everybody else’s money, not yours, and you need to treat taxpayer funds like you would your own and not spend foolishly and overspend and create a debt problem.”