In May, Kingsport Mayor Dennis Phillips and City Manager John Campbell attended the swearing-in ceremony of newly elected Johnson City commissioners and school board members. Earlier this month, Johnson City officials returned the favor and attended a Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting where Phillips and Jantry Shupe took their oath of office.
"My purpose in going was absolutely as a courtesy and to thank those elected officials in the job they're doing and sacrifices they're making to serve their city," Phillips said. "There's nothing wrong with having and cultivating a good relationship between us, while we all maintain our separate identities."
"And I was thrilled they came to the swearing-in ceremony. I don't know if it's ever happened before, but I don't know if we've been over there," he said.
Johnson City Mayor Phil Roe said he doesn't think a similar gesture has ever happened between Kingsport and Johnson City.
"Just because it hasn't happened doesn't mean it shouldn't," Roe said. "We've got so many more things in common than we do not in common. It's time that we started looking at how and what we can cooperate on."
Campbell said some people in both cities would say Kingsport and Johnson City need to get rid of this Friday night rivalry.
"I think there has been a natural bit of that over the years, and I think you had a situation where Kingsport was considered the economic leader of the Tri-Cities. Then a lot of people perceive Johnson City has taken that away," Campbell said. "And a lot comes down to the leaders at the time."
Apparently the leaders at this time wish to take matters further, since according to Campbell Kingsport sent a thank you letter to Johnson City, which among other things included a list of items of mutual interest that could be used as a base of discussion.
Campbell said such items include expediting State Route 75 to Tri-Cities Regional Airport, pushing forth the airport authority status, creating a life science corridor in the region, looking at ensuring building codes are consistent throughout the Tri-Cities region, and promoting the widening of Interstate 26 north of Kingsport.
Roe said other ideas include buying bulk gasoline for the two cities, having a shared technology park, or looking at where the next landfill is going to go. But the single most important thing the cities can do for Sullivan County, Roe said, is to extend I-26 to Interstate 75 and near Lexington, Ky., or Ohio.
Roe said a meeting is scheduled with he and Phillips and both city managers in the coming weeks to look at these and other items.
"We're going to look at where we can cooperate - the big-ticket items," Roe said. "We've got to start thinking more regionally. If we think regionally as a group up here, we're pretty powerful in Nashville. If we think as Kingsport or Johnson City or Bristol, we don't have any power at all.
"Together we're a pretty good size, and we carry a lot of economic and political clout."