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A good day for Codes Administrator Kim Lester is when she helps bring a new business to Bristol, assists a family in building their dream home, or uses her expertise to improve the safety of an existing structure.
“Every day brings something different and the opportunity to help someone,” she said. “One day it could be a small project like a new deck addition on someone’s home and the next day it could be a multi-million dollar project like Tennessee Hills.”
Kim grew up in the region, graduated from Kingsport’s Sullivan Central High School, then joined the U.S. Army. She was looking for a rewarding career, she explained, and the opportunity to see a bit of the world. She finished basic training, then spent the next four years in Bamberg, Germany, and nearby Schweinfurt as a military police officer. Not only did she make life-long friends, she also had the opportunity to work with the German Army - known as Bundeswehr – and once helped the German police search a female suspect involved in a jewelry store heist.
The next few years took her to Colorado, where she began a career as a 911 dispatcher. When her mother grew ill, Kim brought her young daughter back to East Tennessee and worked for Washington County Central Dispatch until health issues made it difficult to work rotating shifts. After working odd jobs for a time, she landed a job in Johnson City’s codes department – thanks to a city official “who took a chance on me.”
Because of her background in law enforcement, she had a good understanding of the legal aspects of codes enforcement and soon became comfortable in the position. She worked in Bristol for a short time, then Morristown, before returning to Bristol last year as Codes Enforcement Officer. When asked if she was interested in the Codes Administrator job – a step up from her previous position – she began studying for the required certifications. In a matter of months, she earned nine new certifications.
Now a Certified Building Official, she oversees Bristol’s codes division. Some days are spent reviewing plans in her office, she said, while others are spent in the field inspecting under-construction buildings to ensure all applicable building codes are followed. If a house catches fire or a car crashes into a building, she’s called to inspect the structural integrity. She handles complaints about code violations in residential neighborhoods and helps those who are beginning a new project to navigate the entire process – from planning to permits to construction.
“Bristol is growing,” she said, noting that three major residential developments are set for construction this spring and new businesses will soon be coming to The Pinnacle. “Bristol’s downtown is so vibrant and offers so many diverse opportunities for everyone to eat, to shop, to enjoy music. There are a lot of great things happening in the city.”
When she’s not guiding the development of the city, Kim enjoys time with her husband, a lineman for BrightRidge in Johnson City. Together they have adopted four rescue dogs – two Great Danes, a Chihuahua-Miniature Pinscher mix, and a mixed breed that resembles a Rhodesian Ridgeback but probably isn’t. They enjoy vacations in Cozumel, Mexico, where they spend their days scuba diving and lounging on the beach. And, when her creative side emerges, Kim said she enjoys making rag quilt blankets. Her daughter? She’s now 24 and, although she currently lives with Kim and her husband, she’s in the process of seeking an exciting career of her own.
What’s next for Kim? She said she will continue to seek certifications that bring additional expertise to her new position, and she and her entire staff will focus on creating amicable relationships with developers, contractors, and community members.
“We want people to know we are here to help,” she said. “ They need to know their concerns are being heard and the decisions we make are based on safety. A good day is when we’re able to help move a project forward and people thank us for our help.”
Shout out to Kim Lester, a wife, a mother, an Army veteran, a champion for rescue dogs, and our City’s new Codes Administrator. She’s another great example of #BristolAtWork