At Thursday night’s East Ridge City Council meeting some citizens wanted to be critical of measures the council had made, while some members of the council wanted to be critical of measures the Interim City Manager had not.
During the “communications from citizens” portion of the meeting, former Vice Mayor Jim Bethune led the charge about citizens’ concerns over a new extended stay motel taking the place of the much reviled Superior Creek Lodge.
“What is the difference from what we had down there and what we’re getting?” Bethune asked.
Mayor Brent Lambert told Bethune that in the past extended stay motels in the city had run essentially as apartment buildings. People would move in and sometimes stay for years. Lambert said that a 2012 amendment to an ordinance would prevent that from happening in the future.
Lambert said that the city is considering further amending the 2012 ordinance to close loopholes and put teeth into the rules. He said a planning commission meeting is scheduled for April 18 where proposals will be made to sanction owners of extended stay motels where guests stay longer than 90 days in a calendar year. One violation would result in a 120-day probation; a second violation would bring the loss of an “occupancy permit” for 30 days; and a third violation would bring a one year loss of “occupancy permit.”
“With these modifications we’ve got a new day,” Mayor Lambert said.
Bethune, who was a member of the East Ridge City Council when the 2012 extended stay ordinance was amended, said that it was his understanding when he was on the council that the amended ordinance would essentially not allow new motels with an extended stay business model to open in the city.
“That’s not what we voted on,” Bethune said in reference to allowing one extended stay to replace another. “You can look at the minutes.”
Bethune said that there are a lot of businesses on the eastern end of town that are not happy about the prospect of Budgetel opening on the site of the former Superior Creek Lodge. “And 90 percent of the people are against it.”
Matthew DeGlopper told the council that he was concerned about the cost to the city for enforcing the new extended stay rules. DeGlopper said it would take a lot of time and effort for city staff to constantly review check-in logs from the Budgetel to confirm that no resident is exceeding the 90-day stay. “This should not be at the expense of the taxpayer,” he said.
Mayor Lambert tried to reassure citizens at the meeting that new standards would be effective.
“We are all in the same camp,” he said. “We don’t want a repeat of what happened. I think we are all determined to have a different outcome.”
During the “communications from council members” portion of the meeting, Councilmen Jacky Cagle and Denny Manning were critical of Interim City Manager Mike Williams.
Cagle began by asking Williams about overtime being paid to employees in administration for going to Camp Jordan during tournaments to pick up money derived from gate receipts. Cagle said there are “park police” and Camp Jordan employees to handle the transfer of cash to City Hall for safe keeping.
Williams explained that the policy was implemented by former City Manager Tim Gobble when there were accusations about employees taking money.
Finance Director Dianne Qualls told the council that the policy began in 2012 when the city took over running the park, and was there for “internal control” and to “safeguard everyone.”
She said that there are only three tournaments run by the city where administrative personnel get overtime and that amounts to a total of about 20 hours.
Cagle’s reply: “I just can’t see the overtime.”
Cagle then said that he had asked Williams _ who is also the city’s Fire Chief _ about plans for the proposed fire hall. Cagle claimed that Williams told him he had no plans, but that Cagle found out that Williams had shown other city employees drawings of the fire hall.
Williams responded by telling Cagle that he (Williams) had “preliminary drawings” of the fire hall and that he had only recently received them. “I don’t have any blueprints,” Williams said.
Cagle continued the criticism by saying that he had heard “through the grapevine” that Williams was telling folks he had ordered a new fire truck.
“No sir,” Williams said. “The council would have to approve that.”
Then it was Manning’s turn to criticize Williams. Manning said he had a question for the city attorney: “Does the council work for the city manager or does the city manager work for the council?” he asked.
Manning said the reason he asked was because Manning had asked a city staff member to add an item to the agenda for the council meeting. Manning was told by the staff member that the City Manager would have to approve that move.
“We’ve never done that,” Manning said.
Vice Mayor Marc Gravitt tried to clarify the issue. Gravitt said that the City Charter prohibits Council members from giving direction to city employees. He said that council members must go through the City Manager, not city employees.
Manning went on to say that he had tried to telephone Williams to talk with him about adding an item to the agenda but that Williams would not return his phone calls.
Mayor Lambert, who had listened patiently to the discussion, then suggested to Manning that it would be appropriate to move Item I on the agenda (discussion of current Interim City Manager, placed there by Manning) up and address it now.
“It’s not hard to understand when you go after someone publicly …,” Lambert said.
Lambert suggested to Manning and the other council members that if they want to add an item to the agenda to send it to him and he would take care of it.
Manning first agreed to move Item I forward for discussion. He then made a motion to “table it for the next meeting to take action.”
The motion passed, 4-0, as Councilman Larry Sewell was absent from the meeting.
“I’ve got nothing to say,” Lambert offered. “Mike (Williams), I think you are doing a good job. I appreciate it.”
Williams, during “communication from city manager” portion of the meeting, informed the council that he had received a letter from Titan Light Shows, the organization that puts on the Christmas Nights of Lights show at Camp Jordan. Citing flooding last year at the park, the business wanted out of its contract with the city for 2016.
Williams told the council that City Attorney Hal North had responded to Titan Light Shows releasing them from the contract. North said that technically the company could be held to the contract, as they had missed the 30-day window in January to terminate the deal. North said the council would have to vote on terminating the contract at its next meeting on April 14.