The high point in Thursday night’s East Ridge City Council meeting happened early on in the proceedings as our county commissioner thanked the mayor and council for their support and backing in his efforts to procure funding for high school athletic facilities including the Pioneers’ home field.
“I can’t stress how important it was for the Council to stand behind me,” Commissioner Tim Boyd told the council during the “Communication from Citizens” portion of the meeting.
The Mayor and Council had formally endorsed Boyd’s proposal that revenues the Hamilton County School Board would receive from leasing land at the high school on Bennett Road for the construction of a cell tower would go to the high school and the construction of new home field stands at Raymond James Stadium/Shanks Field.
“I’m confident that without your support, and the support of school board member David Testerman, community input and the alumni association we would not have come to this conclusion,” Boyd continued. “I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Mayor Brent Lambert said that he had seen few issues which unified the community like the condemnation of the stadium and the subsequent razing of the stands.
A representative from the River City Corvette Club came before the council asking for use of the Camp Jordan Arena this August to stage a car show. Last year the club donated several thousand dollars to the city’s Needy Child Fund through money raised at the car show. The council waved the city’s normal charge for leasing the arena.
Then it was time for “Communications from Councilmembers,” and things devolved quickly.
Councilman Jacky Cagle told the council that on Wednesday he was asked by someone if he had received a letter in his mailbox at City Hall. Cagle said that Councilman Larry Sewell had received a letter.
“I’m a wondering what happened to that letter,” Cagle said.
Several council members, including Mayor Lambert, had no idea what Cagle was talking about.
Interim City Manager Mike Williams tried to clarify the issue by saying that he, too, had received a letter and informed the council that it was an anonymous letter that was addressed to a number of city employees (and presumably some elected officials) that criticized specific city employees.
Cagle then inquired about who has access to the council’s mailboxes and how mail is delivered. It was explained to him by Accounts Specialist, Diane Qualls, that she “stamps” the council’s mail when it comes into the building and puts it in the actual mailboxes.
“I think someone needs to be watching our mailboxes and make sure they are secure,” Cagle said.
Chief Williams suggested that the council could make arrangements to secure their mailboxes where they would have a key. “I’ll have Byron (Ray, the person in charge of city maintenance) start on that tomorrow,” he said.
In “Old Business,” the Council unanimously passed on second reading an ordinance that would rezone a parcel of land that is being developed at the Jordan Crossing site from “residential” to “commercial.”
The Council tabled the much-discussed “extended stay” ordinance which puts limits on lengths of stay in such businesses and would require that all extended stay motels comply with the new ordinance within a two-year period. Mayor Lambert explained that the board attempted to broker a meeting to discuss the issue with business owners but a time and date for that meeting could not be agreed upon. He wanted to give the affected business owners another chance to come in and discuss the proposed ordinance.
“If they (motel owners) don’t show, then we will move forward,” Mayor Lambert said.
The Council passed a budget resolution that would match expenditures with revenues in this year’s budget. Qualls read off a litany of changes made, including an additional $12,000 added for overtime pay for employees at the arena. She also mentioned the need to budget an additional $5,000 for repairs to a leaking diesel pump at the city facility on Yale Street.
Qualls said she had “good news” in terms of collections of property taxes (100 percent) and that revenues on business licenses were up as well as revenues for city issued building permits.
Under “New Business,” the council passed on first reading an ordinance which would rezone a house at the corner of Notre Dame Avenue and South Terrace to allow for the structure to be used as an office.
Then Chief Williams and Qualls once again became the focus of the meeting.
Chief Williams is going on a vacation and wished the council to approve the appointment of Qualls as Assistant Deputy City Manager. In Williams’ absence _ less than a week _ Qualls would fill the duties of City Manager.
“She’s proven herself as more than qualified,” Chief Williams said.
Councilman Cagle pointed out that Chief Williams had taken some time off before and didn’t feel it was necessary to appoint someone to the position while he was gone at that time … why do it now?
Chief Williams said city officials would not be able to contact him in the case of an emergency.
Cagle pointed out that the City Charter had no provision for an Interim City Manager appointing an Assistant Deputy City Manager.
Chief Williams cited a precedent: He said that some time ago former Interim City Manager Eddie Phillips appointed Freida Wheeler as Assistant Deputy City Manager prior to Phillips’ retirement. When he retired Wheeler assumed the City Manager role.
It was explained that Qualls’ tenure as the Interim City Manager would be limited to perhaps as few as four days. In the event that some catastrophe befalls Chief Williams while on vacation, Qualls would not be the permanent City Manager, as J. Scott Miller will become the new City Manager effective June 1. Miller would then, by City Charter, appoint a new Deputy City Manager, pending the approval of the council.
The unlikely possibility of Miller being unable to begin work on June 1 was then discussed at length.
The council voted 4-0-1, with Councilman Denny Manning, in his word, “sustaining,” to approve Qualls as the Assistant Deputy City Manager.
“Hopefully, it will be very quiet and we won’t have any issues,” Qualls said after the vote.
The Council then discussed appointing five members to a revived “City Housing Board.” Manning nominated former City Councilman Jim Bethune; Councilman Sewell nominated Travis Olinger, a teacher of construction arts at ERHS; and Lambert nominated former Public Safety Director Eddie Phillips. Those members were approved.
Vice Mayor Gravitt and Cagle will make their appointments at a later date.