On Thursday, the East Ridge City Council moved forward with obtaining property for an animal services center, potentially allowing beer to be sold in more places on its commercial corridor and finding a new city manager, during its final meeting of the month at City Hall.
The council passed on first reading an ordinance that would eliminate a 250-foot distance requirement for the sale of beer next to churches, schools and parks. Eliminating the distance requirement would spur more economic development along Ringgold Road where nine churches are located, officials said.
During the “communications from citizens” portion of the meeting, several people, including two pastors, spoke out against passing the measure on moral grounds.
“Question: Does anybody have any morals anymore,” asked Phillip Osborne as he turned to those gathered inside City Hall. Osborne, who is affiliated with Christian Church in Tennessee Disciples of Christ on Rebecca Drive, then told a personal story of driving drunk and having an accident in which a friend riding in his car was killed.
“I don’t want alcohol close to me or my little church. That’s all I’ve got to say,” Osborne stated.
Those opposed to the measure were countered by citizens who were in favor of eliminating the buffer zone which may allow the city to lure national chain restaurants where alcohol sales are part of its business plan.
“We all have choices,” said Gayla Dunfee who lives on Maxwell Road. “Let’s calm down. If you don’t want alcohol, don’t go. Don’t tell us that we can’t have alcohol.”
During debate on the ordinance, Councilman Jacky Cagle noted that both the City of Chattanooga and Hamilton County regulations contain buffer zones prohibiting the sale of alcohol near churches.
Cagle said that he “used to be one of the biggest drinkers there was.” He urged the council to continue to deal with businesses who wanted to sell beer near churches to come before the council and ask for a variance.
“I would beg the council to go along with me on this,” he said.
Vice Mayor Esther Helton noted that East Ridge is “landlocked” and doesn’t have the area that Chattanooga has. Her support of the ordinance was “a financial decision.”
Councilman Mike Chauncey said that he was “a God-fearing man” and attended church regularly, but he supported the measure because it would improve the city’s financial bottom line and help “pay the bills.”
“It’s time to move into the 21st century,” Chauncey stated.
The ordinance passed on first reading, 4-1, with Cagle casting the dissenting vote.
For the better part of a year the council has debated purchasing ($210,000) low lying property on Oakdale Avenue to use as a dog park/animal control facility. Assistant City Manager Kenny Custer told the council that he had recently identified two parcels on Rebecca Drive that would be a more suitable site to build an animal control facility for a fraction of the cost. The asking price for the 32,000-square-foot parcel is $50,000.
Michael Hunter, who owns a nearby apartment complex, spoke out against what he called “a dog pound” being built near his 24 units.
Hunter said he was concerned about noise, odor from animals and parking. He also noted that Rebecca Drive is a narrow, dead-end street that could not accommodate increased traffic.
“Don’t punish me by hurting my business,” Hunter told the council.
In parting, Hunter said that he would be willing to compete with the city in purchasing the property from the church that currently owns it.
“I’m willing to beat the price the City of East Ridge offers,” he said.
Custer told the council that the Rebecca Drive site is centrally located and would not have the potential flooding problems associated with the Oakdale Avenue property. The savings of $160,000 the city may see on opting for this property could be used for design and engineering of the new animal services facility. In addition, he said, the city could utilize property it already owns to create a dog park.
Councilman Cagle asked Custer if the city had a contract on the property. Custer said the resolution before the council was simply to allow the city to enter into negotiations and a contract to purchase the parcels.
Cagle said that the city needed to give Hunter, the owner of the adjacent apartments, time to make a counter-offer on the parcels, effectively compromising the city’s negotiating position.
At the end of the meeting, Mayor Brian Williams brought up the process of hiring a new city manager. The city began accepting applications/resumes for the position in September, prior to former City Manager Scott Miller’s retirement in November. City officials said that more than 45 people applied for the job.
In previous council meetings, the process of culling the number of applicants was discussed. The individual council members were to have made a preference for the top five candidates. Those candidates would then be called in for interviews during a meeting open to the public.
Mayor Williams said that he had been in contact with officials from the Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS) who could provide expertise in assisting the city with selecting its new city manager.
The council voted to utilize MTAS in the first round of interviews of candidates. MTAS would make assessments and recommendations of the candidates. The council would then conduct its own interview and make the final selection.
Eight candidates are being considered for the job. They are former Red Bank City Manager Chris Dorsey, who declined the post in 2013 to take the city manager’s job at Signal Mountain; Kevin Owens, Glenn Irby. Caryn Miller, Alan Geans, Lyndon Bonner, William Vance and David Milliron.
Custer, who has been the acting city manager for more than two months, noted that the city has had 13 city managers in 18 years. He is not a candidate for the permanent position.