The East Ridge Housing and Redevelopment Authority met last Wednesday, Jan. 24 at 10 a.m. It was probably a surprise to most people in East Ridge. It was to me.
Because I try to keep East Ridge News Online readers informed of what’s happening in East Ridge government, I do my darnedest to to keep up with all the meetings going on at City Hall. And believe you me, there are plenty.
The East Ridge Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) is one of the city’s newest boards. And let me tell you, it’s shaping up to be the most powerful and one that could have an enormous effect on you and me. Simply stated, the HRA’s purpose is to fight blight in the city. If residences or commercial buildings are deemed “unsafe or unsanitary” the HRA can, in the words of City Attorney/HRA Attorney Mark Litchford, “take them.” The city would then redevelop that property for a higher public use.
Now, how all this is going to work has yet to be seen. But, believe you me, it’s all in accordance with Tennessee State Law. Just ask Litchford.
What may or may not be in accordance with Tennessee State Law is how the good people of East Ridge were given public notice of the last meeting. The meeting was not advertised in a local newspaper, as state law dictates. State law says that citizens should be given “adequate” notice of a meeting, presumably to give people interested in going enough time beforehand to make arrangements to attend.
The amount of time is not defined with a specific number, like seven days or four days in state law. No, the law says “adequate” public notice. It’s been East Ridge officials’ custom of giving a minimum of 48 hours.
Well, East Ridge gave its citizens 17 hours public notice in the case of the Wednesday meeting of the Housing and Redevelopment Authority. The date and time of the meeting was placed on the digital billboard out in front of City Hall on Tombras Avenue at about 5 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon. A link on the city’s Website concerning the meeting was put up at about that same time. A sheet of paper announcing the meeting was on the front door of City Hall.
Now, city officials set the date and time of the Jan. 24 East Ridge Housing and Redevelopment Authority meeting at the conclusion of its Jan. 10 meeting. Yet, officials didn’t get around to telling the public about it until 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 23. Darwin Branam, the Chairman of the East Ridge Housing and Redevelopment Authority, when asked about this kind of public notice said, “I have no problem with it.” Litchford’s learned opinion was that the announcement at the conclusion of the Jan. 10 meeting was adequate public notice for the ensuing meeting on the 24th.
City Manager Scott Miller was asked how this happened? His answer was simple … The City Recorder “forgot.” He said it was the City Recorder’s responsibility to make sure “adequate” public notice is given to our citizens concerning government meetings.
This is not the first time City Recorder Janet Middleton “forgot” some critical element of her job.
Two weeks ago, I reminded City Hall that the master schedule of meetings on the City’s Website for 2018 still had the 2017 meeting schedule posted. In June 2017, I reminded City Hall that the dates of the 2017 master schedule of meetings on the City’s Website didn’t coincide with the meeting dates. It was discovered that the master schedule was never updated from 2016.
Last year the City Recorder posted on the City’s Website a packet of information in regard to the city’s Beer Board. Included in that packet of information was personal information of executives of the company applying for the license to sell beer. That information included social security numbers, dates of birth, home addresses and telephone numbers.
I contacted City Hall to point out that this highly sensitive personal information was on the City’s Website. It was promptly removed.
I have been told that it is very difficult to terminate a person that has a government job, whether that be local, state or federal government. It gets even more difficult if that government employee has many years or decades of “service.” Middleton has worked for East Ridge since 1995.
Despite Middleton’s demonstrated incompetence, her job is safe.
Here’s the irony of the situation; last week was “Public Notice Week” in Tennessee. With someone like Janet Middleton responsible for providing public notice to the citizens of East Ridge, we didn’t have much to celebrate.