Well, 2018 has come and gone and we are a week into the new year.
You may or may not have set some goals for yourself for 2019. You know, goals that will either make you a better person or make you feel like you’ve actually accomplished something in the 365 days that God has given you. I’m going to be ambitious here and suggest that the City of East Ridge set some goals for the New Year. That’s reasonable isn’t it?
Goal No. 1: Hire a City Manager in a timely manner. I think acting City Manager Kenny Custer is doing a fine job but the quicker we get a new guy in place the better. After all, he’s the point man on economic development and bringing new businesses into our city.
If I’m not mistaken, the city began accepting applications in October 2018 when Scott Miller announced he would be stepping down. City officials said that they’ve received more than 40 resumes of people interested in becoming the next city manager. Privately, several officials said that many of those applicants may have already accepted another position. The longer the city council waits to make the hire, the greater the chances that East Ridge will get a city manager that other cities have passed on.
The last time I looked, discussion and/or action to hire a new top administrator was not on the agenda for the first meeting in January of this year.
Goal No. 2: Hire a Police Chief. I dare say, if you ask the average East Ridge resident what the city’s biggest problem is most would say “crime.” Chief J.R. Reed was placed on administrative leave on November 21, 2018. The basis of his having been relieved of command centers on lack of leadership, allowing a hostile work environment to exist, mismanagement of investigations and an issue with confiscated funds and goods.
This one is tricky, folks. Reed was elevated to Chief of Police with little to no administrative experience. His was a case of learning on the job. If he did nothing else for the ERPD he doubled the number of boots on the ground by hiring two dozen new officers. His departure, in my opinion, was hastened by the establishment of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 735. The department is divided. Furthermore, the recent municipal election opened a rift between fire and police, as Local 735 endorsed Jim Bethune for mayor and the fire department was in the Brian Williams camp.
To have any chance at reunifying the ERPD, I think many would agree that the next Chief of Police in East Ridge is going to have to come from outside the department. An experienced, no-nonsense, by-the-book type who would conceivably play no favorites within the department. That hiring would be done by the new City Manager on a contract basis. The new chief could mentor high-level administrators within the ERPD to step in and fill his shoes when his contract is fulfilled.
However, the new chief won’t be hired until a permanent city manager is in place.
Goal No. 3: Build a dog park/animal shelter. A hardcore, special interest group within the city has been clamoring for years for a new Animal Control facility and a dog park. For years they’ve been assured that this desire for a new facility would be fulfilled.
Finding a place to build a new animal shelter is seemingly complex, if you listen to city administrators and elected officials. Nobody apparently wants the racket of barking dogs in their backyard. Why the city doesn’t build it in Camp Jordan Park is beyond me. The city owns the land, it’s a fair distance from residential areas and curious kids playing sports in the park would most probably drag mom and dad over to look at the dogs and cats and want to take one home with them.
Currently, the council is eyeballing three acres of undeveloped property on Oakdale Avenue. Some of the property is within a flood zone, so it’s got some issues. Another catch is how to pay for it. For years administration has focused on the state increment tax money from the Border Region Act to be used for projects. An animal control facility may not qualify.
Bite the bullet and either borrow some money to pay for it or take it out of the surplus fund that according to our recent audit is very healthy.
Goal No. 4: Build a field house for Raymond James Stadium. For several decades athletic facilities at Hamilton County schools received no funding from the county. Those athletic facilities in less affluent communities crumbled, because poor people don’t have the time or money to pitch in.
The City Council, with much negotiation between City Attorney Mark Litchford and school board lawyers, purchased the athletic fields at East Ridge Middle and High Schools. The thinking was if we own it, we can improve it. The needs were seemingly simple, make the fields better, build a tennis court, and with the help of significant funding (more than $100k) from the East Ridge Alumni and Supporters Association, build a field house for the stadium.
Former City Manager Miller was dead set against building a field house. In my opinion, he stalled it. His first reason was the price … $600,000 was too much. Well, we are floating a $4 million bond to build restrooms and concession stands at Camp Jordan. Use some of that cash or up the amount and include the construction of athletic facilities at the school. Yeah, it’s sometimes hard to swallow borrowing more and more money. I get it.
But here’s my deal; our city leaders lamented the deplorable condition of the athletic facilities at the schools and excoriated the county for allowing it to crumble. What message is our city leaders sending to the youth of East Ridge if we do the same darn thing?
Build a modest field house that encompasses restrooms, locker rooms and coaches offices at the school. It doesn’t have to be a Taj Mahal. While you’re at it, build four tennis courts so the school can once again field a tennis team for boys and girls.
Goal No. 5: Encourage our citizens to become more involved in city affairs. Kenny Custer took a giant leap in mid-December when he plopped down at a table at Local Coffee and invited residents to sit with him and tell him what direction they would like our city to go. Of course, nobody showed up.
Mayor Williams said he is going to host some informal meetings with citizens, too. His willingness to listen and entertain your ideas are much more than past administrations ever attempted. The first one is next Saturday and I’ll publicize it here in East Ridge News Online.
I want to challenge my neighbors to go meet the mayor. Let him know what you’re concerned about, how you would prefer your tax dollars to be spent and what you think about the future of East Ridge.