On Thursday during its regular meeting at City Hall, the East Ridge City Council decided not to take any action in the immediate future to find a permanent city manager.
Vice Mayor Marc Gravitt had placed an item on the agenda to discuss the position of City Manager. When Andrew Hyatt resigned on June 30, Fire Chief Mike Williams assumed the position of Interim City Manager. Vice Mayor Gravitt told those gathered in the meeting that he had the utmost respect for Chief Williams and had spoken to him prior to the meeting.
“He (Williams) would jump over a building if we asked him to,” Gravitt said.
Gravitt said that the city’s top priority is the Exit 1 project, and he is concerned that we don’t have a “point person” to address the demanding job of economic development. He said that the last time the city hired a city manager the process took about six months. He urged the council to simply begin discussing what qualifications they may want in a new CM, perhaps placing more emphasis on a person who had experience in public works and infrastructure improvements.
Councilman Denny Manning disagreed.
“My thought is that we need to leave it like it is for a couple months,” Manning said. “Later down the road we can come back on it. As a matter of fact, (I) put that in a form of a motion.”
Councilman Jacky Cagle quickly seconded the motion.
Mayor Brent Lambert said that he had no problem in the council working up specific qualifications, over and above the City Charter’s, for the new CM. He said that the last effort by the council to agree on specific qualifications took more than a month.
“I don’t want to burn Chief Williams out,” Lambert said.
Manning retorted with, “When his hair starts turning grey we will worry about that.”
Manning said that Chief Williams, in his short tenure as Interim City Manager, “had some things going on that should have been done years and years and years ago. He’s got this city with the wheels going forward.”
The measure to not even begin talking about hiring a new city manager passed 3-2, with Manning, Cagle and Councilman Larry Sewell voting in favor.
The council unanimously passed resolutions to apply for a grant to partner with the Tennessee Municipal League in a “safety partner” program, and to enter into a memorandum of understanding with TDOT and state Homeland Security on an “Open Roads Policy.”
The council gave its blessing to staff to comply with a Comptroller’s request to clean up a report on the city’s debt obligation. City Treasurer Thad Jablonski said it was an effort to “keep the council and public adequately informed.”
Police Chief J.R. Reed informed the council of his intent to dispose of confiscated firearms through a local vendor according to state law. Chief Reed wants to exchange the firearms for ammunition and rifles for patrol officers. Chief Reed referenced the shootings in Chattanooga last week and said that East Ridge was not immune from such violence.
“I hope that never happens here, but if it does we don’t want to be under-armed,” he said.
The council voted unanimously for the proposal.
Alexander McVeagh, who was sitting in for City Attorney Hal North, informed the council that an “understanding” has been reached with counsel for former City Manager Andrew Hyatt and City Attorney North that there are no pending legal issues pertaining to Hyatt’s departure. The relationship with Hyatt has been “severed” and that the city is “in a good place” right now.
During the Agenda Work Session prior to the regular meeting, principals from Wolftever Development, the outfit working on the Bass Pro Shops and Jordan Crossing development at Exit 1, briefed the council on a project to improve Camp Jordan Parkway leading into the development and the park.
John Healy told the council that the road needed to be widened before Bass Pro Shops opened next spring or summer. He said the total cost of the project was about $2.8 million. He asked the city to fund the project for $1 million. TDOT has committed to funding and there is an agreement in principle for Hamilton County to contribute to the project.
Camp Jordan Parkway would be widened to four lanes to the bridge that enters Camp Jordan, he said. Wolftever has an engineering study of the road that will be completed in August at a cost of $100,000. Healy said the project could take four to six months to complete and urged the council to act as soon as possible.
“We can’t afford to tell Bass Pro after they’ve opened that we are going to re-do Camp Jordan Parkway,” Healy told the council.
Healy said the rest of the Jordan Crossing development could not proceed without the road improvements. He said the 350,000 square feet of retail space could generate $1.6 million a year in local sales taxes to the city, and that East Ridge would recoup its investment in the project in short order.
Mayor Lambert supports the road improvements. He said that if you took the development at Exit 1 out of the equation that the city would still need to upgrade Camp Jordan Parkway to facilitate the enormous amount of traffic at the park. He also supports the improvements by TDOT to Ringgold Road (widening the roadway to six lanes over the I-75 bridge) and the redesign of the exit off I-75 for northbound traffic leading cars directly into the new development.
Lambert said he would hold a special called meeting on Thursday July 30 to address the road improvement project. It will be held at 6:30 at City Hall.