Last week was a stormy one in East Ridge.
On Monday, high winds and thundershowers raked the city, causing widespread power outages as trees and limbs came crashing down on electric lines, houses and roads.
Neighbors quickly came to the aid of those in trouble, cutting up limbs and hauling them to the street, doing what they could to get trees off houses and generally being helpful and supportive.
The city’s first responders were right there shoulder to shoulder. Firefighters pulled three people from houses that crumbled around them. Two fires, probably caused by downed power lines, were extinguished. Street crews were out getting debris off blocked streets. Brush crews were out collecting the debris brought to the side of the streets almost as fast as people could drag it out there.
Fire Chief Mike Williams, as a precaution, called in Hamilton County Emergency Services and Hamilton County Mutual Aid. The Red Cross and Salvation Army were helping two dozen people displaced by the storm. As Chief Williams said, he would rather be “proactive rather than reactive.” In this case, he was both. In short, it was East Ridge at its finest during a bleak time.
On Tuesday, as the storm damage was still being mopped up, three people accused of murder appeared before Judge Cris Helton in East Ridge Municipal Court. The trio were accused of killing Reginald Ballard in one of East Ridge’s less reputable motels on Feb. 20. Law enforcement tracked them down in Knoxville, Manhattan, Kansas and Dayton.
The hearing was held several hours before the regular court session and no less than six ERPD officers were in the courtroom to ensure security.
Detective Daniel Stephenson explained to the court how he and other law enforcement officers found the accused. He told about the crime scene and all the evidence collected. He elaborated on court orders for cell phone records and the preservation of such, Facebook pages and posts. He told about ballistics and fingerprints. In short, he had his ducks in a row and Judge Helton bound the accused over to the Grand Jury.
It took four months to bring the accused to account for their alleged crimes. It was a clear signal to all crooks: If you think you can come to East Ridge and do something crazy, you are not going to get away with it.
Tip of the hat to the cops who put themselves out there every day. And tip of the hat to the dogged investigators who never, never quit.
Wednesday’s storm was a little different, as the East Ridge City Council convened in a special called meeting/budget workshop. Pats on the back were all around as it was announced that the city received a $950,000 grant from TDOT for new sidewalks in the central business district that will allow for pedestrians and bicycles to get around. Applause for Shirley Manning, wife of Councilman Denny Manning, for being named the Tennessee Municipal League’s “Spouse of the Year.”
Then there was the pesky business of looking at how to spend more than $10 million of taxpayers’ money. The council discussed, then moved, on reversing itself, putting $1.2 million of money budgeted for Camp Jordan Park back into the General Fund. Vice-Mayor Marc Gravitt wanted the money to be in a stand-alone fund that would make it easier for the council and taxpayers to see the bottom line of how much money the city spends on recreation and how much money the city gets back in revenues. Gravitt said a stand-alone fund would be a more “transparent” way of doing business.
Councilman Jacky Cagle didn’t like that idea. Recreation could never be a stand-alone fund because money from the General Fund would always have to be transferred into it. Recreation would never break even, the council agreed, so it’s better to remain with the status quo.
So much for attempting to make the budgeting of 10 percent of taxpayers’ money more transparent.
Then, Councilman Larry Sewell read from a prepared statement a motion to strip the powers of Deputy City Manager from City Treasurer Thad Jablonski. Jablonski was named to the position of Deputy City Manager by the current City Manager, Andrew Hyatt. That’s how the City Charter says the process works. Gravitt asked the City Attorney if the council could even do it. Attorney North read from the charter and gave no recommendation on the legality of the council’s authority.
I guess the wording of the Charter is so clear everyone in attendance agreed, as a matter of course, that the move was kosher. (Here’s the link to the city’s video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ousIFXn581M&feature=youtu.be)
Council gave the job of Deputy City Manager to Fire Chief Mike Williams. It’s important that in Sewell’s motion he talked of giving Williams a raise of $1,000 per month when he performs the job of “acting city manager.” By talking money, it came under the purview of a budget workshop. Otherwise, this action wouldn’t have been proper under “special called meeting” rules.
Sewell later said his rationale for stripping Jablonski of the title and installing Williams was that Jablonski, as Treasurer and the city’s leading authority on the Border Region Act puzzle, had too much on his plate already. Well, a fire chief doesn’t have anything else to do but sit around the fire hall and wait for the alarm to go off, right?
I’m of the opinion, and I have it on good authority, that city employees don’t much care for Jablonski. Why, you may ask? He treats them like employees and not buddies. If an employee messes up, he holds them accountable. Employees didn’t much care for that, so they went to their buddies on council to complain. Of course, it’s not the council’s job to meddle in personnel matters, that’s the city administration’s job. I’m told this kind of thing has happened for years … council complains to city manager about personnel moves (outside of council meeting), essentially usurping the CM’s authority.
Maybe that is why on Thursday City Manager Andrew Hyatt was in Neptune Beach, Fla., in the process of being offered a job down there. There is no word on if he will accept the position of City Manager in Neptune Beach, but given the longevity of its former CM (11 years), he would be a fool not to.
If you haven’t been paying attention, in the last 11 years East Ridge has had seven different people serve as city manager or acting city manager (David Mays, Eddie Phillips, Curtis Adams, William Whitson, Tim Gobble, Freda Wheeler and Hyatt).
I’ve got to ask this question: Have our elected officials got it wrong each and every time they chose someone for the job of City Manager? Or is there something fundamentally flawed with the actions and interactions of our council and the city manager? Are council members stepping over the boundaries of their defined duties of making policy and interfering on a regular basis in day-to-day operations of the city by the administration?
Just to wrap the week up on a high note, The Optimist Club put on its first “Cars for Kids” car show at Camp Jordan Arena on Saturday. So many car owners registered for the show that the Arena couldn’t hold them all, so there were cars out in the parking lot to take a gander at as well.
Optimist officials said the proceeds from the show will go to help deaf kids, provide a junior golf program, scholarships for kids to participate in sports who otherwise couldn’t afford it, substance abuse programs and money to help families in need.
Hats off to the 32 members of the club for helping make East Ridge a better place to live for kids of all ages … including the bigger ones who get a kick out of admiring a baby blue ’57 Chevy convertible.