The Carthage City Council met at 6:00 pm on Friday, December 6th at the James A. Clay Municipal Building. Items on the agenda were as follows:
Approval of Meeting Minutes from November 1st, 8th, 13th, 14th & 28th.
Consideration of Bills over $2,000.00.
Old Business regarding the Downtown Waterline Replacement.
Old Business regarding a tree infiltration into the sewer on Spring Street.
Old Business regarding the replacement of a water storage tank on Turkey Creek.
Old Business of concerned residents of a past Ridgeway Drive housing project.
City Attorneys Report
Water Plant Report
Sewer Plant Report
Police Department Report
Fire Department Report
Public Works Report
City Recorder Report
Consideration of applicants for unexpired term.
Nomination / Appointment of a Vice-Mayor
Municipal Water Training
Elected Officials Academy
Smith County Insider Live Streaming
I am going to go through each of these, one by one, on what happened and then give my opinion, why I voted the way I did and be transparent with you as constituents. I hope you can respect the difference between what I saw and my opinion and feel free to agree or disagree and offer suggestions or constructive criticism. I am here for the residents of Carthage, I ran on certain principles and will not be deviated from them. That being said, let’s dive in.
Regarding the approval of minutes, I asked for particular changes to be made regarding a certificate of deposit (COD) which the city voted to put $150,000.00 into. Wilson Bank & Trust won a bid at 2.35% which comes out to making $3,500.00 on a COD. There was not a period of time given. The period of time given was 6 months.
My opinion of CODs. This money is tied up for 6 months, all $150,000.00 of it. I will admit, I have yet to get a grasp on our budget, so for the time, it is informational purposes. I feel governments job is not to search for more revenue sources, but less. While this is a revenue source that doesn’t tax citizens, it is also a revenue source that is placed in the bank instead of the taxpayers wallet. If we have enough money lying around to be placed in a bank, we have enough money lying around that we are overtaxed. I feel the people of Carthage are better at spending their own money than the government.
I also asked for changes to the meeting minutes made on November 8th, 2018. Jerry Warren shared the bid results for the Amphitheater and the project was overbid by $100,000.00. This detail was not submitted.
It is important to submit this detail because the public was told this project would cost us nothing, it would be covered by a grant. Grants typically have strings attached. Usually they require matching funds. Additionally, engineers make commissions off of city grants through taxpayer dollars. The more grants, the more commissions. I am opposed to special projects and spending our tax dollars on them when we have more vital infrastructure needs. I feel our local government should focus on infrastructure and leave special projects alone. We currently have a beautiful area where concert venues can be held in terms of our beautiful downtown area and the courthouse. Just earlier this year, we had several hundred people come out to listen to Forever Abbey Road and it was a raging success.
The November 13th meeting was particularly interesting. The initial meeting minutes did not include what business was performed, this was corrected before the meeting by Mayor Smith, and the correction is highlighted.
As you can read, a motion was made to appoint Matt Watts to fill a vacant seat. First off, this was not on the agenda. This is a clear violation of the Tennessee Open Meetings Act.
Notice must be given to the public so that the public can be made aware of what is happening. To do otherwise is not transparent, in my viewpoint, going around the will of the people. The resignation letter should not have been presented at this particular meeting, but scheduled for another. Additionally, a sitting council member cannot hold 2 seats at a given time. The fact this happened, the motion carried and it was voted on by the four present sitting council members shows either an unawareness for the legal processes of government or a clear disregard for the process.
Additionally, a motion was brought before the council to discuss purchasing a building for the City Hall, another item not on the agenda. The fact this conversation happened at all shows the same views as the special election.
The consideration of bills over $2,000.00 was a single bill right around $2,000 for meter reading. Since I am somewhat ignorant of the budget processes and was explained this happens every year, I voted to approve. I will do my due diligence of diving into the budget soon and how we can budget this item in the future without adding it to our approval process over $2,000.00.
Jerry Warren, the city engineer, proceeded to give a report on a few different projects. The first being, a connection line between 3rd & Main and the replacement of 2” lines on our square.
This is a project I am in support of. We need to get our downtown infrastructure up and running again. This requires new paving, new parking among many things. It would be a waste of taxpayer money to do this before we fix infrastructure needs underground. Let’s move on this project, which we are waiting on the state and it is slated to start either this winter or spring. Once completed, it will give us a chance to look at repaving main street to be more business friendly. At that time, we can get the government out of the way and let the free market take over, driving a more vibrant economy based on a better downtown curb appeal. A more vibrant economy makes for more sales tax revenue. While I am very opposed to taxes, a sales tax is more of a voluntary tax, which means less pressure on property taxes, which I believe to be feudalistic as one should own property and not have to pay taxes to the crown on a yearly basis.
Additionally, a tree infiltrated the sewer line down on Spring Street between sewer hole B1 & B2, near the county building and upper ferry road. This is still waiting on the state to complete as well, I do not have the details as to this project, but a video of the problem was made and I am going to try and attend the meeting where they are viewing the video to find out costs to us for repair. This is a need, not a want, so I am more open to fixing this problem.
Last, the replacement of the Turkey Creek Water Storage Tank was spoken of, I know we have recently replaced two tanks in Carthage, this tank is new to me so I am not up to date on the situation, I know that it was built in the 1960’s, but other than that, I am ignorant to the cost of replacement and reasoning other than it is an older tank.
The other old business we listened to was regarding the property splitting of an address on Ridgeway Drive. The story goes that concerned residents Mr. Waggoner, Mr. Duke and Mr. Cripps attended a meeting a couple months ago over the concern of the division of the property based on FEMA drainage standards, deed restrictions and property values. When the gentleman attended this meeting, the discussion was tabled and they were verbally told after the meeting they would be given a chance to speak on the issue and be notified when the next discussion was to be had on the subject. Long story short, they were not. The property split was voted upon by the planning commission without their knowledge and as it stands, there is nothing that can be done as a decision was made.
My take on this? This was not transparent. I believe in property rights. I believe people should be able to improve their property as they see fit, buy where they want, sell where they want, etc. This being said, if I purchase a particular piece of property as an investment in a particular area, consenting to current building specifications that keep my property value in a certain range, an agreement myself and neighbors consent to, and then a quietly held meeting goes around and changes that regulation, I would be pretty upset as well. This was not done with transparency. I completely sympathize with Mr. Waggoner, Mr. Duke and Mr. Cripps on this issue and I wish we could do more, but sadly, we cannot. We can learn from this situation though and work to give the public more notice of meetings coming up.
From there, we dove into the mayors report, where Mayor Smith spoke of having more transparency, things she has learned since taking office among other things. She also stated she is inviting the water auditor to come out and speak to us at the next meeting on the reasons for the higher water bills over the past several years.
I feel this is good transparency. No one likes high bills, me most of all. I feel an understanding of why they are high is good information for all of us to know and will help us find ways to possibly lower the bills. I would invite and encourage as many residents as possible to attend the next meeting and hear what has to be said.
The city attorney and fire department had nothing to report.
The water plant is still waiting on a new part approved by the city council last month to come in that should save us thousands of dollars over a couple decades in expensive bandaid parts.
The sewer plant recognized Ricky Brown being featured in “Serving Tennessee”, a TDEC report.
This is a great way to recognize our hard working city employees for a hard won effort at saving taxpayer money. I for one am proud of Ricky Brown and Steve Key, both plan on saving our community even more money in 2019.
Chief Davis reported that a homeless person was helped out of the cold during the month of November, an effort which I applaud the department for looking out and caring for those in need.
Les Fisher reported a sinkhole in front of El Rey which was quickly taken care of before any accidents could happen. I was able to speak with Les last week about the many things the Public Works Department does, I absolutely appreciate his quick response to the situation.
Michael Ray reported he was looking at updating the antivirus security on the city computer systems. I am somewhat ignorant to the security needed for the city and the details, but I will be looking into this as well.
Then we moved onto the consideration of applicants for unexpired term. We received 5 letters in all, everyone of them I felt deserved time and consideration, all are great citizens of the community. The announcement was made to the public on November 29th, 2018 that there was a vacancy for a city council position. The council elected 4-1 to move forward with the vote at the December 6th meeting, a measure which I opposed as I did not feel it gave enough time to the public to put the best candidates forward. Four of the letters were received after November 29th, only one was submitted before the 29th, obviously having previous knowledge of an open position.
The first person to submit a letter was Matt Watts. Below is the submitted letter:
The date on this letter was changed, as it was resubmitted, even though it was voted on to accept the letter. I have agreed with Mr. Watts on several positions, including his help in getting Liquor by the Drink passed in Carthage. While I appreciate the interest in the position, I was opposed to the position being filled by Mr. Watts and I will share why. Let me preface by stating Mr. Watts is my neighbor and I know he truly cares for this city. He campaigned outside of the chamber on election day, we had many good conversations and he has always been kind to me. My issue with his appointment has nothing to do with him as a candidate, but the process that was taken to apply for the position.
In our city code of ethics, the following is clearly outlined:
Mr. Watts clearly used his previous position as a jumpstart for his interest in city council. Additionally, he was voted out of his position as an incumbent, a decision that Carthage made through the ballot box. The citizens of Carthage chose 3 other candidates who were not incumbents. This is another reason I did not vote for Mr. Watts as I felt Carthage had made a clear choice and I felt it was my duty to uphold Carthage’s wishes.
The next letter submitted was from Mr. Mark Grover.
I personally know Mr. Grover and he is a very kind gentleman. He plays in a band and works for UCarts. I encouraged him to submit his letter of intent and also told him that I would take time to look at his letter and hear what he had to say, but would not vote on him based on our personal relationship. I like that Mr. Grover had served in the military and although he didn’t have much public office experience, he has a heart for Carthage and wants to get more involved. I didn’t vote for Mr. Grover not for any reasons except some of the candidates down the line I felt had a bit more time to dedicate to the job. I liked that Mr. Grover stated he intended to run for the position regardless of the outcome, which gained respect from me.
The next letter was submitted by Phillip Kinslow:
Mr. Kinslow had spoken to me previously as well on his intention to run for this position. He has worked quite a bit on energy grants, as I felt he would be a valuable asset in that regard. He had many leadership skills to offer, he oversees much in his job and I felt he had a stellar resume. I’ve spoken with Mr. Kinslow on a few occasions and I feel he would be a great city council member. I did not vote for Mr. Kinslow, not for a lack of a great resume, but based on the time availability of another upcoming candidate. I sincerely hope Mr. Kinslow gets involved with our city government as I feel he has a lot to offer us.
The next letter was submitted by Roy Ethridge:
I’ve spoken with Mr. Ethridge on a few occasions. He ran a campaign for city council this past year and had to back off for quite a bit of it for personal reasons outside of his control. Mr. Ethridge has a doctorate in ministry and an associates in public relations, a field which I am very familiar with. He was also a law enforcement officer, a firefighter and stated his vision for being proactive, not reactive. Additionally, we pointed out the need for infrastructure improvements. What stood out to me was his mention that he has much time to put into the community as he is retired. That statement was what won my vote, as I feel we need someone with time to dedicate and research more into our city. Mr. Ethridge was who I casted my vote for.
The final letter submitted was from Kevin Burris:
I personally know Mr. Burris as well. We attend the same church and also play in the same dart league. Mr. Burris is a local businessman to whom I do business with, he believes in fiscal responsibility and has a heart for local small businesses. I explained to Mr. Burris the same that I would not let our friendship be a determining factor in my choice. A question of his year long residency requirement was brought to question and the city attorney, Mr. Bass, declared that any candidate must be verified as qualifying before being sworn in. I did not vote for Mr. Burris based on the time Mr. Ethridge could commit to the position. I hope Mr. Burris does get more involved and continues to bring ideas to the table regarding fiscal responsibility and small business growth.
The city council voted as follows:
Councilwoman Kannapel - Watts
Councilwoman Scott - Watts
Councilman Ebel - Ethridge
Councilman Petty - Watts
Councilman Reece - Watts
Mr. Watts was elected and at this point is Councilman Watts. He was then sworn in immediately. I feel he should have had to have the same check on residency requirements as the other 4 candidates, but this was not done. I feel it is only fair to treat all candidates the same as I had my residency solely called into question. Regardless, Councilman Watts is now one of our city council members.
Next on the agenda was the nomination and appointment of a vice-mayor. Councilman Petty motioned for Councilwoman Kanappel to fill the position. Councilwoman Kanappel declined the position. No other nominations were made. Mayor Smith asked the council if anyone was interested in the position. Councilman Watts, Councilwoman Scott and myself raised our hands with interest. I gave my credentials as did the other two council members. So the ballot was Ebel, Scott and Watts. The votes were as follows:
Councilwoman Kannapel - Watts
Councilwoman Scott - Watts
Councilman Ebel - Ebel
Councilman Petty - Watts
Councilman Reece - Watts
Councilman Watts - Watts
Councilman Watts was then elected as Vice-Mayor, 5-1.
The reason I did not vote for Councilman Watts was due to the initial election process, followed by the different guidelines afforded him to be on the council than were afforded the other applicants. The biggest reason is because the Vice-Mayor position is the person who replaces the mayor if something should happen. Councilman Watts is the ONLY council member not elected by the people, but by the city council. The creates an essential House of Cards default, whereas an unelected official can find themselves as the executive of an entire city which did not elect the person.
All of this being said, I say none of this to be hostile towards any council member, as I know I have to work with each and every one of them, including Vice-Mayor Watts. I wish nothing but the best for all of them. The reason I point this out is because I owe you my transparency. I know this transparency is not going to be winning me friends on the council, as I will have to call out my counterparts on issues I disagree with. I do not call these issues out of malice, but of principle. I gain nothing now in calling it out, but I gave my word I would stand for transparency including elections.
The two positions have been decided upon and I look forward to working with Vice-Mayor Watts and the rest of the city council. I would like to investigate a format which gives our population more time to fill a vacancy and involves more transparency in the selection process.
Next on the agenda was an item I submitted which was municipal water training. As required by law, we as council members must attend 12 hours of water training in order to be compliant with the state. Not only is this required, but it puts us up front with grants.
As a taxpayer, I send quite a bit of my money to the federal government through income tax. I will dive into the many reasons I oppose the federal income tax, but this isn’t an issue we can fix at this level. How we can get this money back is through grants. Depending on the grant, we can get this money back into our community to benefit ourselves locally. Any means to get us at the front of the line is better.
I suggested we attend this training, to which Councilwoman Scott stated she had attended the training already at no cost to the city. Seeing the training costs a few hundred bucks and her concern of the cost to the taxpayers, I agreed that we need to find ways to do this training without costing taxpayer money. We all voted to pursue looking into this training.
The next item on the agenda was MTAS training, which I attended earlier last month. This training was crucial for me, I learned so much that I was ignorant of and I recommended it to the council so that we can be more transparent as a council and operate in a more efficient way.
Last, a meeting was scheduled for an unknown agenda item on December 18th at 12:00 pm. As soon as I have more details, I will share.
Last, I would like to thank all of you who have put their trust in me to represent you in the city council. I know this is very long and a lot of information, but I wanted to share with you as I gave my word I would. I want you to see why I am voting the way I vote. I want everyone to know I will question quite a bit, not for the sake of being difficult, but to learn and find out ways to accomplish the objectives I was elected to accomplish; More Transparency, More Community Involvement and a more vibrant Main Street. If I can be doing anything better or different, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I appreciate honesty, even if it is something I may not like hearing. Constructive criticism builds us up. You can contact me via email at ColeEbelCityCouncil.com.
Thank you again,