March Madness

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March was a month full of meetings, decisions and changes. I’m going to roll through several different meetings, all categorically. The beer board and the city council met on March 7th, the Planning Commission met on March 13th, the head of TDOT visited on March 15th, and we had two special called meetings on March 21st.

First, the beer board met to grant a new beer permit to Brian & Brandi Soda, who own two restaurants in Nashville called “The Filling Station”. Brian and Brandi are residents of Smith County who want to open a third restaurant in the “Markham’s Building” on the square, in downtown Carthage.

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The restaurant needed a variance to serve alcohol from the beer board since it was located less than 300 feet from the Alternative School. This variance was granted unanimously by the beer board. The Filling Station is a family-friendly tap room that serves a large variety of craft beer as well as craft sodas. They will also be specializing in gourmet hotdogs, as well as other food varieties and have a game room for people to play pool and other board games.

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The beer board has ABSOLUTE discretion to grant distance variances. I voted in favor of the variance for several reasons. I’ve met the Sodas and they are very invested in the growth of Carthage and want to help build our downtown. I ran on the principle of getting government out of the way so businesses will want to move here. Additionally, many of you stated you wanted a place where people could relax and do things indoors. While I understand that some people have differing opinions on the alcohol culture, there are many successful businesses who use this business model to create a fun family environment where adults and children have things to do. I’m very proud to have them as a neighbor and glad to have more people who offer true southern hospitality to those who live in and out of our community.

Next we rolled into our City Council Meeting. There was a clarification on the minutes from February. There were no bills over $2,000.00.

There was then a report on the county JAG grant. Councilwoman Scott spoke inquiring why the city had opted out of the grant titled “Funding for Prevention and Intervention for At-Risk Youth.” Councilwoman Scott mentioned Mayor Smith acted outside of the council and did not consult them in making this decision. There was some back and forth between the Council and the Mayor.

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I wrote about this grant back in January. This grant is designed to assist with creating programs for at-risk youth. There are stipulations with the money, but right now, the balance sits at right over $206,000. This grant no longer goes through the city and was done so without council approval. The Mayor voted to end discussion and I motioned to continue discussion and the motion carried as to continuing discussion.

I am not privy to the exact details of what happened, but whether our council agrees with this move or not, the fact is this is not the first time the administration has made major changes outside of the city council.

This conversation brought up different discussions on how the council can receive legal counsel and what powers do we have as a council when the executive office goes against the will of the council, or the proper procedures for making such drastic changes. Mr. Bass, the city attorney gave different interpretations of his position, it was undetermined if the city attorney was an officer or a supervisor.

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Mr. Bass then divulged that he would be resigning as the city attorney at the end of the month. This then brought up the discussion on needing to replace the city attorney. We voted to have a special council meeting on March 21st to elect a new attorney. It was determined that the Mayor would make contact with several attorneys and the Council would vote upon the next attorney.

Next on the agenda was the Facade Grant. For those of you not privy to the grant, the city has received a $100,000.00 grant to update the building facades, whether a new awning, paint or any other improvement. Private building owners can apply for the grant through the city and a 5 year lien will be placed on the property if the building owner decides to accept the grant.

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There were an unknown number of applicants that submitted for the grant.

Next, the water plant gave a report they were performing aggressive flushing. Aggressive flushing is when water is flushed out of the pipes in order to combat contaminates that build up, which have been the reason for several letters sent out from the water plant.

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I had a couple city employees approach me about this a couple months ago and I’m glad to see this action happening. I think this will help greatly with our water quality.

There was no Sewer Report.

There was no police report either, Chief Davis did mention awareness about more CBD shops opening in town.

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Chief Davis was concerned about these shops being located so close to schools. I offered to help the department understand CBD Hemp, which is 100% legal in Tennessee. The issues many officers are having is they are unable to distinguish between smokable hemp flower and delta nine tetrahydrocannabinol, which is currently illegal in the state of Tennessee. Tennessee is one of the last 17 states where medical cannabis is illegal, though there are several bills in the state house aimed at legalizing medical cannabis or decriminalizing it.

I am in support of CBD, as I have seen many people able to come off of several expensive medications by just using this plant. Additionally, it is governed by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and a ban on these shops would be in line with banning a shop that sells tomatoes or feed, as it is an agricultural product that has zero psychoactive effects.

There was no fire department report.

Les Fisher brought up a couple issues with the Public Works department. Due to the city canceling the contract with the county regarding brush and the county’s decision to stop taking brush, we are in need of a chipper truck. Chippers cost around $8,000.00 for a used one.

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Additionally, Les brought up the need for a new truck. This truck would cost about $37,000.00. The council tabled the discussion on that purchase until the special called meeting.

Michael Ray brought up the decision to allow former city employees to opt in or out of insurance benefits. This discussion was tabled until the special called meeting as well as more details were needed. The cost of this plan is about $7,000.00 per employee, per year. Currently there are 30 employees on this plan, which would cost about $210,000.00 and another 7 employees expected to be on the plan in the next 10 years bringing the total to around $276,000.00.

Next, Jessica Clouse, a resident of Carthage, mentioned an issue we are having with vultures.

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Several citizens between Elm, Upper Ferry Road, Walnut and McGuinness signed a petition to have the city do something about the vultures. There was discussion on getting a kill permit.

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Mayor Smith later contacted the United States Fish and Wildlife Agency in Atlanta, Georgia. They recommended placing bags filled with newspapers in trees to “scare” away the vultures.

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In complete honesty, I don’t feel adding trash bags filled with newspaper in our trees is going to help. I am no expert, but I think if we stick with our original plan of shooting the birds out of the sky, we can eliminate the problem without making our trees look horrible. Just my humble opinion.

We also discussed what to do with the two lots the City owns below Citizens Bank. I wrote about this a couple months back.

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Citizens Bank gave the property to the County and after I investigated it, it was purchased for purposes of helping with the drainage issue. I brought this up at the February meeting. It was suggested that we donate this property to a non-profit. There is going to be a public hearing on this issue, where I feel it would be beneficial for the community to show up.

Next, Chaz Kent, a resident of Fisher Avenue, brought up a parking issue on the north side of the street.

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The issue the residents are having is parking near the Methodist Church on both sides of the street. It is very hard to drive down the middle and sometimes impossible. Mr. Kent suggested the North side of the street be a no parking area so traffic can flow easier.

The water line connection on 3rd & Main, which was started in 2016, has been approved to move forward. This was the first movement on the project in months.

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This line connection would go under Main Street and would be the last major connection on the square. Several smaller underground improvements need to be made as well, then repaving can be a priority.

I am wanting to finish this sooner than later, as a vibrant, well maintained downtown with better parking will create a better economy and be more attractive to businesses moving in.

Next, an issue regarding an easement between Rivers Edge Antiques and Harris Service Center came up.

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The concerns were that the tires were right up against the property line easement and also created a health concern for the breeding of mosquitoes. A letter was sent to the business requesting the tires be moved and slowly they have been moved over the course of this month.

The walking track grant came up for more improvements.

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From what I understand, the walking track has several different phases. We’d like some public input on what to do with the area that is neighborhood friendly.

This concluded the City Council Meeting.

The next meeting was the Planning Commission meeting.

We approved the meeting minutes from the prior meeting.

Next, Thad Underwood submitted plans for dividing a lot on Ward Avenue and High Street. Currently our lots are allotted 7500 square feet. We would need to reduce the lot sizes to 6000 square feet, which is similar to Wilson County. Putnam County has lot sizes scaled at 5000 square feet.

We tabled the discussion until next meeting. My opinion is that we reduce the lot sizes. This allows for more development and housing since we already have a housing shortage in Carthage. Additionally, less government interference allows for more expansion on peoples property.

Next, the owners of 1314 Main Street N., who currently pay commercial property taxes, requested we change the zoning to allow for a church to be built on the property.

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I had previously voted to change this property from R1 to C2. This would open up quite a bit of business and I feel a stepped approach changing this to R2 would be more favorable. No matter, apparently we did not vote on this correctly as we needed a public hearing so the vote was null and void. We voted to have a public hearing on April 10th to change this to R2.

Dr. Roger Duke also discussed catching up all of the votes passed on amending planning codes over the next few months so the planning commission and the council have a base to use when planning for future projects.

Mayor Smith also discussed involving the public on a new vision for Carthage. This is something I fully support as I feel we need to have a laid out vision and we need to have public involvement.

Last, discussion on a dog park came up. It was suggested that we build this dog park where the walking track is. Many of the residents surrounding the walking track voiced opposition to the dog park due to it’s nature as well as the continual cost of maintenance.

I feel this issue should be brought before the public on both sides of the issue. Due to the costs involved as well as the neighbors concern, at this time, I am not in favor of building a dog park. I am not very knowledgable on the difference between a dog park and a human park and I don’t understand why dogs and humans cannot coexist in the same park. Additionally, many have discussed how different dogs must be vaccinated, someone must enforce that dogs do not fight, someone must enforce that dog feces be picked from the ground. There’s a lot enforcement between the vaccines and the dog feces, something I don’t feel government needs to be involved in. I’ve also noticed that dog parks exist in large urban areas with hundreds of thousands of residents. Carthage has less than 3,000 residents.

The meeting was concluded after this discussion.

I attended a meeting where Clay Bright, the director of TDOT came to Carthage to speak.

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The meeting was held at the Chamber of Commerce. I attended and they mainly spoke about the intersection improvement, which would take between 8-12 years to complete, depending on the start date. One concern I had was the shape Main Street was left in when the state turned it over to the city.

Much was said about how Tennessee is not in debt on any of its roads, but the costs to improve roads are expensive and finances are hard to come by.

I mentioned several taxes we pay in the name of roads. It was pointed out that only a few of these taxes go towards roads, which I understand. I wanted people to hear that these taxes aren't being used for roads so that argument won’t be used when politicians vote to raise taxes once again, in the name of the almighty road.

I wanted people to hear that these taxes aren’t being used for roads so that argument won’t be used when politicians vote to raise taxes once again, in the name of the almighty road.

I personally spoke with Mr. Bright after the meeting and asked him to come visit downtown Main Street and see if he could offer any advice on getting our tax money back to improve our roads which we were promised by the politicians.

TDOT built a bypass which bypasses our county heart, downtown Carthage. This left us an unused, state-mandated turning lane in the middle of our Main Street as well as a very dangerous parking situation, that needs to be fixed.

On March 21st, we had two special called Council meetings. The first regarded a few issues, a new attorney, a new truck and the decision on former city employee retirement plans.

Mr. Judkins, Mr. Moore and Mr. Walsh were all present for the meeting and had applied for the position of City Attorney. After hearing many different opinions on various subjects, the council voted 4-1 for Mr. Moore to be our next attorney.

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The reason I voted for Mr. Moore was two-fold. 1st, he was open to giving legal advice to council members as long as he could answer questions from a single council member to the entire body, which I feel is completely fair. 2nd, he acknowledged the balance of power and the procedures between the City Council and the City Mayor and said he would make sure the proper procedures were carried out should the Council move forward on a decision.

Next, we voted on the purchase of a new Utility truck. I had sent a website to Mayor Smith that allowed cities to purchase vehicles at a quarter of the cost. This apparently was not a process the city was interested in and it was voted 4-1 in favor of the city spending $39,000.00 on a truck.

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I voted against the new truck because we found a solution to save tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on a truck. I feel we need to spend taxpayer money the same way we spend our own money frugally, if money must be spent. These trucks we would have been able to purchase would be used, but would have logged in maintenance every 5,000 miles.

Next, we voted on the former city employees health insurance costs. I was assured this would not cost the city anything, the cost would solely be on the former employee. I voted in favor of this since it would not cost the taxpayer more money. It passed 5-0.

We dove straight into the second special meeting. We discussed a new building inspector being brought in to enforce codes. I was adamantly against this.

Lynn McHenry is our current building inspector. He is very business friendly and wants to continue his role in helping new businesses come into the city. Our last building inspector drove away countless businesses and the new one being suggested had a record comparable to our last inspector.

While we all want a more beautiful town, we have to remember that we have several very old structures. A stepped approach into beautifying the town will benefit both building owners and residents. This issue was brought about response to the new Cash Express coming onto the square.

We need to do more as business owners, as residents, and as government to encourage voluntarily changes and encourage building owners to rent or sell to businesses that are more attractive to our town and not predatory to its residents.

Last, we discussed renewing the contract for mowing cemeteries.

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I was not familiar with the former contract and deferred to Mr. Watts and Mrs. Scott. They had said the contract was in the middle of the road cost wise and everyone was happy with the way things were taken care of. They said there was zero complaints so I voted in favor of renewing for a 3rd year.

This concluded our meeting.

It was a very busy month, lots of changes happened and several decisions were made. Several battles were won and a few were lost, but overall I feel we are starting to turn in a positive direction.

As always, I appreciate the opportunity to serve you. If you have any comments or criticisms, please message me at anytime and I will do my best to address your issues. Thank you!

Cole Ebel