February Council Meeting
The City Council met on February 7th, 2009 at 6:00 pm. All members were in attendance. First on the agenda was the approval of the last meeting’s minutes. All minutes were approved. Next, we discussed bills over $2,000.00.
I asked for line item voting for this in order to outline each expense so the public knew what is being spent on what and why. Kwill Consulting was owed $5,700 for two grants; the Tourism Enhancement Grant and the Facade Improvement Project. I am up to date on the facade grant, not so much on the tourism enhancement grant. Councilman Petty inquired more detail on these two grants and what was happening with each. These were previous commitments to the grant writers, in which the work on these grants was already complete. While I was not in favor of the tourism enhancement grant in its form, the grant was written and I asked the city council publicly to be mindful of these costs to the taxpayer up front when considering applying for future grants. Kwill Consultants was approved unanimously. The next item on the agenda was a replacement of a new HVAC unit for “The Spot”.
I was fortunate enough to be able to photograph the unit which was installed. I abstained from this vote due to the fact that my son attends the Spot and I felt it a conflict of interest. I was told by the city attorney it would not be, but I still felt I needed to stick with my conviction on the conflict of interest. I am interested on the bidding/project completion process on this though, which I did not ask about as I did not think about at the time. For that, I apologize.
We then voted on the installment of 3 insurance policies. I inquired as to why this was not voted on the budget and Councilwoman Scott explained to me that while the budget was approved, we also have to approve the cutting of the checks. I also am curious as to the bidding process on this. I voted in favor of this.
Last, we voted upon an invoice for Warren & Associates for $2,400.00.
I inquired from Mr. Warren if the design for the amphitheater was specifically designed for the specific area. He said it was. I asked if the Army Corp of Engineers, the zoning board and the city planning commission consulted and if any other entities were consulted when he drew up the plans to which we were being charged $2,400.00. Mr. Warren stated he remembered it going before City Council but did not recall it going before the planning commission. I then reiterated the question as to if we could take the specific designs and move them to another area. Mr. Warren stated the design was for the specific project. Mayor Smith said the amphitheater came in almost $100,000.00 over budget and inquired if he thought it would be the same amount. Mr. Warren replied that if we kept the original plans, it could be; if engineering changes were made, it could be less. Councilman Reece inquired if there was any other specific place we could have it moved to. Councilman Petty brought up that we were voting on a line item and this discussion would be more appropriate in another format. We voted and all but myself were in favor of paying Mr. Warren the $2,400.00, I was opposed due to fact that he didn’t consult any of these areas before he drew up the plans. As he was the city engineer at the time and as strict as he is on private businesses to follow code to the letter of the law, he did not apply this strict policy to himself or his company. I don’t feel the taxpayers should be on the line for the admitted negligence of the contractor who designed the amphitheater. Additionally, I am curious as to the bidding process for this particular engineering drawing and why the city engineer and the city building inspector was awarded this contract, as I see that as a very severe conflict of interest.
Next, the Mayor gave her report. She mentioned utility training, which is required by the state. She also mentioned MTAS training and that there was a workshop on respect in the workplace, which 100% of city employees attended. She then mentioned that the city was in talks with Vol State on working on Satellite Classes being held in Carthage.
I am glad to hear about this development, as bringing higher education to our city would result in more of an economical draw for a portion of our population which typically moves out of county, resulting in a loss of an economic demographic which we are not reaching and could be reaching. If you are interested in additional information, you can hear about it on Thursday, March 14th at 5:30 at the Chamber of Commerce.
Next the City Attorney stated he had no report to give.
Following this, the water plant had a small report to give, mentioning the Agitator valve was installed at the water plant, this was a cost to the taxpayer of around $10,000.00.
I requested to take a picture of this valve to share with the constituents. I was denied taking a picture and have been denied taking pictures of anything in the water and sewer plant for reasons of “Homeland Security”. This in my opinion is full on political grandstanding, where a politician draws attention away from the issue at hand and distracts the public with off topic reasons as to not allow a simple request. I’d like to know the common sense reason why the public is not allowed to see what it pays tens of thousands of dollars for or why the public is not allowed to see simple glasses of water being poured at our water plant. This has never been an issue before Mayor Smith took office, as I was always openly welcomed by all the employees to ask questions, observe and take pictures of non-sensitive material such as basic drinking water. These employees now have been instructed to alert the mayor should I arrive asking questions and not allow me to take any pictures of anything whatsoever. Mrs. Teresa Mofield then stated that the water plant was in compliance with the state and stated that people were more than welcome to tour the plant upon request.
Mr. Steve Key then spoke to us regarding the Leachate issue with the city and the county.
Mr. Key gave us several reasons why the city should not take leachate at this time. Much of this information was previously heard, the new information presented was that nothing had been done since the council requested that the administration have discussions between the city and county attorneys, MTAS and CTAS advisors as well as the sewer plant and the landfill. To the meeting date, this had not been done. We then all motioned that the administration carry out the will of the council once again. The following day, the county pulled out of the project. This is going to add cost to a couple of things. The city will now be charged for trash pickup whereas before this was done for free in exchange for the city accepting the leachate water. Additionally, the county will no longer accept brush from the city. The county will be also paying for the leachate to be hauled elsewhere, which will result in increased spending on the county side. Basically, everything is now more expensive for the taxpayer on the city and county side due to a single-minded agenda.
The council wanted a safe, viable solution to this leachate problem. The administration wanted nothing to do with a solution and was dead set on an agenda to stop this project. After the fact, we are learning that the tests on the leachate water didn’t even turn up high levels of BOD, chloride or ammonia. These were said to be high. So we have high levels of these substances, but it is coming from somewhere else, not the leachate, which was the basis of the administrations objective to kill the project. I am still waiting to get these test results which have not been sent to me. So we don’t have a solution and we are still getting high levels of these contaminants in our sewer treatment facility.
I requested these levels from the city over a month ago and was never presented with them. I requested these levels on the sewer side as well and was told I needed to fill out a public information request. Never have I had to do this before. Transparency is not paramount here, control of the flow of information, control of the city and secrecy rule this administration. I will continue to fight this censorship and fight these unfounded claims against the landfill as to where no documentation on these claims has been disseminated to myself or other council members or the constituents. I’m hoping after this article is published, we will get this information posted as it usually takes a public outcry for this administration to react. My agenda is transparency, less government, fiscal responsibility, small business growth, community involvement and more representation for businesses in this government. These things are not being done with this issue. There is no transparency. The government is getting in the way of long term solutions. It’s costing the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars on the city and county side. It doesn’t plan for small business growth and community involvement, and constituents concerns are ignored and businesses are being ignored.
The police, fire and public works departments had no reports to give, nor did the city recorder.
We next moved into old business, which I brought up the responsibilities of the City Council members as defined in the Town of Carthage Private Act Charter.
I motioned that we make a memorandum for all city employees to state the following:
”All City Council members, being the Legislative Body of the City of Carthage, are permitted to obtain any information from any city department or city department employee without permission or filtration of information from the Executive Body of the City of Carthage. As the Legislative Body, it is our duty to inspect that the wishes of the body are being carried out properly by the Executive Body. The Legislative Body approves funding for these departments and therefore must have direct access to these departments. No employee should fear reprisal from any member of the Legislative Body or Executive Body for sharing information, facts or opinions and feel comfortable answering any questions asked of them. “
Councilwoman Scott and Councilman Petty wanted to add provisions that stated the above with the following “so long as it does not affect the daily functions of the department employees and as long as it was subject to the security requirements of the Department of Homeland Security.”
City Attorney Bass weighed in that it was of his opinion that this would be an overstep of the council to which I disagreed. The motion was tabled to hear back from the city attorney after he discussed with MTAS legal.
MTAS legal came back and stated in summary that our memorandum would exceed the our council duties, with recommendations that we request information through the open records act. With this statement, I strongly disagree.
MTAS was created in 1949 to serve city governments within the state of Tennessee. They offer programs and services to cities in a variety of areas, including training, finance, legal, technical, and municipal management assistance. MTAS does not govern, nor is it an elected institute. We, the council and the mayor are the elected officials. We are not governed by MTAS, but advised. I loudly voiced my concern that city employees were being intimidated to which I was immediately asked by Mayor Smith to identify which specific employees felt they were being intimidated, which proved my case and point, this is obviously happening.
I will not back down on this position. I will not stand for intimidation or the lack of transparency to the council, which is being enacted. This command and control procedure, which opts for the control of the flow of information to the public to be presented and/or logged by a single person and single administration goes well beyond my values and the Constitution which I swore in my oath to uphold and defend. Checks and balances are needed and if it takes challenging MTAS on that check and balance, so be it. I was elected by the people to represent the people, I was not elected to abide by what is, in my opinion, a bad recommendation by an advisory board, a board that promotes a larger scope of government.
Additionally, I will point to the following in our charter:
Section 9: “The council shall have the power….to prescribe regulations for the good order, peace, health, safety, convenience and good morals of the town, to provide water works to supply the town and inhabitants with water…”
If I am to take this section seriously and not question the singular source of the information in order to make decisions of safety and not be able to assist in providing water works to supply the towns inhabitants with water, I would not be doing my job.
Title 18, Water & Sewers, Chapter 2, 18-201 covers quite a bit of our responsibilities to make sure we are complying with safe drinking water standards. I feel we are unable to do this if our source of information lies within a sole individual, who has an agenda that does not consist of looking for solutions to maintaining clean drinking water, only to stop projects dead in their tracks based on information still not provided to date unless controlled and logged.
We then proceeded to discuss the property use on Water Street.
Many facts and opinions were given, but it was decided that residents should have a voice in the decision on what to do with the property and this open public forum would be conducted 30 minutes prior to the March meeting.
Next, we discussed the Amphitheater Project. Several citizens showed up to discuss their opinion. I presented the council with the petition signatures of 38 out of 40 direct neighbors who live in the vicinity of where the amphitheater would be built.
The petition stated as follows:
“To the City Council,
On Sunday, February 3rd, a few citizens went around knocking on doors and gathered 38 of 40 signatures of residents not in favor of the amphitheater project. These residents are all less than a quarter mile from where the project would take place, many people who live right next to where it would be. We knocked on every door on Moss, Industrial, Oldham, Riverside, Hackett, Swope and Main (the bordering residents on Main). Of those residents whom answered the doors, only one couple was for the project. 95% of the residents who answered are AGAINST the amphitheater project.
The petition was signed on the following information grievances:
1) The amphitheater’s first phase was originally estimated to be around $70,000 and the lowest bid given was around $170,000, 242% over budget.
2) The former building inspector charged the city around $8,000 to draw up engineering plans for the amphitheater without looking into zoning ordinances, checking with the planning commission, noise ordinances, Army Corp of Engineers flood plain issues, programing issues and maintenance costs.
3) The area which the amphitheater would occupy is zoned residential R-1, which is right in the middle of a residential area. With no nearby shopping or eating, which would add the economic viability aspect to the project, this area adversely affects the nearby residents and could have a negative impact on property value.
4) The noise levels have not been explained to the residents in the area and when/how they would expect to be notified of the events at the venue.
5) The programming has not been discussed, which is a vital part of having an amphitheater. What organization is in need of this space? Are these organizations being turned down in other similar spaces? What events and event types that will be held there with specific examples? We feel the council didn’t look into the specifics or ask these questions and provide data and statistics.
6) The annual maintenance costs on an amphitheater, to include parking, trash, restroom maintenance, streetscape and other various annual, monthly and weekly expenses, which will be passed onto the taxpayer are not clearly defined.
7) No tracking economic studies have been presented to the council on an amphitheater already in existence, much less an amphitheater located so far away from the economic center of the town where it would have more impact and viability.
8) No studies were done to see where the water would be diverted should an amphitheater be built, nor was the Army Corp of Engineers consulted on the flood problem inside the flood plain.
9) An environmental study has not been performed for the area and the environmental impacts of the amphitheater.
10) Residents did not feel they had a voice in the project, as many were told by the former administration, “a surprise” was coming for Carthage.
11) The planning commission unanimously voted against approving the project on January 16th, 2019, and it was never consulted prior to taxpayer spending on an engineer drawing specific to the area. Moving the project to a new area would require a new engineering drawing as verified by the city engineer, which implicates that the original drawing was specifically drawn for this site without any consulting from the planning commission.
We demand that the city council cancel this project immediately and find better ways to improve our economic and tourism enhancement in tourist areas instead of our backyards. We demand that any future projects involve public forums and input. We demand that any future projects are investigated at length before a dime of taxpayer money is spent.
Concerned Citizens of Carthage”
In response to this petition, the council voted to end the project as it currently stood. This was a huge win for residents and taxpayers alike.
I am of the opinion that as a city government, we should be focusing our time, money and resources on maintaining the infrastructure of the city and that the free market will provide entertainment options. With our infrastructure well behind, I feel we need to shift focus from special projects to improvements. Once improvements are done, more businesses will move in, generating sales tax revenue, which in turn will generate more revenue for infrastructure repairs. Entertainment will come and won’t cost the taxpayer a dime because the free market will provide.
Next we spoke about the facade grant, which Dawn Kupferer, Kwill Consultants discussed. There was to be a meeting on February 20th at 6:00 pm at City Hall regarding the matter and from what I understand, the Mayor did a good job at getting this information to the business owners regarding the grant.
Next, we were going to discuss the Water Tank Project, 3rd and Main Water Line Section, and Spring Street Sewer Line Section with Mr. Jerry Warren, who left the meeting early, so this discussion was tabled.
It is of my opinion that these are of vital importance to the city as these are infrastructure improvements and our city engineer should be present to give these reports as we are unaware of the status of these projects.
The board of Zoning appeals was announced, all of whom were appointed:
Mr. Phillip Kinslow
Ms. Jen Honey
Dr. Roger Duke
Ms. Deb Taylor
Mr. Ronnie Butler
Next, Mr. Raymond Lawrence with the American Legion discussed the city sponsoring Boys & Girls State.
Mr. Lawrences proposals only required we think about the sponsorship and no action was taken.
Virginia Solomine, with the River City Ball, requested the city allow for the usage of the Museum’s parking lot for the event. This was voted upon unanimously to be used.
Mr. Baxter Key, a resident of the Town of Carthage, was recognized to speak of various concerns of water issues on his street. I stated we were working on getting our training completed so that we could have more resources available to address these concerns.
We then moved onto discussion on fact finding on the road responsibilities for the city , which I had requested we look into. I was recommended to check with TDOT for this study. I was then emailed over the Improve Act funding the next day by the County Highway Department Head, Steve Coble. Carthage can expect to receive $22,000.00 from this gas tax, but we still do not know how many miles of road we are responsible for as a city.
Last was additional business, to which I brought up a concern from a constituent that the city was charging the Little League a fee for usage of the city Little League park.
I was told the claims were unfounded and that the Little League was not being charged.
With this, our meeting ended.
What I gathered from this meeting were some wins and losses. Our wins were that an expensive taxpayer funded entertainment project was halted in its tracks. It took the community coming together and petitioning and showing up loudly against this and it worked, the council listened. I feel we are losing the battle for transparency though as the city administration continues to operate separate from the will of the council and is not relaying information to the council or the constituents. Right now I am very disappointed with the city government on how they are operating and would request they work within the governing bodies wishes.
The duties of the Mayor are to lay before the board information. The Mayoral duties clearly state the position exists to execute the will of the council. This was not done and for that, we are looking at huge increases of spending.
I will continue to fight this broad overreach of the current city administration and the lack of transparency enacted. We have some positive things we need to start focusing on and it’s time to end the political grandstanding.
Thank you again for entrusting me with your vote of confidence and please let me know if you feel I can be doing anything differently. I always welcome constructive criticism and I need you, the people, to hold me accountable.
The government exists to serve the people, not the people serving the government. I serve at the will of the people and I answer to you.