Friday, December 18, 2009

Wow, almost a month since my last blog and so much going on. First, check my new poll out. We recently put up a new sign announcing our monthly meetings. to replace the old black stencil on white sign. This is on the "sign board" on the road up the front of the mountain. Let me know if you like it or not! Now, sit back and relax. This one is kinda long...

On Dec 1 we had one of our monthly "agenda" meetings. We started having these meetings early in my term. We found ourselves having frequent "special meetings" and decided to have one extra meeting for informational purposes and to set the agenda for the upcoming "regular" meeting. These are, however official public town meetings though usually sparsely attended due to being held during the day. The town charter designates the mayor as the "chair" of all town council meetings and during my tenure I conducted these meetings. However, Mayor Lusk has decided to turn these meetings over to the town manager to run. Honna does an excellent job of it, but it has been an interesting and surprising change in the general running of the business of the Council.

Issues discussed at this meeting included several raised by Ms. Allen. As everyone probably knows, it is state law that all bicycle riders under 16 wear helmets and she would like this more aggressively enforced. Apparently, however the maximum fine is only $2. So we are going to take an educational approach. Certainly as an emergency physician I strongly encourage everyone (both under and over 16) to wear helmets when on your bicycle.

She has also raised the issue of charging a monthly fee for extra garbage cans (more than one) to try to encourage recycling and decrease solid waste. Mr. Lusk raised the possibility of a fee of $15-20 per household. Loretta Hopper was asked to study the costs involved and at our Dec 9 regular meeting, she presented some data indicating that the extra costs to the town of those using more than one can to be something less than $10 per year. I certainly urge all citizens to recycle and decrease their solid waste output. However it doesn't appear the cost impact is adequate to justify and extra charge at this point. It has also been pointed out that larger households have more trash and would be penalized. I should remind everyone, though that there are smaller cans than the 96 gallon ones most folks have, so if you have decreased your waste stream, feel free to downsize your trash can.

Good news is that the Council agreed to support repairing the MACC as soon as possible and we passed a resolution at the 12/9 meeting confirming this support. Mr. Lusk raised the idea of a bond issue which might be a reasonable approach with interest rates being so low. This would also allow repairs to begin soon and then efforts to raise private funds could continue to pay down this debt. We are currently putting specs together to get bids on repairs to determine how to move forward.

A major discussion was had over appointments to town boards. As everyone knows, the Planning Commission has become a major source of controversy. Soon after my election (both to the Council and as Mayor), I appointed Melissa Cantrell to the Planning Commission and reappointed Wells Blake, who had served for I believe 6 years at that point. I thought these two provided a diversity of opinions which would benefit the commission. At that time, the appointment process for the Planning Commission was solely in the hands of the mayor by state law, although the town had a history of consultation and consensus with the town council that I followed. Nonetheless, I found out about a year into my tenure that, without my knowledge Mr. Lusk had been working with our legislative delegation to change this law to take this power out of the Mayor's hands and make it a council vote. While I was obviously disturbed by the surreptitious way that this was done, I decided to support this effort in the name of democracy. I later found out that the bill the state passed ONLY applied to Signal Mountain and not to any other city or town. That whole process was frankly disappointing, nonetheless all my appointments were done with the unanimous agreement of the council and all were confirmed by unanimous vote.

At the meeting, when Honna asked if we should reappoint Wells Blake, both Hershel and I said yes. However, the other three councilmembers began raising objections. Annette felt that no one should be appointed to the Planning Commission who has any even peripheral connections with the building industry. Mr. Blake works as an appraiser, as did Reid Sisson when initially appointed though he has since changed jobs. This approach would also exclude Wayne Williams, an architect and an excellent, hard working PC member. While I do not think that the PC should be dominated by development interests, I certainly think they should be represented. Ms. Robertson then specifically accused Mr. Blake of "shmoozing" with developers after the meetings to get business and specifically accused him of conflict of interest. I found this accusation to be outrageous and told her so. Ironically, since Mr. Blake is contracted by banks and lenders, if he were "shmoozing" developers it would do him no good since they don't hire him. I think this approach and attitude is not in keeping with a diverse viewpoint on the PC and can only assume it is a part of a continued attempt to "stack the deck" towards a very narrow viewpoint. Unfortunately, Mr. Dick raised no objections and, while no formal vote was taken, Mr. Blake's name was taken out of nomination for reappointment. His experience, which is greater than anyone else on the PC will be missed. No replacement for him was decided on at that time.

This brings me back to the topic of Ms. Cantrell. As I said, I appointed her to the PC 3 years ago. However, I can know longer support her and voted against her reappointment. Some of you may know of her personal insults to me. While personal honor may seem an old-fashioned and quaint concept in the 21st century, it is important to me and her private attacks on my integrity are adequate reason for me to oppose her. However, I have other concerns. The email to which I am referring is reproduced below:

"From: "Missy"
To: ,"Susan Robertson" ,"Racie" ,"Annette Allen" ,"mary seay" ,"teresa Hon" ,,"Dr. Joe Dumas" ,,,"Annie Morrow"
Subject: town business
Date: Mon, 09 Feb 2009 05:18:49 +0000

This appears to be Mr. Hendricks' final word on this issue. It seems a lot less damning, and from what I can tell, a lot more truthful than what he has been sending out in the past on the subject. Please feel free to send this out to as many people as you can tomorrow as this appears to be Mr. Hendricks lastest word on the subject.

Thank you,


This exchange was about my opposition to the proposal to sell town ballfields for commercial development. Frankly, I'm not sure what I said that was "more truthful" and, in spite of asking her, have no idea what was more "damning" and less "truthful". She has never explained it or apologized for it. However, more importantly it is obvious that this email was meant not only for private friends, but for select members of the town council and planning commission about a topic that undoubtedly would have been discussed and debated by the PC if it had gone forward. As such, it appears to be a violation of the spirit, if not the letter of the open meetings law. This also raises my concern that this isn't the only such private email on public topics. In addition, I have had complaints from PC members about her obvious personal bias against certain landowners regardless of their specific plans. She also refused to delay for one month a vote on the SROZ repeal, a topic obviously of no urgent importance when requested by a landowner who couldn't attend that particular month. This was an unnecessary rudeness to this landowner who has been a very active participant in our town's business. Possibly it is because one member who would likely have voted against her was out of town that month. Since the vote was 4-3 it appears she does know what it takes to get a vote to go her way. I think these are adequate reasons to oppose her reappointment even without considering the personal attacks.

Finally, a comment on my political future. In my last blog, I mentioned that I didn't plan to run for re-election. While I thought this was common knowledge, the found it newsworthy:

I found the first sentence interesting. For the record, when I informed the Council before the election that I would like to continue for 2 more years as mayor, I also informed them that it was highly unlikely I would run for re-election. The made no attempt to contact or interview me for this article so their attempt to link my decision with the mayor race is an unfortunate and erroneous assumption. I truly love serving the Town of Signal Mountain and do not rule out asking for another term some time in the future when my children are grown, but at this time I feel I have asked enough from my family and medical partners and feel I need to put my energies elsewhere. However, I have one more year to go, so don't give up on me yet!

Finally (whew), Merry Christmas to all and a very Happy and Healthy New Year!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

In my medical career I have frequently felt that some of my best decisions were to NOT do something. Sometimes, especially in an emergency there is a temptation to just do something, anything... but sometimes the best thing is to just stand there! Some problems resolve themselves, sometimes the initial impulse is not the right one and sometimes one has to take time to think to do the right thing.

Some of our recent Town Council decisions fit into this same rubric. My initial response to the speed camera proposal was negative. However, I have great respect for our police chief and his advice and wanted to evalute them further and also seek the input of our citizens. My research only reinforced my initial instincts and I am glad we are not moving forward with this. Although there was initially much enthusiasm among some on the council, clearly public opinion took its toll. While we don't always have to make an active decision not to do something, I thought this was a time when we should make that statement and made the motion to not move forward with this idea. I'm glad it was accepted and passed.

The same applies to raising the sales tax. Obviously we can always use more money, but at this time with the economy only just starting to recover and many of our businesses struggling, this would not be the right thing to do.

Bill Lusk has raised several other proposals recently which we have decided not to pursue. He asked the town to research curfews for youth. I did some research and found evidence that they didn't seem to work. Chief Veal agreed that the problem didn't warrant the solution. I'm glad we are not moving forward on that proposal.

Mr. Lusk has also raised the idea of a "dog park". I have owned dogs almost my entire life. I currently have two. I stand behind noone in my love for dogs. However, I don't see this as a pressing need in our community. Mrs. Robertson stated that we didn't plan to spend tax money on this and it would only be done if it was run by volunteers. Since we have never discussed any of this I'm not sure just what she meant. She may have just been expressing her own opinion, but she did say "we". If she is having these discussions with the rest of the Council in non-public meetings, it is a violation of the public meeting law and that would be unfortunate. Obviously, if someone wants to buy some land and create a dog park with volunteers I would say more power to them, but since this was brought up as a town effort, it would clearly involve tax dollars even if volunteers agreed to "scoop the poop". I think there are much more important issues for us to address and greater needs for our tax dollars at present.

While those that know me as a liberal might be surprised, I am a believer in the principle that government which governs least governs best. It is a classic liberal principle to keep government out of people's lives as much as possible. I do believe government has a role to play in public safety and can do much to improve people's lives, but was never interested in just looking for things I could meddle in. We have way too many needs in this town to be creating more.

As I enter my last year in office (and no, I do not plan to run for re-election), I hope to see a few things finished that we started. I wanted to re-write some of our ordinances to make them clearer and began re-organizing our whole board and commissions structure. Honna has taken my initial work, improved it and the Council will hopefully be passing this re-write in December. I hope to see the Planning Commission and Council complete work on re-doing our subdivision and zoning regulations before I leave, but considering how long it is taking, I am not optimistic. Considering that I have been totally sidelined on this issue anyway, it probably doesn't matter.
I am please with many of the environmental initiatives we have begun. These have not been just "feel good" initiatives, but actions such as replacing lighting fixtures with more energy efficient ones and replacing light bulbs with compact fluorescents will save the town money while cutting down our carbon emissions. I am proud of that. I'll deal with a few other outstanding issues over the next few months.

Speaking of elections, the town council elections are a year off! We were criticized last year for not publicizing them more broadly and some thought this is why noone ran against the incumbents. Clearly there will be at least one open seat next fall, mine. Hershel was talking about running for re-election last I heard from him, but I honestly don't know what his final decision will be. I also don't know what Susan Robertson, who is also up for re-election will do, though I would be surprised if she didn't run. I would urge anyone who has considered serving in town government to think seriously about running. It is a great service to your community and a great experience. I'm happy to talk with anyone considering this. Deadlines for "signing up" aren't until next August, but elections up here have gotten a lot more serious lately, so it is best to do some advance planning. Give it a try!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

A few issues in the news...

I wanted to comment on a few issues currently in the news. We had our monthly agenda/work session last Monday and several of these were discussed.

On the topic of "speed cameras", I have previously stated my opposition. I just don't think we need them on Signal Mountain right now, although I support our police chief and his efforts to enforce our laws. It seemed apparent to me that Hershel Dick also opposed these and he expressed this in the meeting. The other three Councilmembers had seemed fairly supportive of the idea, however Bill Lusk stated that after further research he was now leaning against them. I suggested that we should formally make a statement that we would not be moving forward on this issue. The other two (Ms. Allen and Robertson) expressed no opposition, so I suspect this is a dead issue and will be formally dropped.

Mr. Lusk has also raised the issue of curfews for minors. We have had some problems with vandalism in some of our parks and apparently he had been asked by citizens to consider this option. Many cities have adopted these and, while the cities claim they decrease crime, at least one independent study that I found did not support this. Mr. Lusk had asked Chief Veal to research this and, while Chief Veal stated it would give the police more flexibility, he didn't seem to think it would help that much. I have my own concerns that the primary effect would be to hassle law abiding minors returning late from dates, etc without significantly impacting the few problems we have. I did tell the Chief that I supported the idea of the police contacting parents of minors found out late at night. I think that sort of notification is the best approach to this issue. The general consensus seemed to be that this was a solution in search of a problem and that we shouldn't pursue it.

In the paper today is an article about dog parks. This is another issue Mr. Lusk has raised for the town staff to research. I have never heard anyone raise this issue before. I don't see this as a need for this town and in the current fiscal situation could not support any money being put towards this kind of a project. I can certainly see the need in cities where many people live in apartments with pets, but in a town where the council continues to prefer to require that citizens have large yards it doesn't seem necessary.

The staff has suggested we consider a referendum on raising the sales tax. Our current tax rate is 9.25% with the highest allowable rate in Tennessee being 9.75%. The concern raised was that the state legislature might consider raising this tax statewide to raise revenue and, in that case Signal Mountain would lose significant funds unless we raised it ourselves first. However, it has also been pointed out that next year is an election year and, with a state legislature controlled by taxophobic Republicans, it seems likely they would look for more subtle ways to raise revenue. It seems unlikely we will be pursuing this anytime soon. Certainly the town could use additional funds for capital projects and this is the case that would have to be made. However, while the recession seems to be over the the economy starting to slowly recover, it doesn't seem like an ideal time to raise this tax.

As many of you may know, the MACC is having major ceiling and roof problems. Raccoons have nested in the ceiling for years and their, shall I say "items left behind" have led to deterioration of the ceilings. This building originally had plaster ceilings. When the ceilings began to crack, apparently the school board covered them with drop ceilings as a cosmetic fix. However, the damage is such that the plaster ceilings are now beginning to fall through and the roof has leaks in it, too. Parts of the roof have been repaired in the past and some areas such as the "portable" metal buildings and the cafeteria area are still usable, however it would be foolish to repair the ceiling without repairing the roof, so this has turned into a major project. We are currently in the process of collecting bids and proposals, so I will have more info later. The MACC board has been very active and supportive of this effort as has the Friends of MACC. We will certainly be seeking any grants available for this historic building and if any of you have ever considered contributing to the MACC through Friends of MACC, this is the time to do it. I want to thank Barb Storm new MACC director for her leadership in taking on a project which was not apparent when she took the job!

Finally, my personal congratulations to the Signal Mountain High School Girl's Golf Team on winning the State Championship and to the SMMS Varsity Football team for making the play-offs! Go Eagles!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I was very proud of the citizens of Signal Mountain Monday night. We had at least 2 very contentious issues. The meeting was well attended. Everyone was polite and spoke to the issues without any personal attacks. Obviously, the big issue was that of traffic control cameras. Bill Kroski of American Traffic Solutions presented the technical details on these systems. Obviously, as owner of the company he was making a sales pitch and painted a very positive picture (pun intended) of the cameras. He answered questions and tried to dispell concerns. Next, the citizens got their chance to speak. It is probably no surprise that the overwhelming majority of comments were in opposition to this proposal. However, again everyone who spoke did so in an appropriate manner, respecting the decorum of the meeting and also respecting the 3 minute time limit, intended to give everyone a chance to speak.

I must say that I am not opposed to these systems in general. There are positive reports of increased safety in larger cities and paticularly dangerous stretches of highway. However, I don't think the citizens of Signal Mountain are ready for them and I would prefer to look to other alternatives for controlling our speeding problem. I have great respect for our police force and our Police Chief, Boyd Veal. He became aware of a problem and presented a potential solution. That is his job and I appreciate it very much. I do not think our speed limits are too low. I believe Taft Highway is our only multi-lane road and since its extent in our town limits is nearly all either residential or crowded commercial, I could not support increasing it. I know that some have suggested we increase the speed limit past the traffic light going down the mountain. This has been the site of most of our fatal accidents. Since many drivers "pad" the speed limit by 5-10 MPH anyway, Chief Veal showed earlier that lowering the limit to 35 succeeded in lowering the average speed to 40MPH. I think this is fine for this steep downhill stretch and personally I find that, by downshifting and occasionally tapping my brakes I can keep my speed at 35 without problem.

Our next potentially contentious issue was a proposed increase in the sales tax. Currently, our total sales tax is 9.25% with the potential to go up to a total of 9.75%. The state is actively pursuing opportunities to increase revenues and if they raise the state tax, we will only receive back a very tiny portion in shared revenue. However, if we raise it ourselves first, we will be able to retain the entire portion for local projects. Obviously, this is being presented as a defensive measure depending on what we think the state might do. However, it would benefit the town at a time when we have several capital infrastructure needs including the need for a new public works building, repairs to the Town Hall and the MACC. There is a legitimate concern as to whether this would put our local merchants at a disadvantage, although frankly the gas to drive off the mountain would cost more than the few cents saved (tax would mean an extra 50 cents on every $100 spent in town). Ultimately, the only way for this to go into effect would be by a townwide referendum which I suspect will be presented in the late winter or early spring so you'll hear more about this.

Many of you probably know that we have a grant for sidewalks on James Blvd. They have already been put in from Thrasher to the library and the next phase is from the library to Timberlinks. The grant is very specific and can only be used for this purpose in this location.
For reasons of right of way and infrastructure, it seems the best place to put this would be on the Country Club side. Representatives of the Club were present to raise concerns about safety which have also concerned me. The leland cyprus trees were planted along there for this reason, but at least some of these will have to come down to build the sidewalk. We approved an engineering study for the sidewalk which should address the safety concerns. At that point we will have to see what measures will have to be taken so that people casually strolling down the sidewalk will not have to risk injury from errant golf balls.

Finally, the really important and exciting news was giving authority to the mayor to sign the deed transfer for the MACC. After 10 years of leasing the building, it is about to become the property of the citizens of Signal Mountain. As an old and historic building, it has many needs including the urgent need to clean out years of debris due to racoons nesting in the attic! However, ownership opens up many new opportunities for grants. I think this is great news for the town and enjoy my relationship with the MACC board as its liaison. This is a great group of individuals working hard, along with Friends of MACC to preserve this treasure.

As always, let me hear from you on these important issues.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

We had a council work/agenda session yesterday. This served to reinforce a decision I made last summer. After the repeal of the SROZ, I decided that I no longer had any effectiveness in that area and that I had been totally marginalized on issues of land-use, so I felt I should put my energies elsewhere. After the recent meeting with Randall Arendt, I allowed myself to get excited again. While the Council and Planning Commission continue to claim to move towards conservation and open space design, I have felt their approach was too confrontational and therefore counterproductive. I ran pledging to try to bring people together to work cooperatively. However, I have seen an unfortunate move in the opposite direction.

From my previous post, you know that opposition has arisen to Mr. Arendt's offer to do a "pilot project" conservation subdivision design on a local piece of property. I had hoped that if the Planning Commission continued to be interested in this proposal, that the Council might support it. However, the meeting yesterday made it clear that there is minimal to no support on the Council. As a matter of fact, I was surprised that this proposal was perceived by the rest of the Council as a gift to the participating landowner and that Mr. Arendt's presentation to us was seen as self-promoting and more about selling himself to the developers than about helping the town. I tried to explain that I felt his emphasis on the economic benefits of conservation design was an attempt to show the landowners and developers present the advantages of using these designs. The response from the Council was that we didn't need to show any benefits, that the Council had the power to impose these regulations and the landowners would just have to accept it. This was a far cry from the cooperative atmosphere with which we started this process and I see no future in my continuing to waste any energy in this area. I never wanted this to be about cramming these ideas down any one's throats, no matter how strongly I supported them, but about creating processes which were mutually beneficial.

It is ironic that I occasionally wonder if I should have taken Mayor Lusk's offer to remain on the Planning Commission. When he told me he planned to oppose me for mayor, I told him that being on the Planning Commission was one of the reasons I would like to remain mayor through the completion of my term. This was because we were still in the middle of this process and I truly wanted to see it through. He replied that he didn't realize that the mayor served on the Planning Commission, that he was already too busy and didn't have time to do it and that I could continue on the Planning Commission. I told him that I thought it important that the mayor perform this important duty and that I didn't think I could honestly represent anyone who had opposed me for mayor or a council which had rejected me.

So, while I still hope the Planning Commission will discuss and consider Mr. Arendt's offer, I don't see much hope of the Council accepting it regardless. I think this is an unfortunate missed opportunity. At this point I think I just need to wash my hands of the issue.

In other business yesterday, there seems to be strong support on the Council for adding so-called "speed cameras" to the town. There are certainly arguments in favor of them, but there is also strong opposition in the town from all I've seen. I am trying to continue to keep an open mind, gather information and input from citizens, so let me know how you feel!

The Council will probably put a referendum on a ballot for early next year to add 1/2 cent to the sales tax. There is a strong feeling that the state will add this tax on state-wide and if we do it ourselves, we will retain a much larger portion of the tax. So it is probably not if, but when and how. Obviously the decision will ultimately be up to the citizens via the referendum.

EPB made a presentation in requesting a franchise agreement to begin offering their fiber-optic internet/tv/phone services. Once the contract is tweaked a bit I'm sure this will pass and they think they will have service up here by the first of the year adding another option for these services for our citizens.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

In follow up to my previous post on Randall Arendt's offer to do a "model" conservation zoning plan on some local property, I have since found out that at least 2 Councilmembers (Allen and Robertson) have notified Mr. Arendt that they oppose this idea and especially paying anything for it (probably about $2000). I am disappointed about this and especially the fact that neither member raised any particular opposition to this proposal at the Planning Commission meeting (other than some vague comments about making sure it was done legally). I am also concerned that the initial communications to Mr. Arendt and to the landowners who volunteered their property were done without any discussion with the Planning Commission or Council and were communicated in such a way to imply that the offer was rejected. Ms. Allen has since clarified that she was expressing her personal opinion and not speaking for the Council. My opinion is that this offer was made at a Planning Commission meeting to the Planning Commission, not to the Council. It did not originate with a landowner, although the landowners present were enthusiastic about the idea. It was my impression (considering the discussion was all very positive and noone spoke against the idea) that there was broad consensus on accepting this offer. The Chair of the Planning Commission (Melissa Cantrell) has since pointed out that she neglected to take a formal vote on this proposal. I find it unfortunate and a poor reflection on the town to first accept a very generous offer from our major consultant on this issue and at least 2 major landowners in public, then to reject it in private. I urge the Planning Commission to take a formal vote on this proposal at its next meeting on October 8 and obviously would urge them to accept it. I think this would be the proper process. The Town Council would then have to consider providing the funds for this project, but after 3 years of drawing out this process of re-writing our subdivision regulations and zoning laws (which they haven't even been started yet), we have spent very little money and I feel that a few thousand dollars to accelerate and complete this project would be well worth it. I would certainly hope that if the Planning Commission asked for this project, the Council would support and approve that request. If the Planning Commission members reject it, then that is their decision and I will accept it.

I hope, too that in the future Councilmembers will remember that they are public officials bound by the Open Meetings laws and that discussions and decisions of this sort should NOT be conducted in private. It was obvious from emails and proposals presented and shared with some and not other Councilmembers that "back-channel" communications continue on this Council which I find highly objectionable. Also, Councilmembers should be very careful in communicating with citizens and consultants that they are only expressing their own personal opinions, which is appropriate vs. speaking for the Council which is not appropriate. Decisions by the Council can only be made in public meetings.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Interesting local discussion I found:

I always found it a bit interesting that some of our local libertarian friends supported stricter land use regulations.

This morning, the Planning Commission met with Randall Arendt for discussion about conservation zoning. Hard to summarize a two hour discussion, but the interesting idea that came out was to consider doing a "model" conservation zoning plan on some local property so folks could see what it really looked like. The other advantage of this and a main reason for considering it was to use such a demonstration to actually advise the Planning Commission on what regulations are reasonable and doable. This would mean shaping regulations around a real life situation rather than creating regs in a vacuum and then trying to form reality around them. I found this very intriguing and exciting and hope that it works.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

As you see, I have added a new poll, so please let me know what you think. Also, if you are interested in commenting on my blogs, here is a quick "primer": At the bottom of my posting there is a link called comments. Click on that and it will take you to a page with a place to write your own comments. After you do that, just below there you have to click on one of four "buttons". The first two use existing accounts which, if you have them you probably know how to use them. The last two buttons have a place to leave your name and website if you have one. Then there is a button for "anonymous" I really hope that anyone who comments will be willing to attach your own name to your comment, but you can use the anonymous option if you so desire. I hope to hear from folks on these important issues.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I thought I would comment briefly on the "speed camera" proposal before the Town Council. For those of you who missed it, Police Chief Veal presented data to the Town Council at our recent meeting indicating that we have a large amount of speeding in our town. While much of this is in the 1-10mph over the limit area, there is still a significant amount of speeding which is more than 10mph over the limit. I have heard much complaining about speeding, especially in neighborhoods and certainly this is a serious issue that must be addressed. He has proposed the idea of using cameras to photograph speeding cars with citations then mailed out based on license tags.

I freely confess to mixed feelings on this issue. I certainly do not accept speeding. I have seen the consequences in my ER work and it is not pretty. Certainly we have a very safe town and don't seem to have a large number of major accidents, but prevention is the best cure. I will say that I do not accept the notion presented by some that, if so many people are speeding then the speed limits are too low. Speed limits should be set based on safety not based on what the prevailing speed is on our roads. In addition, even though some roads, such as Taft Highway are admittedly wide and probably designed for higher speeds, nearly our entire town is residential. Taft Highway runs mostly through residential areas. I frequently see young kids walking along Taft going to and from the pool and other recreational activities so I do not agree that we should have a higher speed on this road. Shackleford Ridge is another problem area and, between the narrowness and windiness of the road and the proximity of schools, I don't think the speed limit should be raised there either.

I also want to say that I have great respect for our police force and especially for Chief Veal. Whatever I decide to do on this issue, I know that Chief Veal's only motivation is the safety of our citizens and his officers and that is why I support him and think so highly of him. There are dangers associated with traffic stops to police officers and drivers, especially on some of our roads where the shoulders are narrow or non-existent. I realize we could free up officers to patrol neighborhoods and focus on protecting our local businesses.

So, if the argument against cameras is to allow more speeding by increasing the speed limits or decreasing enforcement, I reject that argument.

However, I confess to reservations. I admit that the idea of speed cameras is somewhat big brother-ish and downright creepy to me. I have concerns about reliability. I have questions about the citation issuance process and want to understand more about that. I realize that, having fixed cameras could lead to improved speeds only in the vicinity of those poles. I have heard complaints that these cameras cause more accidents and have asked Noah Long to provide me the sources confirming these concerns (and would encourage any others with concerns and especially with specific facts to forward them to me). The goal of speed enforcement is to improve safety and, I agree that we should look at some accident data.

So, in short I am keeping an open mind on this and hope to hear more from citizens about how they feel and any specific concerns they have. I hope the council will take a bit of time to deliberate this issue very carefully and listen to all sides.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

In case you don't read beyond this first sentence, I want to announce that The Orchard Band, my acoustic trio with Robert and Alice Thatcher will be performing tomorrow, Monday, Sept. 7, 2009 at the Lion's Club Picnic at Althaus Park behind the Country Club. We will start around 12:30 or maybe just after and play, probably until we run out of songs! I hope everyone can come out, eat some BBQ, buy a raffle ticket for a new car and listen to some classic acoustic folk/rock'n'roll! Y'all Come!

Back to Signal Mountain politics, there's obviously been a lot lately. I think I have covered the dreaded SROZ issue to death, but have just learned that the Planning Commission is trying to get some time with Randall Arendt this month when he comes to town for some work with the RPA. While the budget is tight this year, the cost will apparently be fairly low and worth it. I will want to know exactly what the Planning Commission wants to accomplish for our money. He apparently only has a couple of hours to spare, so I don't think a jawboning session is appropriate. Perhaps a review of the work they've done already on the subdivision regs and how they will interface with whatever zoning regulations they plan to recommend to the Council would be appropriate. Perhaps some counseling on how to work productively with landowners would be useful. Frankly, once they are all done with their work (if I am still on the council at that time) I would like to propose we ask him for a formal review and critique. There has been some talk from the PC that Mr. Arendt's zoning techniques might not be appropriate for Signal Mountain. Obviously, since I ran supporting these priniciples (even before I had ever heard of Mr. Arendt) and since we brought him in as a major consultant and have used his principles to guide the process up until now, I would find a move away from them to be very disappointing. I continue to support conservation zoning as, not only an option but the primary method of zoning in Signal Mountain.

On a personal note, in case you hear anything of a feud between myself and the chair of the Planning Commission, Melissa Cantrell, let me clarify the issue. I appointed Ms. Cantrell to the Planning Commission. While she didn't seem to really understand the principles I was proposing, I had thought she was bright and would learn. The recent actions of the PC (led by her) have disappointed me in that direction (not about her brightness, but about her willingness to learn). However, the source of my personal disappointment with her comes from an email she sent out earlier this year to some of her friends (including Councilmembers) regarding the proposed sale of the town ballfields for commercial development which I opposed. In it she accused me of being "untruthful" (her actual words was that a statement I made was "a lot less damning and, from what I can tell, a lot more truthful than" what I had previously stated on the subject). I frankly found this to be a personal attack on my character and challenged her to produce an example of any lying on my part. She was unable to do so and only made a vague statement about how "people talk around here". I still expect an apology and have yet to receive one.

Sorry to get into personal issues, but interactions between public officials about public issues I feel should be brought to light. I have always endeavored to be open and honest about my opinions and positions. If you want to know what I think, just ask me. You'll pardon me for being too dramatic, but if I can tell someone they have cancer, or that their father/mother/spouse or child has just died in the emergency room, it should be clear that I don't have any problem telling someone that I disagree with their political positions or business plans. To be accused of lying behind people's backs is antithetical to my character and honor and I take great umbrage at this sort of personal attack. The whole recall incident (of which Ms. Cantrell was a part) was unfortunate not because of disagreements over policy, but because of personal attacks and accusations about individuals. I told that group so at the beginning, that while I had great sympathy and agreement with their basic concerns about density and proper land use planning, that their tactic of pursuing a recall was personal, vindictive and would distract from the basic issue at hand, zoning. I still feel I was right about this.

My issue with the whole question of selling town property wasn't the proposal itself. Anyone can propose whatever they want and we'll decide what to do. It was the hypocrisy and manner in which it was presented. Former PC chairman Dan Saieed was attacked viciously over meetings he held with landowners to get an idea of their preferences for development. Because of the private business nature of those meetings, he held them in private. However, he announced them in advance and made sure that our town attorney was present. He then presented the preferences to the PC and the public, but in a way that protected individual business plans. It should be noted that those proposals were not adopted. When Mr. Saieed's term on the PC was up, he considered asking for reappointment, but wanted to know if he had the support of the Council. When I asked them, they attacked him in a manner that I found surprising since they had spoken very highly of him in public. Bill Lusk had obtained the email files of all the previous Councilmembers and Planning Commission from our email server (these are public documents, after all) and suggested that I read them to find all the heinous things they said he had done, including these meetings. After some soul-searching, I decided to do a brief review of some of these communications (I had a hard time justifying the amount of time required, but considering the implication of unethical behavior, I thought it was important) and was frankly unable to found anything I found to be unacceptable. As a matter of fact, I was surprised to find references to early recommendations by Mr. Saieed to bring in Randall Arendt for advice and also to how impressed Mr. Saieed was with Annette Allen's presentations to the PC and that he was strongly recommending getting her involved with the PC for help with the Land Use Review). When I communicated this back to the Council and asked for examples of what they found so objectionable, I never received even the courtesy of a reply. Regrettably, I had to inform Mr. Saieed that, while he had my support he did not have the support of the Council and he withdrew his request. He now serves the town very honorably as an active member of the Lion's Club and his long years of service to our town are, in my opinion, unblemished by any unethical or inappropriate behavior.

After this incident, however when it was proposed that we meet individually and privately with commercial developers about plans to buy town property for private commercial development I was frankly flabbergasted. This was accepted with great enthusiasm by the very people who had attacked Mr. Saieed for doing something similar. However, we met without advance public notice and without benefit of legal council or anyone else in attendance for a witness about what was said or privately agreed to. I found this highly objectionable. That's the honest truth and if there is anything "untruthful" in that, I wait to have it pointed out to me. I have no reason to think that anyone on the council did anything other than what I did, listen to the proposal and then tell them that any further discussions would have to be in public and with the full participation of the community and I would be guided by that input. Any implications to the contrary are not from me. It did seem to me that the fact that the developers moved ahead and made a formal proposal to the town indicated they had received some encouragement. However, the acceptability of this process by this Council after the attacks on Mr. Saieed continues to astound me. These sorts of incidents are a major source of my disappointment with the current council. And that's the truth.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Many of you may already know that several important issues came before the Signal Mountain Town Council last night. The one I have been discussing most is the SROZ issue. The repeal passed, as I assumed it would. The vote was 4-1 with my being the dissenting vote. My statement on this issue is posted on

I believe I have explained myself, but briefly I opposed replacing the SROZ ordinances without having viable conservation zoning in place. Annette Allen seems to think we have to go back to the old ordinance before we can move ahead. I disagree and frankly don't follow the reasoning. However, there does seem to be a commitment from the Planning Commission to proceed with more progressive zoning, so I will take a cautiously optimistic approach. I told them I would enthusiastically support conservation zoning if it is practical and adequately incentivized so it will be used. We currently have an open space ordinance, but it is not used. We must do better. There seemed to be a general agreement that a density of 2 homes per acre was acceptable for zoning. I would expect some incentive for developers to use conservation or open space zoning.
This is consistent with my thinking all along, so I think there is much room for agreement. I do think the issue of affordability must receive more focus, though. My vision for Signal Mountain is not as an enclave of the wealthy and well-born, but a community with room for people of all socio-economic situations.

On the subject of the Middle School property, I am disappointed at Commissioner Casavant's opposition to the sale. Obviously, he thinks the county could get more for it if they wait. Noone knows if that will be the case or not, but I think we have an excellent proposal for a very difficult piece of property which I feel will be a benefit to the community. While I have great respect for Commissioner Casavant and have agreed with him on many issues in the past, I have made it clear that I will lobby the County Commission to approve the sale. I made a motion to send a message of support for the sale from the Council to the County Commission and have sent my own personal message to them.

Finally, the issue of guns in parks. The Council voted 5-0 to continue the ban that has been in place for years. I have never heard anyone complain about this ban before and I certainly don't know of a wave of crime in our parks because the public goes into them unarmed. I would love to go to great lengths about the Second Amendment, but leave it to say that, while the amendment has always protected ownership of weapons, it also clearly allows regulation of those weapons, especially by the states. This has been the consistent history of this issue.

Have a great rest of the summer!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

In the continuing saga of the SROZ, the latest entry is today's editorial by Bill Lusk. Frankly, I am starting to wear down. I have made my points and they continue to be ignored. I have argued for density-based zoning, based on Randall Arendt's advice and I continue to hear about lot-size based zoning. There are many unsupported comments in today's editorial. The comment is made that the SROZ is in conflict with the Land Use Plan developed in 2008. Well, of course!That is why we are changing the zoning, however a return to lot-based zoning is also in conflict since the land use plan states:

"...large lot development with structures distributed on an equal amount of acreage with large lawns and wide roads contributes to the loss of this [small town] character and do not protect wildlife habitat and water quality. To help preserve the scenic beauty and sensitive natural features of this area, Open Space subdivisions or Planned Unit Developments with substantial amounts of open space are the preferred methods of development in these areas. In order to preserve desired natural features, the focus in this area should be providing more flexibility within regulations regarding net density, while maintaining a gross low density. This will allow better preservation of open space and environmental features."

Mr. Lusk seems to confuse subdivision regulations with zoning regulations. While the current work on subdivision regs are important, they are the means to the end which is new zoning. The regulations will hopefully make conservation zoning more practical and help to lower costs and preserve land, but combining these with large lot sizes will continue to waste land and be counter-productive. Only through density-based zoning can we have true conservation zoning.

I have recommended we add a density cap to the SROZ as an intermediate step to address the very issue that Mr. Lusk and the rest of the council fears (increased density), preferably with an incentive for open-space preservation. This proposal has been ignored. Ironically, previous land use plans have generally recommended a density for the area of 2 homes per acre, in the ballpark of what I've recommended (I would prefer less for conventional and more for open-space subdivisions as an incentive). Nothing has yet been proposed for this area that is greater than this density.

Mr. Lusk has indicated an unfairness to having a different zoning category from the rest of the town in the Shackleford Ridge area. However, this area has always had different zoning from the rest of the town since it was annexed. Residential Estate zoning doesn't exist anywhere else that I know of. It was created to allow the residents there to keep farm animals such as horses and pigs on lots greater than 3 acres. By this reasoning, Residential Estate should (and probably would) be available throughout the town if the SROZ is repealed, allowing farm animals anywhere that a minimum of 3 acres is available. Alternatively, we could solve this by lowering the minimum acreage to 1/3 acre for sewered lots throughout the town to ensure fairness. Mind you, I'm not proposing either of these alternatives.

Mr. Lusk is wrong about the commercial zoning issue. I disagree that "commercial development is no more likely to occur in the Shackleford Ridge area than in any other residential area in the town." This area has been identified in the past as a site for a future "commercial node". The majority of this council has been very clear in its desire for more commercial rezoning and one has even enthused that the Timberlinks-Shackleford Ridge intersection would be a great place for a convenience store to serve the high school students. Let me emphasize: There are no commercial options available under the SROZ. At present, in order to create a commercial zone, we would have to either add commercial zoning to the SROZ or repeal the SROZ. Sound familiar? I honestly don't know how likely commercial development is, but part of my reason for raising it is that we have not considered all the implications of this repeal.

Finally, I want to address statistics. As a physician, I know how statistics can be misunderstood, misused and misrepresented. There is an old saw about "lies, *%&$# lies and statistics". Mr. Lusk himself, in his statement when he opposed increased funding for the high school misrepresented and misused (or misunderstood) statisics. He stated that Signal Mountain paid for 77% of the High School and only had 45% of the students. That is wrong. The High School cost approximately $40 million dollars and we donated $7.7 million. That is about 19% of the cost. Based on his reasoning, we got quite a bargain out of the high school. With this experience, I thought I should look closely at the statistics in his op-ed. He quoted data from the Ochs Center study. I reviewed this study and had a very pleasant discussion with some of their staff. I do appreciate Mr. Lusk introducing me to this outstanding resource.

First, it should be clear that the data on median house value was based on census tract data that only reflected part of the town (see for the map and data). This area does not include my neighborhood (The Orchard), St. Ives, Creekshire or the Shackleford Ridge Road area. Since these are higher end neighborhoods, the data is clearly skewed. It is based on MLS data which is unavailable to the general public, so I couldn't delve into the value data in greater detail, but the total number of homes sold would be clearly pertinent since the lower the denominator, the less reliable the statistics. The report does note that Signal Mountain has the highest housing values in the county, which is good for homeowners, but does not make the argument for affordability. Also, my argument was about new housing. I agree that there are older homes available in areas of Signal Mountain, some of which are of lesser cost, however nearly all new homes I know of are marketed at greater than 1/2 million dollars. This report also includes the statistic that we have averaged about 12 building permits per year (before the moratorium) and an increase in "one family household units" of 1.7% from 2001-2007 which hardly supports a fear of "unbridled growth".

It seems clear to me that the majoriy on this council is bound and determined to do what they will do regardless of what the Planning Commission decides. I'm not sure why we are wasting their time again. They have voted on this issue twice and the Council keeps asking the same thing over and over again hoping for a different outcome. Whether or not they get it I expect the council's actions will be the same. It also seems clear that the outcome is pre-ordained and all the work of the last 2 1/2 years has been a smokescreen. I only hope that, whatever the Council does on the SROZ in the short run, it will still ultimately do the right thing and pass progressive zoning regulations for the town which will lead to preservation of our open spaces and discourage sprawl. Based on what I've read today, I am not hopeful.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

We had our budget meeting this week and I wanted to give a brief synopsis. The big news is we will not be proposing a property tax increase. We will need to pass along an increase in water costs because of an increase from Tennessee-American. We will also be looking at some fee increases. Things will obviously be tight, but I don't believe anyone will notice any major decrease in services. The town is in good shape financially, but we can't live on our savings so hopefully the economy will turn around. The Hall Income Tax is still a big question mark and if that is significantly less than predicted, we may have to tighten our belts even tighter. I want to thank Honna Rogers for her excellent stewardship of our town resources. I'll get some more details later.

We will be receiving some money from the economic stimulus and using it to pave James Blvd, among some other roads. We plan to pave 2 more miles of road in addition to what we receive from the Federal government.

I do want to note that I received an apology from Susan Robertson for her comments during the last town meeting during the SROZ discussion and I expressed my own apology for any discourtesy I showed. I want to express my appreciation to Susan for that. It was quite honorable of her and showed character. It certainly lifted my mood and made for a more pleasant budget hearing.

On a personal level, I want to congratulate all the high school (and college) graduates in this graduation season and wish them a happy and prosperous future whatever their plans! Good luck, Class of 2009!

Monday, May 11, 2009

PS: tonight's meeting

If you want some independent confirmation of my account of the meeting, here is the's account:
I regret that tonight's meeting of the Signal Mountain Town Council demonstrated a level of disrespect and lack of professional courtesy which I had hoped it was above. Here are my comments, as promised, which I delivered tonight on the SROZ:

"I wish to reiterate my position on future zoning on Signal Mountain. It is the same position on which I ran and was elected. During my campaign I proposed that Signal Mountain move forward with progressive zoning changes which would preserve open spaces and discourage sprawl. I recommended we study the impacts of growth and consult experts in modern planning practices and follow their advice. After my election, we sought such an expert and brought in Mr. Randall Arendt. He reinforced my position on density-based zoning. Among his many detailed and very helpful comments, he stated the following in reviewing our current zoning practices:

“Regarding the zoning, the most critical deficiencies in my view are that it does not appear to allow flexible lot sizes (essentially precluding conservation design)…

Signal Mountain, like many other municipalities, commits the fundamental error of regulating density through the indirect method of setting minimum lot sizes. This counter-productive approach unintentionally robs the community of the very resource lands that give it its special rural character. Instead, I have long advocated regulating density directly, by stating that no more than one house may be built per X amount of buildable land on any given property.

In a district where two du/acre is the norm, lots that would ordinarily run about 22,000 sq. ft in area could be resized to about 13,000 sf to achieve 40% open space.”

This is the principle on which I ran and on which I still stand. When asked if I wanted to repeal the SROZ and the zoning regulations it contains, I have consistently said no, I want to replace them with modern zoning, not return to the wasteful, expensive and sprawl-encouraging practices of the past. The Planning Commission has embarked on an ambitious process to rewrite Signal Mountain’s entire process of subdivision and zoning regulations. Twice in the past two years the Planning Commission has been asked to repeal the SROZ before completing its process and twice it has wisely chosen to stay on course. Now, once again it is being proposed to ask them to recommend that we repeal the overlay zone. I see no reason to change course now. Granted, this process is taking longer than I had hoped. Certainly the one silver lining of the sewer moratorium has been the time to do this, and my informal discussions with Dr. Urban lead me to doubt this is likely to be lifted soon, but I would suggest we urge the PC to redouble its efforts to complete its rewrite of the subdivision regs. I would also urge the PC to go ahead and establish a second subcommittee to begin the rewrite of the zoning regs.

We must remember that the so-called SROZ is merely an overlay zone allowing different zoning than the rest of the town. This is because it contains most of the large tracts of undeveloped land in the town and has the potential for sewer availability, allowing for smaller lots. It may or may not make sense to have separate zoning in this area than the rest of the town. Ideally we would have the same zoning throughout the town, but I remain open to arguments that separating out the area for different zoning is appropriate. The primary difference between the SROZ and the rest of the town is the allowance of minimum 1/3 acre lots vs the minimum ½ acre in the rest of the town for new development. What is the practical effect of this difference? The SROZ contains 744 acres. There are currently 12 homes (plus the Bible Church) on 61.7 acres in that area on and 2 subdivisions with 50 platted lots on approximately 50 acres in Dogwood Grove and Boulder Point subdivisions. 36 ½ acres have been set aside for Open Space by Jack Kruesi. So that is 62 homes or proposed homes on 148 acres. That leaves 598 acres give or take a few. Assuming 15% for roads and utilities, we have 508 acres. So let’s take the ludicrous assumption that those 508 acres could all be perfectly divided in 1/3 acres lots (and anyone looking at the steep slopes out there would know that is an impossibility, one tract has about 52 acres in the Connor Creek Gorge alone which would be highly problematic and I haven’t accounted for blue line streams at all nor the natural gas pipeline ROW which cuts through the area). That makes 1586 homes on 744 acres or a density of 2.1 homes per acre.

ed note: Before my comments, Julian Bell presented info on a development plan for his property which amounted to 1.9 homes per acre under the SROZ. This clearly shows that I am being excessively generous in my calculations.

Now, the average number of single-family homes built between 1997 and 2006 has been about 14 per year. So it would take just over 112 years to fully develop those extra homes at that rate.

So, I would again recommend that the Planning Commission not interrupt its work to move backwards. The process of changing a zoning ordinance always takes some time since public hearings and specific time allotments are required. This all includes the not insubstantial expense of newspaper ads, staff time, etc. After the PC made any decision, the Town Council would still have to prepare an ordinance and go through its own process. The practical effect of repealing the SROZ as long as the moratorium is in effect is zero. So, why go through all this twice? What a waste of time! I would certainly encourage the PC to invite Dr. Urban to a meeting to review the status of the moratorium. Even if the moratorium were lifted before the Planning Commission completed its business, the fact that they are in the middle of this process would probably justify not approving any new subdivisions until the process is completed. I would certainly encourage the PC to redouble its efforts, schedule extra meetings, meet longer and do whatever it takes to get this process completed. Finally, if the Planning Commission and Town Council are bound and determined to make a premature decision now, I would urge them to consider just adding a density cap to the current SROZ to at least make it a step forward rather than backwards."

I must add another concern that I didn't raise at the meeting. At present, the SROZ does not include any commercial zoning. If it is repealed, commercial zoning would become available. Councilmembers have shown their interest in expanding commercial zoning in the town and one has specifically commented on the attractiveness of putting a convenience store on Timberlinks or Shackleford Ridge Road near the High School to serve the students. I hope the Planning Commission will take this into consideration when making this decision.

After my presentation and other comments by the council, the floor was opened for discussion. At one point I asked the chair, Mayor Lusk if I could add a comment. His reply was "If you can keep it under three hours"! I will say that in my two years as Mayor, I treated each Councilmember with respect, agree or disagree and would never have made such a snide, sarcastic and disrespectful statement. Soon after this, during further discussion, Susan Robertson interrupted me, cutting off my comments by declaring "I call the question", ie, ending debate and asking for a vote. Again I emphasize that I never cut off discussion and always allowed each Councilmember to have their full say, no matter how late it went. Mrs. Robertson claimed she was following Robert's Rules of Order. Actually, the proper phrase is "I move the previous question" which cuts off debate. This motion must be seconded and passed by 2/3 vote. However, this motion cannot interrupt discussion and proper procedure would have been for her to wait until I was done and then ask to be recognized by the chair (neither of which she did), then making her motion. She was clearly out of order. While we are debating Robert's Rules, I think I should emphasize another "Rule" that would be pertinent:

"All remarks must be directed to the Chair. Remarks must be courteous in language and deportment - avoid all personalities, never allude to others by name or to motives!"

In all honesty I must confess that I deviated briefly from this when I commented on Mrs. Robertson's confusing the difference between minimum lot size based zoning and density based zoning. I frankly was amazed that, after all the hours we have spent studying this issue and learning about this she still doesn't seem to understand this principle.

One of the reasons I had concerns about raising the SROZ issue prematurely was just what happened, that the courtesy and decorum that I have worked so hard to develop over the last two years would be dashed and we might risk returning to the acrimony of 3 years ago. I sincerely hope that this demonstration by the Council is not indicative of the tone of future discussion on this or other issues.

Tomorrow we start the budget process at 10am at the Town Hall. Wish me luck.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

On Friday, May 1 we had our monthly agenda meeting. While these meetings were originally established to review the agenda for the upcoming Monday night meeting, they have evolved into work sessions where citizens and others with business before the town can make presentations and where the town manager can present and discuss various issues. Frankly, without these meetings our Monday night meetings would last until Tuesday (at least). These meetings (like all our meetings) are open to the public. However, because they are sparsely attended (even by the press), much of this business receives insufficient attention. Part of my goal in this blog is to provide this business to a broader audience.

On type of business sometimes taken care of in these meetings are second readings of ordinances. This is usually only done with those that are either time-sensitive or seem minor and non-controversial. At a recent public meeting, the council passed some amendments to our tree board ordinance clarifying rules for "honor trees". We had planned to complete these ordinances at the agenda meeting, however we received some emails raising concern from some folks who weren't fully aware of the tree board and its intent. For this reason, I asked the Council to hold off on a second reading until the next Monday night meeting and they agreed.

We had a presentation from the WWTA on the upcoming private service line program (PSLP). The full details are in the (, but basically the WWTA will be replacing damaged sewer lines which extend from private homes to connect with the main sewer lines. This is a program which will be done all over Hamilton County, but start on Signal Mountain. This is to hopefully improve the "I&I" problem of excess water entering the sewer system during rainfall. The WWTA has done much work on their main lines which unfortunately does not seem to have had a major impact on this problem. The good news, however is that the E. Coli in our streams seems to be improving based on sampling done by the Stormwater Dept. While most of this problem is felt to be due to failing septic tanks, it appears that there may be some contribution from the sewer system which is improving.

We then discussed some minor changes in the "chicken ordinance" which clarified some things about setback variances that had bothered me, too. Thanks to Annette Allen for bringing this up and helping to fix this problem (which will be discussed at the Monday night meeting). We have been asking the DRC to do some major revisions to our sign and other commercial ordinances and Honna Rogers suggested she help to develop some updated guidelines for them to consider. This was appreciated by the Council. This is important as the Council anticipates some future commercial proposals coming its way.

Honna presented some budget ideas for us to consider including reviewing the staffing at the Recycling Center (we plan to continue working with Orange Grove to improve customer service) and a proposal for taking garbage service out of property taxes and having a dedicated "garbage fee" as most towns do. There is much to like about that idea, but there are also issues to consider in the transition so we asked her to present much more information and details before we would begin to look at it. There will clearly be a broad discussion about this if we decide to move forward.

Honna continues to propose ideas for making our services more efficient and automating some processes which are currently done manually. These are all great ideas and are moving our town forward. We are in the process of reviewing her first year of service to our town and preparing a longer term contract for her. There will be more on this as we each give our input to this process.

In discussing the agenda for the upcoming Monday Council meeting, the issue of the SROZ raised its ugly head again. Annette proposed we once again ask the Planning Commission to recommend that we repeal the SROZ (the first step in that process). This will be the third time the Planning Commission has been asked to do this. Both previous times they decided to hold off until they had finished their process of revising our subdivision regulations, which is to be followed by a comprehensive revision of our zoning regs. My position is the same as it has been since I ran for Council. I want to replace our current zoning regs, which are based on old-fashioned and sprawl-enhancing lot-size-based development concepts, with modern ideas utilizing density-based zoning based on the advice we got from Randall Arendt. This will be a complicated process. My position is that we should do this all at once, replace the SROZ with a whole new process. I don't think we need to move backwards before moving forward. The moratorium is still in place and doesn't seem likely to go away soon, so no development can occur anyway. I should note that the only development done under the new rules (with minimum 1/3- acre lots) has a density much less than 2 homes per acre. I will be preparing a comprehensive reply for Monday's meeting and will post it here after that. Zoning changes are always painful and fraught with controversy. The last time we went through this it nearly tore this town apart. I think we need to do it again, but don't want to do it twice. That is my position.

Finally, I read in the paper this morning that Mayor Lusk stated that "We would be extraordinarily interested" in consolidating our water service with Chattanooga (emphasis mine). As mayor I was always careful to differentiate between my personal views and when I was speaking for the Council. As a matter of fact, the council frequently felt that the two could not be separated and that any public statement of mine was automatically speaking for the Council as a whole and should be approved by the entire Council. This process is no longer followed. While there have been some very general discussions about consolidation of various services, we have certainly made no decisions on that issue and taken no vote. I myself have mixed feelings and would require much information before even making a decision (though I would not want to sell our water company as long as the local utility is owned by a private company). I think that there is more sense in sewer consolidation. It seems clear that Mayor Lusk was expressing his personal opinions (and if he is having private conversations on this with other members of the Council, that is unfortunate and hopefully not the case). I also realize that what is in the paper does not always express exactly what you wanted it to. I hope he will be more careful with his public pronouncements in the future.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

It was suggest to me (by Sandy Lusk) to put on my doctor hat and comment on the current flu situation. First of all, the term "flu" is used to describe a lot of viruses. Influenza or "true flu" is an upper respiratory illness characterized by nasal congestion, cough, high fever and aching all over. So called "stomach flu" is not influenza and has nothing to do with this. The current illness is being called swine flu, but you do not get it from pork and it is not food-borne.

The current flu of concern is an Influenza A virus (technical term is H1N1). The biggest issue is that it is a new variation of the flu virus and most, if not all folks will have no resistance. Unfortunately, if you got your flu vaccine last fall, it will not protect you from this strain and, since it takes several months to prepare a vaccine, don't expect one any time soon.

For the vast majority of people, flu is annoying but not serious. Most people will get a fever, chills and cold symptoms for 7-10 days, then be over it. The big concern is primarily for those with other medical problems, especially the very old and very young. Flu can lead to pneumonia and more serious complications in these populations, so these patients should be especially cautious.

If you get the flu (or symptoms that make you think it might be flu), it would probably be wise to see your physician. While the vast majority of people will get better without treatment and there is no real "cure", medications are available which shorten the course and mitigate the symptoms. Also, it is important to confirm that it really is flu before treating since the medications won't work for other viruses. Finally, it is important to start the medications in first 24-72 hours and the longer you wait the less effective. Flu classically starts very rapidly, patients can go from totally healthy to feeling very sick within minutes to an hour or so. It does not gradually come on over several days.

Finally, prevention is the best cure. Wash your hands, cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough, stay home from work or school if you have a fever and, as in all emergencies DON'T PANIC. While this has potential to effect a lot of people, the vast majority will be fine. There have been no reports of the virus in Tennessee (yet), though it will probably be here. Check the CDC website ( for further, more detailed information. As always, if you have specific questions related to your own particularly health, contact your physician.

I hope this is helpful. The Council has an agenda meeting this Friday, so should be back to Signal Mountain politics soon. Look for a new town website soon, too!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Well, we're back after a wonderful trip to London. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to chaperone 20 Notre Dame HS theatre students last week. We arrived on Easter Sunday. The Catholic students went to mass at Westminster Cathedral and the rest of us went to services at Westminster Abbey, the almost 1000 year old church where the Kings and Queens of England are crowned. Needless to say it was an amazing experience.

The next week was a whirlwind of tours, amazing theatre and a little shopping. I was gratified at the high quality of the youth I was with. They were all truly great kids and we had no significant problems whatsoever. Their instructor, John Lennon is truly an inspiration. His love and respect for his students is palpable and reciprocated by those students.

While I was gone, life obviously went on. I missed my first council meeting. There was a recent unfortunate incident at SMHS. I want to applaud our SM Police Department and especially our SRO, Greg Hill for their prompt and appropriate response to this incident. Considering that our police arrived just as several allegedly intoxicated students were driving away, it is likely that greater tragedy was avoided. Last year we had talked with the candidates for sheriff and with the County Commission about assigning another SRO specifically for the High School. We received the strong message that it was not going to happen. While this area is not technically in Officer Hill's area of responsibility, the fact that the Middle and High Schools are in the same building means he is frequently doing extra duty. Greg is not the kind to turn down a chance to help kids. As to why the Council decided to renew this request at this time, I can't say since I wasn't there. I think an extra officer dedicated to the High School would be ideal, but it seems clear that it is not in the budget. However, I want to emphasize that our police and SRO responded very well to this particular incident and, while I wasn't there I feel I can go out on a limb and speak for the Council in saying that I have never heard a negative word from them about our police department.

The major upcoming news will be the budget. We have a budget hearing on May 12 which I would encourage citizens to attend. This year promises to be very tight. I honestly don't yet know exactly how it will turn out. The big unknown is the Hall Income Tax. We won't have this figure until July. Expect things to be very tight next year.

The annexation case continues to wind its way through the courts. Initial proceedings have been favorable to the town. It is still primarily a lawyer battle at this point.

Most of you probably know that the School Board has accepted Tom Poteet's proposal for the old SMMS site. The town will now have to consider any potential rezoning request. We have worked hard to prepare the town for this change and, while I don't want to pre-judge anything, I am optimistic for a positive outcome for our town.

Well, that's the update for now. I look forward to hearing any responses, opinions, questions, etc. I would strongly prefer that any replies not be anonymous, but will try to reply to all.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Just a quick update to let everyone know that I won't be at the next Council meeting this Monday, April 13. I have been fortunate enough to be asked to be a chaperone for a high school theatre trip that Nathaniel is taking with Notre Dame to London, so will be gone for a week. I hope everyone has a Happy Easter and a great week.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Well, it's been over 2 weeks since my last blog. It is harder to keep up than I thought! At least my blog has gotten some attention. The saw fit to publish the entire blog up to that point ( I didn't know exactly why they decided to do that (most of it had nothing to do with the article they wrote), but it is said that all publicity is good!

Seriously, a quick update on town business, then maybe a few personal notes. We had our monthly work/agenda session this past Monday. Several issues were reviewed. I have been attempting to overturn the ban on rock climbing in Signal Mountain. There have been several concerns raised by town staff including issues of safety and risk to rescue personal, raised by the fire and police chief, and issues of liability raised by the town attorney and our insurance carrier. Obviously, these are large obstacles and I have great respect for all of our town staff. Because of these objections, our town manager feels she must support continuing the ban, which I understand. Susan Robertson proposed we end discussion and vote to keep the ban. I was able to mitigate this a bit and offered an amendment to continue the ban until the concerns raised by staff could be addressed. I was gratified that the Council accepted this unanimously. This is obviously a high hurdle. I have informed the climbing community, who have been very active in this issue and some may continue to pursue this. I think it will require input from some more expert than I in this area. I do hope that eventually the ban can be repealed, at least partially, but think it may take some time and work.

The issue of commercial development continues in the form of some possible expansion on private property. I would like to reiterate that I do not oppose commercial development in Signal Mountain or even possibly new commercial zoning. However, I cannot imagine supporting any further proposals to sell town property for commercial development, especially in the town hall area. We went through an extensive Land Use process recently and identified the areas for commercial zoning. We have worked with TVA to look at ways to attract business to the town, mostly retail. I have been very active in trying to figure out ways to make it easier to do business in Signal Mountain and have had many discussions with local business owners. Bill Lusk asked me to take over his position as liaison to the DRC and I was happy to do so. I met with them that evening (last Monday) to introduce the idea of reviewing our sign ordinance to bring it up to date.

Other good news from that night, there is a new bakery/coffee shop opening on James Blvd at the entrance to the Orchard (just down from Thrasher). They plan to open April 18. Since this is walking distance from my house, I am quite excited. Let's help make them a success!

I should state that, philosophically I am very supportive of market forces and I think that if there is a market for commercial enterprises on Signal Mountain, they will come. At the same time I think there is a limit to that market. I think that most of the businesses up here will serve the local residents (I really don't see Signal Mountain as a "shopping destination" any time soon). We may be close to saturated right now based on our population and the economy or there may be room for more. I don't know, but I think the government's job is to make it as easy as possible to do business on Signal Mountain while doing what we can to preserve our quality of life and our local environment. I think that with most quality businesses that is very doable.

OK, I've already gone on too long. I did want to do some personal comments. My son, Nathaniel was accepted to Governor's School for the Arts this summer in Filmmaking! He also was invited to the National Honor Society at Notre Dame HS. My daughter, Mary Eliza had her first piano recital this past weekend and got a "Superior" rating from the judge! I just gotta brag on my kids and give their mother all the credit. Snoda has been so tolerant of all my politicking and I appreciate the support that she and the kids have given me.

I'll try to blog more frequently and less "longly" in the future.

Monday, February 09, 2009

I said that I would post a review of my campaign positions and how I have addressed them. Here it is. This is from my original "issues and positions" site on my webpage with "updates" in bold. I hope to hear from citizens about whether they agree or not.


In the area of future development, I believe we should:

Be sure appropriate infrastructure is in place before any development moves forward. This includes considering traffic, schools, town services and environmental impacts. While aesthetics are harder to quantify, they are also clearly a priority for the citizens of the mountain.

We have completed a traffic study which showed minimal impact on traffic by development in this area. Sewers are in place for the area although the moratorium prevents their use. The current schools have extra capacity as I understand it, but clearly this is the responsibility of the school board. Town Services, etc must be considered on an ongoing basis.

Traffic studies must be completed and considered before any new development should go forward.

See above

Require new development on Shackleford Ridge to have paths which allow and encourage pedestrian and bicycle access to the new schools. Look for similar opportunities in other areas of town.

This is still my desire although my input has been diminished since I was removed from the Planning Commission.

Consider strongly the idea of Development Impact Fees and investigate legal changes needed to apply them. If legally possible, these should be based on the square footage of the homes built.

This was researched and is not legally doable in Tennessee.

Investigate possibilities for extending sewer service into existing areas of town.

We continue to work with the WWTA and hope to develop a town wide plan. This has taken a backseat with the moratorium and all the WWTA’s political problems.
Seek out consultation from experts in town planning to advise best use practices which are consistent with the town vision statement.

We brought in Randall Arendt and I am very supportive of his advice and vision. I hope it will be used to significantly influence future subdivision and zoning plans.
Water run-off into the sewer system is an issue that will need to be addressed in the near future.
We continue to support WWTA with its service lateral program which will significantly help this problem. They have completed the lining project which also helps.

It is important to remember that there are other issues before the town. In the area of safety, I would encourage:
· efforts to decrease speeding in neighborhoods.
Subdivision regulations with narrower streets and more curves will help in this direction.

· looking for opportunities to create bike paths and sidewalks
Our new Transportation Committee will hopefully contribute to this effort. I continue to support requiring sidewalks in all subdivisions and hope this will be part of the subdivision regs.

· continuing to support our police, fire and EMS departments to have state of the art equipment and techniques to keep us all safe.
I believe our budget priorities show this support and that we have improved quality and morale.

I strongly support recreational opportunities on the mountain. My children have played most sports up here at one time or another. We must maintain our recreational facilities and look for opportunities to expand these. I would like to see the town look into acquiring or having use of the gym and football field at SMMS when the new middle school opens.

I continue to hope that whatever proposal the School Board accepts will allow for this, however I realize this is hard for us to control. I would support any reasonable efforts in this direction.

In addition, we must support our cultural and artistic activities. The MACC is a tremendous resource for this mountain which should be supported. I also want to continue strong support for the Signal Mountain Playhouse. The Signal Mountain library is a unique resource. It should continue in its current location and I agree with its supporters that contributions to the library should be used for the library and not to offset the Town's contribution.

I am liaison for the MACC Board and have worked to improve communications between the MACC and the Playhouse. I still strongly support the transfer of the MACC to town ownership and hope this will happen during my term.

I would love to see more social opportunities for our youth. Scouting and church youth groups obviously serve an important role in this area. The new middle and high school will also be a great asset in this regard. Opportunities to expand and add to these options should be sought.

One step has been the beginning of the “Coffee House” music performances at the MACC on the last Saturday of each month. I hope to see these expand to allow young musicians and other performers a venue and a place for kids to go on Saturday nights.

Obviously, our greatest resource is our citizens. We should continue to value the tremendous volunteer ethic of our town.

I am working to learn more about the management of the town. I have scheduled meetings with many town officials. I certainly think we should be fiscally sound and responsible. I would:
· work hard to avoid lawsuits and their costs. As a physician, I know that even frivolous lawsuits can be expensive and time-consuming.
While these are not always avoidable, I am confidant that our annexation efforts were legal and done right and that we will prevail in the lawsuit.

· work with the Town Manager to continue to be as efficient as possible, realizing that our town’s employees are an important resource who should be respected.
Again, our budget priorities have strengthened benefits and morale of our town employees.

· support efforts to improve trash collection and decrease injuries and work-comp costs without diminishing services to our elderly and less able citizens.
Our move to automate garbage service is saving almost $100,000 per year. We have retained backdoor service for elderly and disabled.

· look for ways to increase recycling in our town. This will reduce our utilization of the landfill and ultimately our town costs. We are blessed with an excellent recycling facility and I would like to see a public campaign to encourage more citizens to use it.
We continue to focus on this effort.

· be proactive in addressing town problems rather than being constantly in crisis management mode. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
Our recent strategic planning session is an example of this effort.

In the overall area of Town/Citizen relations, I think that we need to investigate better ways to communicate with our fellow citizens. I would seek to create an atmosphere of neighborliness and strive for amicable resolution of disputes without resorting to micro-management with ordinances or litigation in the courts.

I pledge to be always polite and respectful to my fellow citizens, even when I disagree with them.

I do want to be clear that I oppose the current recall effort. While I sympathize with the frustration of the supporters, I mourn the atmosphere of distrust.

I think we can find better ways to handle these situations. Such ways might include:
· Better public notification of public meetings and important issues facing the town.
I think this has improved. I created a Communications sub-committee soon after election. They worked on many efforts to improve communications. I applaud Susan Robertson and her tireless efforts to keep up a weekly “Council Notes” article.

· More public hearings early in the process when important issues confront the town and more transparency in town affairs.
We have tried hard to open up our meetings to more public input and have lots of public meetings on important issues. We have moved “public comment” to the early part of the meeting to encourage more participation.

· Better use of internet. I would consider letting interested citizens sign up for email notification of Town Council and various board meetings with agendas attached.
This hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped. We have tried to have sign up sheets for email notification, but it doesn’t seem to work well. We are currently working on a new website that hopefully will help in this direction.

It is important to remember that Town Council members are representatives of the citizens of Signal Mountain. They represent best when communications are two-way. If I am elected, I promise to listen to my constituents and will look forward to hearing from them. I will strive to make myself available to my neighbors and work hard to seek out their views on important issues confronting the town.

I certainly hope that I have been successful in this regard, but will allow the citizens to decide.


Paul M. Hendricks, MD
Signal Mountain Town Council

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Those of you who read the paper this morning know that a development group has approached the town about buying town property for commercial development. These developers apparently contacted the town and asked to meet with the Town Council. They were informed that they could not meet with us as a group unless it was a public meeting, but that they could meet with us individually. Individual meetings are legal and do not fall under the open meetings law since no "deliberation" can occur. This is an important point. Two years ago, former Planning Commission Chairman Dan Saieed was severely criticized about meeting with local landowners for information about their plans. This meeting too was legal and the criticism of Dan was totally inappropriate. Nonetheless, private meetings always raise concerns about what was discussed, so I thought I would try to clarify my position on this proposal.

When I met with these gentleman, they laid out the plan that has subsequently been made to the town and is therefore now public. I told them that I would keep an open mind, but that the town property did not belong to me, but to the citizens of Signal Mountain. I told them that any decisions I made would be with full public discussion and input. I told them I could only support this if I saw overwhelming public support from the citizens of Signal Mountain. They were very understanding of this position. I assume they wanted to gauge Council opinions or feelings on this proposal before deciding whether to move forward. They must have felt some encouragement as they have made a formal proposal.

I should say that I am fairly dubious about this proposal and its likelihood of being supported by the town. The original proposal made is not acceptable in its current form. The logistical issues of moving ballfields, tennis courts and, ultimately the Playhouse are rather formidable. I should state that, while I am willing to keep an open mind about the initial proposal in the area of the ballfields and soccer field (assuming I were to hear overwhelming public support), I would be adamantly opposed to selling off the tennis courts and the Playhouse area for commercial development.

The positive aspect of this has been to refocus myself on some thoughts I had soon after being elected. I think we have an excellent resource in the Town Hall complex. I would love to see a master plan to incorporate this area into a "Town Center" that wouldn't necessarily have to involve commercial development. If we sell the land, we lose control. However, we could do a better job of connecting the Town Hall with the Playhouse, Library and Recycle center through more paths, etc. I remember riding through this area with my son on our bikes a few years ago and there is some real potential there. I would love to see the Playhouse amphitheater used during the spring and late summer and fall for concerts and other types of events. It also seems like it would be a great place for weddings, Scout ceremonies, etc. I would rather take this approach to a "Town Center" than having two more big box stores and a parking lot.

I hope we can move forward in a positive manner with this discussion about the future of Signal Mountain. I am very anxious to hear the opinions of our town's residents on this (and all other) issues.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Town Council update

I vowed to help the citizens keep up with our workings. I have recently reviewed my issues page on my original campaign website and will be posting a commentary of how I have kept up with my campaign issues. For now, I am reacquainting myself with my blog. I had planned to keep it up during my tenure, but after being elected mayor I made a decision to hold off. Obviously the council was elected during a time of turmoil and after a member being recalled and another resigning, we had two new members who had not run and with whom I was barely familiar. I was committed to providing leadership and trying to present a positive image of working together.

The Council was very anxious that my public statements all be approved by them as they felt I represented the entire council. This went so far as to requesting (insisting) that I not sit on the "upper" dias on the Planning Commission as they felt this gave me inordinate control of the process, so Annette and I moved to sit on the floor. Other public addresses I gave were extensively edited and modified by certain members. Again, I was anxious to maintain a harmonious working relationship and felt that these were minor issues compared to accomplishing the business of the town. Obviously, in the vein of "no good deed goes unpunished", I was not successful in that a major initiative of mine, obtaining more money for the high school was defeated and I was ultimately removed from office.

At this point, I no longer represent the council. I represent the town and my constituents, as I was elected to do. I'm not sure how much influence I might have on the Council (though I am pleased that on the issue of the fowl ordinance, three members (Dick, Lusk and Robertson) have moved from opposed to supportive - a minor victory at least), so I will return to my original goal of keeping the citizens informed as best I can. As with all blogs, I welcome your input and hope to create a public forum for discussion of the issues affecting our town.