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:
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.
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 Chattanoogan.com 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 Chattanoogan.com 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!