Thursday, November 29, 2012

Issues before the town council

I continue to hear from folks that they appreciate my attempts to keep people informed about the goings on in Signal Mountain. I will continue to try to be as informational as possible. Improving communication was a major goal of mine and, while not as successful as I'd like, much was accomplished.

As many of you know, the Council meets during the work day once a month in "agenda meetings". While these were originally initiated for the sole purpose of preparing the agenda for the upcoming Monday night meeting, they have evolved into work sessions where many controversial topics are discussed. Unfortunately, these often don't get the scrutiny that they deserve (in my humble opinion).

I'd like to point out a few items that I think might have general interest. The Council is apparently considering the idea of allowing beekeeping in residential neighborhoods (including front yards). Also, the Council is looking at converting the swimming pool to a salt water system. I've swum in salt water pools in Florida and it wasn't appealing to me, but I honestly don't know if this is the same thing. Nonetheless, those of you who use the pool might be interested.

When I was on the Council, I discovered that Signal Mountain bans rock climbing in the town limits. Since this area is world-renown for this activity, I tried to get the ban lifted, but was shot down by the Town Council. This is again on the agenda and hopefully they'll reconsider.

There is talk about putting a crosswalk across Taft Highway between the shopping centers. Sounds like a great idea, but the primary issue might be the cost. Hopefully a designated cross-walk with a sign would be reasonably within the budget.

Finally, with Fox Run and Windtree entering the town the end of the year, Bill Wallace very appropriately encouraged the council to slow down on board appointments for the New Year to allow residents of those neighborhoods to apply. If you live out there (or anywhere in the town) and are interested in volunteering on a board, go to the town website ( and apply.

Here is the agenda for tomorrow's "agenda session":

1.      Discuss Tentative Agenda for December 10, 2012 Regular Meeting
2.      New Employee Introductions
3.      Bee Hive Location
4.      Sewer Moratorium Update – Cleveland Grimes (10:30 am)
5.      Pool Salt Water System – Robert Moss (12:00 pm)
6.      Climbing – Britt Reynolds (1:00 pm)
7.      New Street Criteria
8.      Crosswalk Ordinance
9.      Administrative Hearing Officer Ordinance
10.  Christmas Train
11.  Board Appointments
12.  Council Strategic Planning
13.  WRUD Interconnection
14.  Any Other Business 

Monday, November 05, 2012

Another Signal Mountain Parks Board member speaks out

This letter was provided to me by Tish Gailmard, long-term member of the Signal Mountain Parks Board in response to the ouster from the Parks Board of Dr. Jeff Duncan by Town Council member Annette Allen:

Dr. Jeff Duncan’s term on the Signal Mountain Parks Board “was allowed to expire without public vetting nor a direct vote.” This is a true statement and one that the citizens of Signal Mountain should be aware of before they vote in the upcoming election.
Dr. Duncan challenged the Parks Board to think harder and more open mindedly about the proposed donation of conservation easements over town-owned lands to an outside land trust.  Bill Fronk, secretary of the board, took it upon himself to state that the board was in favor of the easement. I am also a member of this board and I voted on no such proposal. Jeff notes “that there had been no vote by the Parks Board nor Town Council adopting the position detailed in Mr. Fronk's letter as the town's policy” which is completely accurate.
Furthermore, the next action in this story is even more appalling to me. When Annette Allen, current Signal Mountain Town Council member seeking re-election, asked Jeff to withdraw his application for a new term as a Parks Board member, she clearly had an agenda even though she states her rationale as identifying a qualified replacement who was retired and had more time.
The Signal Mountain Parks Board is run by a few who are well intentioned, but do not handle business properly. Many ideas are discussed, but the work that is passed is biased and close minded. A board is meant to be a consulting entity to guide practices. Board members bring expertise which helps the board wisely discuss matters. Unfortunately, the current Parks Board acts on the input and desires of a select few. While trails may be maintained and built, new ideas that can affect the future of Signal Mountain’s town owned lands and other important and lasting decisions may be in jeopardy. 

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Dr. Jeff Duncan's reply to Parks Board

This is Dr. Jeff Duncan's reply to Bill Fronk's recent letter trying to change history about Jeff's removal from the Park's Board. It is followed by some more information I have since obtained. Your Town Council in action: 

Signal Mountain Town Council:  "Move Along Folks...Nothing to See Here"

My name was recently invoked in an opinion piece supporting the re-election of Annette Allen to the Signal Mountain Town Council (TFP, 10/29/12).  In it, Bill Fronk suggests that a "rumor" about my dismissal from the Parks Board is false, stating, "we should not allow rumor to replace fact." 

To that end, I agree with Mr. Fronk.  But just because something is rumored does not preclude it from being true.  What’s puzzling is why Mr. Fronk would choose to bring up this so-called rumor in supporting the re-election of Annette Allen to Town Council when relatively few people knew or cared about the issue previously.  It seems akin to the cop standing in front of the murder scene telling passersby “there’s nothing to see here.” 

Whether I was kicked off, removed, terminated, axed, or whacked is a matter of semantics.  The bottom line is that after seven years of service, and after being asked in writing by the town manager if I would to serve another term (to which I responded yes), my term was abruptly allowed to expire without public vetting nor a vote.

Why did this happen?  Here are the facts; you can decide for yourself.  Last October, I wrote a letter to the TFP voicing concern regarding Ms. Allen's proposal to donate of conservation easements on Town-owned lands to a land trust.  It was in direct response to a letter by Mr. Fronk reportedly on behalf of the Parks Board promoting the donation.  There had been no vote by the Board nor Town Council adopting the position detailed in Mr. Fronk's letter, yet Mr. Fronk enthusiastically supported the action,  implying it was the official position of the Board.  I felt obliged to provide Signal Mountain residents an alternative view about the long-term ownership of their public lands.

Soon after my letter was published, Ms. Allen requested that she and I meet to discuss the issue.   At the end of the meeting, we cordially agreed to disagree.  A week later, she called and requested that I withdraw my application for a new term on the Board, stating that she had identified another qualified candidate.  I respectfully declined to withdraw my application.  At the next Council meeting, my replacement was appointed. My term was simply allowed to expire without a vote nor any record of public discourse.

I'll be the first to admit I have a busy schedule and a family, although I'd like to correct Mr. Fronk's assertion that I'm a "senior executive."  I'm simply an ecologist with expertise in natural resource management and passionate about raising my children in our great community.   None of this should disqualify me nor anyone else from service on Town boards, nor should voicing differences in opinions.  Unfortunately, my case is not isolated, and some members of Council (Bill Wallace excluded) have developed a pattern of eliminating those who choose to speak out.  One example is the ousting of previous Mayor Paul Hendricks in a behind-the-scenes power-fueled maneuver.  And, there are other examples.

Openness and diversity of opinions are essential components of sound democratic governance.  I believe Ms. Allen and others on Town Council are missing the mark in that regard, and I plan to vote accordingly.  There is in fact something to see here—a political practice lacking in principle--and it's time for change.

Dr. Jeff Duncan
Former Parks Board Member

Dear Editor,

Recently there was a letter from Bill Fronk, Secretary of the Signal Mountain Parks Board stating that "In 2011 the Parks Board recommended the appointment of a new member instead of re-appointing Dr. Jeff Duncan". This was in response to the fact that Dr. Duncan, a National Parks Service employee, professional ecologist, Scout leader and long time member of the Signal Mountain Parks Board was refused reappointment to the Parks Board after publicly disagreeing with a position taken by Signal Mountain Town Councilmember Annette Allen. I asked for a copy of the minutes for all the Parks Board meetings for 2011. There were 2 meetings, in April and May and there is no mention in either of these minutes of Dr. Duncan or other appointments. Honna Rogers, Signal Mountain Town Manager told me "I believe there was a third [meeting] (going off memory), but I do not have minutes for it.  I don't think the Parks Board had a vote regarding Jeff.  It's not customary for the Board to discuss or vote on member reappointments.  The Council makes that decision, often with input from the Board Chair." Mr. Fronk seems to imply (and Ms. Allen has also claimed) that Dr. Duncan was removed for missing these two meetings. Of interest is that Tish Gailmard, another member of the Parks Board also missed both meetings yet remains on the Board. Also, Mr. Fronk himself spends summers in Michigan and, from what I understand the Parks Board essentially shuts down in the summer since he is not here (they apparently didn't meet again the rest of that year and there are no minutes for any meetings after March of this year except for some trail maintenance activities). I believe this subterfuge of creating political cover after the fact is self-evident. 

Paul M. Hendricks, MD
former Mayor of Signal Mountain 

Recommendations for Signal Mountain Town Council

As most of my friends know, I am supporting Bill Wallace for Town Council again this year. I have known Bill since serving with him on the MACC Board while I was on the council. Bill is thoughtful and independent and has been a voice of reason on the Council. He is a man of conservative inclinations and, while we may disagree on national politics, his approach to our town has been exactly what I want in a representative, fiscally responsible and open. As Richard Casavant once told me "potholes don't have parties"! His background is in communications and that shows in his constituent responsiveness. He opposed last year's unnecessary tax increase. He also opposed significantly increasing the salary of the town manager at the same time that the council was dipping into the general fund to balance the budget. He felt that an increase like that should also be associated with more commitment to the town than a 60-day notice of resignation.
He believes in smart, responsible growth but not in obstructionism that will only drive up our taxes and turn Signal Mountain into an elite community where only the wealthy can afford to live.

Bill has been attacked vociferously by friends of the current council majority for taking these positions. Several of the early letters attacking Bill attracted my attention. They included detailed attacks on some obscure votes. However, I didn't recognize the name of the writer of this letter or of some follow-up letters. My curiosity was aroused and I started trying to find out who these folks were. Extensive searching of public records and internet presence was without result. I contacted the newspaper who researched the letter. They informed me that they were "unable to confirm the address of the author" of the first letter and pulled the letter from running in the community news. At this point, I am convinced that these letters were written under a false name by a supporter of the Council majority candidates (Lusk and Allen) who had intimate knowledge of the details of some of these obscure votes, but didn't want his (or her...) name known. I would strongly urge the candidates to either confirm that the writers of these letters are real people who do live in Signal Mountain or disavow these letters and reveal if they know anything about their origins. These kinds of dirty tricks have no place in Signal Mountain politics.

Beyond Bill, my choices will be a bit surprising. Obviously, I have major differences with the current Council majority. Their approach to local government is secretive and many of their public comments have been filled with errors (whether intentional or not I can't say, but ignorance is as bad as deceit).  Their approach to citizens volunteering to work with the town through town boards and through private fundraising has been extremely exclusive of and vindictive towards anyone who disagrees with them. This is clearly indicated by the vicious attacks leading to the destruction of the MACC/SMArt Foundation and the recent removal of Dr. Jeff Duncan from the Parks Board for disagreeing with Annette Allen on the issue of handing control of our public parks over to outside groups which, while honorable groups doing great work, are not controlled by the town of Signal Mountain. Frankly, this is the point. Ms. Allen and the council majority do not trust the citizens of Signal Mountain to protect our public lands and want to remove any control from the Town's responsibility. I find this attitude to be outrageous.

Therefore, I've decided to offer my support to Joe Dumas. Joe and I have had many disagreements over the years. Frankly, I suspect we will have more in the future. However, Joe is smart. Joe cares about this town. Most of all, Joe is honest and open. Agree or disagree, you will know where Joe stands. He will not hide or tell you one thing while doing another. I hope that he will recognize that he represents the citizens which means that sometimes you have to vote for what the people want, even if it may not be what you would want yourself. However, I think it is time to give Joe a chance to add his voice to our community. He and I have had some very serious (diplomats would call them "frank"!) discussions. I have learned that he can change his mind on things. That is an important trait. He is trained in the sciences like me which gives me hope that he will look at the facts and make his decisions based on those facts rather than picking out (or making up) facts to fit his pre-conceived ideas as our current council majority is prone to do. You can be sure that he will keep a close eye on the finances of our town and be sure they are spent wisely and efficiently.

So, please vote for Bill Wallace. I also urge you to vote for Joe Dumas. As for a third vote, I know Frank Preston to be a fine man. Mutual friends have reassured me that he will be independent. I do have concerns about the fact that Lusk and Allen supporters seems to almost uniformly support him which makes me think that they see him as a "rubber stamp". I hope they are wrong. I do hope that Frank gets elected and adds another independent voice to Signal Mountain politics. I have never liked "tickets" in local politics. I didn't like "Farmer/White" or the "Recall" ticket or the "Keep Your Council" ticket and I don't like this "Allen/Lusk/Preston" ticket. This was no reflection on the individual candidates, but obviously one assumes that those on a "ticket" feel a commitment to "stick together". That has caused immense grief in Washington, DC and I don't want it here. Our Town Council members should be independent voices making their own separate decisions. They should be able to agree on one issue and disagree on the next and move on. It is obvious that is not currently the case and electing the "status quo" will only continue this lockstep approach to our local government. Thanks for listening!

Paul M. Hendricks, MD