Wednesday, August 07, 2013

The Orchard Band
at River City Sessions this Friday, August 9.
We'll be performing a set of mostly original material at the Camphouse this Friday night as part of the monthly River City Sessions.
Show starts at 7:30pm. It is hosted by Signal Mountain's own Mike Gray.  

According to his website:

Music and the spoken word are two of the most long standing and
powerful forms of communication in the south. It's great to see the River City
Sessions carrying on those great traditions here in the Scenic City.
Jeff Hunter, Director - Tennessee Wild

The River City Sessions is a collaboration of poets, authors,
story tellers and musicians whose work honors life in the south and the
tradition of literature and music which best express our unique culture. As a
child I sat in the shaded yard of my grandparent's home as friends, family and neighbors dropped by to entertain
each other with a mixture of stories and music on Sunday afternoons. The yard was filled with the sound of
traditional music and the telling of tall tales as well as the blending of many voices rising together in song. The
River City Sessions is bringing that front yard to The Camp House. Once a month local as well as regional acts
will join together to deliver a variety of entertainment, some old, some new, but all paying homage to “The South”. The show is broadcast two weeks later on WUTC 88.1 locally and across the internet on

Directions to the Camphouse:

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Signal Mountain Railroad!

I recently had the pleasure of riding Signal Mountain's own "FuFu Train". Bob Spalding is well-known for sponsoring the "Monster Barn" in years past on his property in Signal Mountain. His latest project is this train. He hopes to have it open to the public for seasonal events including a new Halloween "Tunnel of Terror" and a future Christmas adventure!

Unfortunately, Bob has run into some of the usual small town regulatory hassles that Signal Mountain suffers way too much from (surprise!). Apparently, one local volunteer regulator told him "I don't want another Lake Winnepesaukee on Signal Mountain". Bob is lobbying for some flexibility in the local regulatory environment to allow him to continue to entertain local children (of all ages) on his rural, 7 acre property. I urge my readers to let your town councilmembers know that you support Bob's efforts. I certainly wish him all the best and he says, if you ask nice, he'll give you a ride (it's fun and his dog loves to ride along).

Friday, April 19, 2013

Small Town Politics and political philosophy

For those of you who have followed the discussion about "conservation easements" on Signal Mountain, the Town Council voted on April 14 to donate the right to control our public lands to a private land trust. The vote was 3-2 (Wallace and Gee voted to keep control of our public lands with the public), which might hopefully give the land trust second thoughts about getting into this local battle.

On a practical level, however the effects of this decision are practically nil. There is no development pressure on our public lands and, to my knowledge, there have been no proposals to sell any of our parks. Ironically, the only proposal I've ever heard of to sell Signal Mountain property to private development interests was the proposal by the same majority of Lusk, Robertson and Allen (who supported the easement scheme) to sell the town's ballfields, tennis courts and the Playhouse area to private developers for commercial development back when I was on the council. I was proud to oppose that effort. Just as ironically, it was the loud objections of the citizens of Signal Mountain that shut down that bad idea.

Which brings us to the real problem with this effort and the real attitude behind it. In the Community News this past Wednesday, Councilmember Susan Robertson is quoted as saying "People have asked me, 'don't you trust future Councils?' No, I don't...". Obviously, since our council is elected by the citizens of Signal Mountain, what Ms. Robertson is really saying is that she doesn't trust the citizens of Signal Mountain and is anxious to remove the citizens from the decision making process in the future (and it's important to remember that Ms. Robertson was originally appointed to the council). It is sometimes difficult to argue political philosophy and principle in these local issues, but this is really about the whole concept of democracy and self-rule. Our country is founded on the principle of self-rule and the rights of the people to make the laws, not on the principle of taking those rights away from the people. The fact that the group of us who have been most vocal on this issue (Jeff Duncan, Tish Gailmard, Noah Long, Joe Dumas, Bruce Caldwell and myself) represent the whole spectrum of political opinions from right to left shows that we feel strongly about the principle of self-determination and oppose the principle of one council attempting to bind the actions of a future council.

Since the vote was only to move forward with negotiations, there is still time to stop this misguided, if well-intentioned effort. I think it will also be important to look at the costs associated with this effort since all of these lands will need to be surveyed among other unknown costs. The upcoming budget discussions should be watched carefully for evidence of these costs.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Little Mermaid this weekend at CCA

Come see The Little Mermaid tonight (Thursday), Friday and Saturday night at 7pm at Center for Creative Arts ( This musical is based on the Disney movie by the same name and features (among many others) my daughter, Mary Eliza Hendricks as Scuttle the Seagull! A great show for kids of all ages.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

A better way to protect Signal Mountain's public lands

I am writing again about the issue of conservation easements on public lands in Signal Mountain. This is NOT about whether or not to conserve these lands. There is no evidence of any threat being posed to these lands. This is actually one of the ironies about the time being devoted to this topic which is essentially a solution in search of a problem. However, there is a principle involved of not constraining future generations right to make their own decisions. Thomas Jefferson said it well in 1786 : "this assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, [has] no power to restrain the acts of succeeding assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own."
Nonetheless, this issue seems to be moving forward "like a freight train going downhill" according to one knowledgeable participant. My friend, and former Parks Board member Dr. Jeff Duncan has developed an alternative proposal which not only protects these parks, but actually adds additional protections. While the "easement" plan has been proposed as ironclad, it could be overturned by a simple vote of a future Council through eminent domain. This would require two simple majority votes. The process proposed by Dr. Duncan would provide a much higher degree of protection. Jeff's comments are below:
Please see attached.  I believe this draft ordinance offers a win-win solution for the land protection issue.  I'm about to send it to Council members in hopes it will be considered.  I'd be happy to answer any of your questions or consider modifications if needed.
Also, we need supporters.  Council needs to hear from folks both in support of this ordinance (assuming you support it) and more importantly against the conservation easement movement.  Please shake the bushes and get friends, spouse, and like-minded folks to email council and attend next week's meeting.
Thanks for your continued efforts, Jeff 423-718-2219.
Here are the Councilmembers and their email addresses:
Please copy Jeff Duncan ( with any comments you send or receive from the Council. Thank you.
This is Dr. Duncan's proposed ordinance:
An Ordinance Protecting Signal Mountain Parklands and Authorizing the Establishment of a Town Conservation Policy
WHEREAS, the Town Council of Signal Mountain believes that all land owned by the Town of Signal Mountain is held in trust for future generations by the Councils and Citizens of this community, and
WHEREAS, the woodlands, wetlands, streams, and open spaces of Signal Mountain help define the character of the town and, beyond that, each succeeding year brings us more information on how vital such natural lands are to our collective well-being and health of the world around us, and
WHEREAS, they are also buffers which mitigate the effect of reasonable development of private lands, and
WHEREAS, once converted to other use, such lands cannot be replaced and therefore short term needs and pressures do not justify endangering the environment of our town, county and state, and
WHEREAS, those who are most intimately associated with these lands are the most qualified to protect them, and
WHEREAS, the Town presently has several boards (i.e., Parks, Tree, Stormwater) focusing on environmental protection that operate independently and without cohesiveness,
ARTICLE 1. LAND PROTECTION POLICY:  The Town of Signal Mountain will protect its public lands and waters as its citizens and their elected officials deem necessary, free from residential or commercial development, and that the current Town Council of Signal Mountain affirms and continues in the wisdom of its predecessors in owning, protecting and maintaining the public lands of Signal Mountain. All existing Town-owned parklands will henceforth be encumbered by deed restrictions intended to limit develop exclusively to nature-based recreational interests.  The Town of Signal Mountain hereby adopts a policy of protecting its publically-owned parklands for the benefit and enjoyment of this and future generations.
ARTICLE 2. CREATION OF A CONSERVATION COMMISSION: A Town Conservation Commission is hereby established for the purposes of aiding and advising Town Council and the Planning Commission on issues related to the status, extent, and management of Town-owned parklands.  The Conservation Commission will create a Natural Resource Management Plan for Town-owned resources that will include an inventory of existing resources, threats, liabilities, and other management needs on Town-owned lands.  The Conservation Commission replaces the Park Board, Tree Board, and Stormwater Board but may, at the pleasure of Town Council, retain their current members to carry out the missions of each board as committees of the Conservation Commission in accordance with ARTICLE 7 herein.
ARTICLE 3. ZONING: A zoning classification is hereby created for all existing Town-owned parklands.  The new zoning classification will be termed “CONSERVATION LANDS.”
ARTICLE 4. LAND ACQUISITION: The Town is hereby authorized to receive donated parcels of land in fee simple and/or conservation easements from willing private donors/sellers for the purposes of conservation.  Upon concurrence of the Conservation Commission and majority vote by the Council, the Town may purchase lands from willing sellers for the purposes of conservation.  Such land may be encumbered by existing conservation easement with a third party land trust at the time of donation to the Town. 
ARTCILE 5. PARTNERSHIP FOR LAND PROTECTION: That the Conservation Commission is hereby authorized to work with external partners such as land trusts, non-governmental organizations, and government agencies to improve natural resource protection on private lands within the Town or on public lands not owned by the Town.
ARTICLE 6. CONSERVATION TOOLKIT: That the Conservation Commission is hereby authorized to develop a Conservation Toolkit of Best Management Practices to benefit Town government and residents of the community.  The Conservation Toolkit will consist of a non-binding list of environmentally sound recommendations covering topics such as yard maintenance, fertilizers, pesticides, invasive species, water conservation, run-off, energy conservation, etc.  While the Toolkit will be non-binding to residents not withstanding existing regulations, Town Council, at the request and recommendation of the Conservation Commission, may compel Town employees carrying out their duties on Town-owned lands or facilities to adopt some or all of the Toolkit’s provisions.
ARTICLE 7. MEMBERSHIP and ADMINISTRATION OF CONSERVATION COMMISSION: That the Conservation Commission shall consist of 9 members each appointed by the Town Council for 3 year terms.  Commission members can be reappointed for subsequent terms. The Commission shall convene regularly monthly meetings in public and produce and retain publically viewable notes or minutes.  The Commission shall make recommendations on conservation issues germane to the Town Council upon their request.
ARTICLE 8. In keeping with the spirit of Article 1 herein, and to limit legislative entrenchment, the Town Council shall not authorize the transfer of any Town-owned parklands to any third party entity without the unanimous approval of the Conservation Commission, and any measure intended to transfer ownership of Town-owned parklands or to convert them to other non-park uses, and any measure to overturn or amend this ordinance, must be passed by a majority vote of two consecutive Town councils separated in time by a general election. 

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Giving away Conservation Easements on Public Lands

There is a difficult issue being discussed by the Town Council. They are proposing to donate conservation easements on public lands in Signal Mountain to a private organization. While I absolutely support the permanent protection of our public parks, as I have fought my whole life for protection of our National Forests, National Parks and Wilderness Areas, I think that we should trust the citizens of Signal Mountain to protect their public lands rather than depending on an outside organization over which we have no control. Dr. Jeff Duncan, former Parks Board member has been a leader on this issue and has prepared the following open letter to the Council which should also be appearing in the TimesFreePress soon. It should be clear from the signers of the letter that it represents a diversity of opinions. I urge you to contact your council members at the following addresses and let them know what you think:

Bill Lusk:
Susan Robertson:
Annette Allen:
Dick Gee:
Bill Wallace:
Honna Rogers (town manager):

Open Letter to Signal Mountain Town Council Regarding Conservation Easements

March 5, 2013

On March 11, Council is scheduled to vote on donating conservation easements over Town-owned lands. Despite this, few town residents, let alone members of Council, are likely aware of the far-reaching unintended consequences of this proposed action.    With this letter, we hope to shed some light on the issue which we believe is poor governance, short-sighted, and arguably illegal.  Combined, let’s just say we have several decades of experience and education in the conservation arena professionally and through public service to our town, and we represent a very broad political and ideological spectrum.  Despite our differences, we whole-heartedly support protecting our town’s natural resources, as do most town residents.  We simply disagree with the use of conservation easements as the means of doing so for the following reasons, and we propose a viable alternative:

1.      Conservation easements are unnecessary for protecting our parklands.  Our publically-owned lands are protected by existing ordinances, and most are protected by deed restrictions.  The existing provisions can and should be strengthened, but not with the wrong tool.

2.      A conservation easement is essentially a surrendering of the development rights for a given parcel to a land trust.  Can a land trust really understand the future needs and desires of future town residents better than the future residents themselves?  If conservation easements are enacted, we will essentially be saying, “We know what’s better for future residents than do the future residents themselves.”

3.      Conservation easements are PERMANENT!  Once recorded, they can never be undone.  Period.  The Town's hands will forever be tied by law. The action will be irreversible by future councils, and the land trust will be bound to defend the easements to the fullest extent of the law, even if that means suing the Town for some inadvertent future incursion.

4.      While perhaps not yet tested in court, entering into a permanent agreement with a land trust may be illegal.  The State has laws against one council contractually binding a future council.  This action, like no other in Town history, would contractually bind all future Town Councils.  Furthermore, there may be an issue concerning surplus property regulations since this move essentially amounts to giving away property, or at least a portion thereof.

5.      Although provisions for recreational use can be written into an easement, we cannot predict the future, and exactly what provisions to incorporate would require a crystal ball. Who knows what recreation pursuits will be in 50 or 100 years? Who knows what facilities or amenities future town residents may want to consider, say, in the year 2063 or 2113?  Should it be for us to decide in 2013?

6.      Conservation easements are but one tool for protecting land, and there are many more.  Even our National Parks are protected not by easements, but by legislation. Why shouldn’t we protect our parklands the same way?

Instead of easements, we propose creating a Signal Mountain land protection ordinance that would achieve that same goal of protecting our lands but without disenfranchising future generations. An assortment of cities and towns, some much like Signal Mountain (e.g., Hamden, ME, Borough of Mountain Lakes, NJ, etc.) have adopted land protection legislation to protect their public lands.  Such an ordinance could be written to protect our lands, and still provide future citizens with flexibility. 

Although the details would need to be developed, the ordinance could include protective conditions much like a conservation easement, but without the need for enforcement by a land trust.  The ordinance could be written such that it could only be amended by majority vote of two successive Town Councils with an interceding election.  This would eliminate the idea of some future Council selling off our parklands to Holiday Inn against the wishes of the citizens. Additional deed restrictions (i.e., conservation easements granted by the Town to the Town, as opposed to an outside land trust) also represent a viable land protection alternative worthy of consideration. 

As the Native American proverb suggests, and as is even suggested in the Town’s Power Point presentation posted on the Town website, “We don’t own the lands, we only borrow them from the future.”  Let’s live up to that proverb. Let us trust our children, and our childrens’ children to do what’s right.  We ask Council to vote against conservation easements, and instead work on more appropriate means of protecting our lands for future generations through a Town land protection ordinance.  To that end, we stand united, ready, and willing to offer our assistance.


Dr. Jeffrey  R. Duncan
Doctorate in Ecology and Environmental Policy, Former Parks Board Member, Former Planning Commission Member, Professional Natural Resource Manager

Ms. Tish Gailmard
Former Parks Board Member, Professional Wildlife Curator, Life-long resident of Signal Mountain

Dr. Paul M. Hendricks, MD
Former Mayor, Former Planning Commission Member, Life-Member Sierra Club

Mr. Noah H. Long, Jr., Rear Admiral USNR (ret), Founding Member SM Tree Board, 25 years in commercial real estate.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Lusk appoints Robertson to Planning Commission

There is certainly some irony in this news. When Lusk told me he was running against me for Mayor in 2008 (he didn't have the courtesy to contact me himself, waiting until I asked if he was interested in running for the open vice-mayor position and then telling me he was going to run against me for mayor), I told him that a major reason I wanted to remain mayor was to finish the land-use work of the Planning Commission that I had run on. He state that he didn't know he had to be on the Planning Commission (as mayor) and that he didn't have time to do that and that I could remain on the Planning Commission when he became mayor (ie, he would take the position, but I would do the work-I declined). Ironically, (again) Robertson's (and Allen's) excuse for supporting him was that he was "retired" (or at that time actually unemployed after being fired, or pushed out by US Xpress) and had the time to do this that I supposedly didn't have since they insisted that the Mayor position was a "24/7" job and required someone not otherwise employed. Of course, soon after taking the mayor position, he took a job, first in Atlanta and now in St. Louis. Since then the Planning Commission has been unable to complete its work on subdivision regulations and zoning law re-writes begun over 5 years ago. It is unclear from the article if a vote was taken as required by the town ordinance "The mayor may appoint another councilmember to serve in his place if approved by a majority of the town council." although it appears from the article that Bill Wallace was the only one speaking in opposition. I would be curious to know if a vote was held and if Councilmember Dick Gee was present and took a public position on this issue. It's also worth noting that this appointment was not on the public agenda published in advance.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

SMPH Winter Play - The Red Velvet Cake War

The Signal Mountain Playhouse announces

Red Velvet Cake War

directed by Brenda Schwab

Feb. 8, 9, 15, 16, 22, and 23

8 p.m. at the MACC
Tickets available at the door or by reservation, 886-1959
$14.00 for all tickets, which includes dessert and coffee prior to curtain

The Signal Mountain Playhouse presents the Southern comedy "The Red Velvet Cake War" on Feb. 8, 9, 15, 16, 22, and 23 at the MACC.  Curtain is at 8 p.m. with the box office opening at 6:45 p.m. All tickets are $14.00 and can be bought at the door or reserved in advance through calling the MACC at 886-1959.  Dessert and coffee, included in the ticket price, will be served prior to curtain, beginning at 6:45 p.m. 
Directing seasoned and newcomers in this hilarious comedy is Brenda Schwab of the Chattanooga State Theatre Arts Department.  The plot of this fast moving romp involves the attempts of the three Vereen cousins, Peaches, Jimmie, and Gaynelle, of Sweetgum, TX, to plan a family reunion.  All the relatives come with their quirks, and Texas tornado season is also threatening.
For more information, go to or call Anne Rittenberry at 886-5243.
Stay tuned this summer for The Wizard of OZ!