It was recently brought to my attention that my name was invoked in an opinion piece supporting the re-election of Annette Allen to the Signal Mountain Town Council (Chattanoogan.com, 10/24/12). In it, Bill Fronk suggests that a "rumor" about my dismissal as a member of the Signal Mountain Parks Board is false. He goes on to say that "we should not allow rumor to replace fact."
To that end, I agree with Mr. Fronk. In reality, whether I was kicked off, dismissed, removed, terminated, fired, canned, or otherwise put out to pasture is simply a matter of semantics. The bottom line is that after seven years of dedicated service, and after being asked in writing by the town manager if I was interested in serving another term (to which I responded in the affirmative), my term was allowed to expire without public vetting nor a direct vote.
Why did this happen? Allow me to clarify some of the facts, and the reader can reach his or her own conclusion. In October of last year, I wrote a letter to the Times Free Press voicing my concern regarding the proposed donation of conservation easements over town-owned lands to an outside land trust. My letter was in direct response to a letter penned by Mr. Fronk reportedly on behalf of the Parks Board promoting the donation. It's worth noting 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.
Further, I had voiced my concern and growing opposition about the issue to the Board. Despite this, Mr. Fronk's letter enthusiastically supported the action and implied that it was the official position of the Board. As a sitting member of the Board, I felt obliged to provide the residents of Signal Mountain with an alternative view about the long-term ownership and control of our public lands, so I wrote what I thought was a polite, objective, and informative letter.
Soon after my letter was published, Ms. Allen requested that she and I meet for lunch to discuss the issue. At the end of the meeting, we cordially and politely agreed to disagree. About a week later, Ms. Allen called me and requested that I withdraw my application for a new term as a Parks Board member. She stated as her rationale that she had identified a qualified replacement who was retired and had more time. I respectfully declined to withdraw my application stating my continued interest and passion for contributing my expertise to management decisions regarding the town's public lands. At the next Town Council meeting, my replacement on the Board was voted in despite no public record advertising a vacancy as is customary for filling vacancies on town boards. My term was simply allowed to expire without a vote nor any record of public discourse.
I'll be the first to admit that I have a busy work schedule and a family, although I'd like to correct Mr. Fronk's assertion that I am employed as a "senior executive" as he states. I'm simply an ecologist with expertise in conservation biology and natural resource management and have a passion for raising my children in our great community. None of this should disqualify me or anyone else from service on town boards, nor should voicing differences in opinions. To the contrary, especially at the local level, openness, diversity of opinions and backgrounds are essential components of democracy and sound governance. To this end, I believe the current Town Council is missing the mark, and I plan to vote accordingly.
Dr. Jeff Duncan
Former Signal Mountain Parks Board Member