The 10-member East Ridge Charter Study Committee on Monday night deadlocked 5-5 on whether the city should have a nine-member city council rather than the present five members.
County Commissioner Tim Boyd, a member of the panel who favored the larger size, said afterward that currently "three people are in charge, then in another four years, the power shifts. This would require getting more than three votes to get something passed."
The East Ridge citizens that were appointed by the council members met to consider the section of the city’s charter dealing with governance. Commissioner Boyd said the work of the committee is winding down, then it will be up to the current city council whether to send its work on to East Ridge residents for a vote. Current council members Jim Bethune and Marc Gravitt were among those in the office at the city training room at the rear of City Hall.
Sections of the document being discussed centered on the composition of the city council and requirements for the position of a city manager. Committee member Darwin Branam, a former council member, and chairman of the committee Ken Meyer defended proposed changes they crafted.
Currently, the citys four council members and the mayor are all elected at large. An amended version of the charter by Mr. Branam specified that the mayor be elected at large by voters of the city, and eight council members, two from each of the four districts, be elected by voters in their respective precinct.
With the exception of the chairman, this change elicited opposition from the other committee members. Donna Reed responded that a small city of only 10 square miles with 21,000-22,000 residents does not need that many representatives. Half of the residents in East Ridge are renters and don’t care, she said. She also said that her belief is that so many elected officials will make the governing process more complicated causing decisions to stall. She told the committee that her research showed the average number of council members to be six in both large and small cities across the country. “I don’t see how that many will be helpful,” she said. "You’d be putting more people on the council that cannot agree. “You’d be doubling the politicians, not increasing representation.”
Mr. Meyer said, “I think it would get more people involved.” Ms. Reed replied, “We are a small city and people who want to get involved will be.” Ms. Reed then asked how many on the committee attend city council meetings themselves. Only two answered that they did. Mr. Branam who does not come to the meetings, said he would feel better having two representatives from his district to look out for his neighborhood. The basic question is if this is for personal gain or betterment of the city, stated another committee member.
Increasing representation to two from each district and if done with staggered four-year terms would have another benefit, said Mr. Meyer. If a project takes longer than a council person is in office, having a second representative with a staggered term from a district, would provide continuity for a project that is not finished when one councilman’s term ends.
Robert Bedwell’s concern with increasing the number of council members was about the cost. There will be an increase in salaries, training and travel expenses such as for attending conferences. Those extra expenses can be shared, countered those wishing to expand the council. Some would go one time and some another, and they could come back and teach what they learned, it was stated.
History has shown that a city manager stays in East Ridge for an average of only two years. Committee member Boyd’s perspective was that the committee needed to come up with the number of elected officials that would provide the most stable form of government plus stability for the city manager, whether the number on the city council is five, seven or nine. In response and as a compromise suggestions were made for electing one representative from each district and one or two others plus the mayor chosen at large.
A vote to make changes to the city council section of the charter, as written by Mr. Branam, failed in a tie roll-call vote. A second vote confirmed that the committee does want to consider a different change to the make-up of the city council, and members were asked to bring ideas to the next meeting of the committee.
Changes to the section of the city code concerning the city manager were also proposed by Mr. Branam and were under deliberation at the meeting. City Councilman Gravitt interrupted the discussion among the committee members to inform them the wording was still in error pertaining to qualifications necessary for a city manager. The word “minimum” before “bachelor’s degree” was still missing. This was the original mistake which had proved to be a stumbling block for the city finding a candidate for city manager because many applicants had a masters degree. The new prerequisites for this position are “a “minimum” of a bachelor’s degree. “A minimum of three years in direct supervisory experience in municipal government management” replaces the restrictive requirement that the candidate’s degree be in public administration.
It will be recommended that the city manager will need to be a resident of Hamilton County, but not necessarily of East Ridge. And, Mr. Branam made the suggestion of adding a clause allowing the removal of a city manager after a 90-day period, by a 2/3 “super-majority” vote by the council.
A vote on the revisions concerning the city manager that were discussed Monday night will take place at a future meeting along with recommendations for other changes concerning the city attorney, department heads, the city court and responsibility for sidewalks in East Ridge, among other issues.
On the 5-5 vote, in favor of the larger council were Mr. Branam, Commissioner Boyd, Mr. Meyer, Estes Cocke and Ruth Braly.