East Ridge Rescinds Resolution Allowing Council Members To Keep City-Purchased Electronic Equipment

Friday, March 1, 2013

The East Ridge City Council, after getting a strongly-worded letter from the state comptroller's office, voted Thursday night to rescind a resolution allowing council members to keep city-purchased electronic equipment. It allowed them to retain items such as IPads and cellphones when they go off the council.

Greg L. Cothron, assistant general counsel, told Mayor Brent Lambert, that such a policy "is not authorized as a 'perk of the office' and potentially creates a conflict of interest for those elected officials that vote for, let out, overlook, or superintend contracts for the purchase of such electronic equipment."

He said the resolution "could incentivize an elected official to request the purchase of equipment which may not be in the best interest of the city, but would transfer to the elected official's immediate personal benefit upon leaving office."

He wrote, "I ask that you immediately notify my office on the actions taken by the City Council on Resolution 2300 in the Feb. 28 City Council meeting."

Darwin Branam left the council while the resolution was in effect, but he had his own IPhone and turned in his city cellphone.

Frances Pope, a citizen activist who alerted the comptroller's office to the resolution, noted that it was passed while John Anderson was city attorney. She bragged on the new interim city attorney, Hal North.

Mayor Lambert, who defended attorney Anderson, said one option might be to have the city pay a stipend for electronic items for council members rather than have  the city purchase them. He said, "Once they are turned back in, they have very little value."

The council is planning a workshop to discuss whether to keep and put to additional use the old McBrien Elementary School located near City Hall.

Interim City Manager Eddie Phillips said it was necessary to stop using a bathroom in the old school because of asbestos concerns. It had been used by participants in a batting cage program that Recreation Director Stump Martin said is bringing $8,400 in revenue to the city.

Councilman Marc Gravitt said he recently toured the building and found it to be "in surprisingly good shape." But he said if a sizable portion of the building is put back into use it will be necessary to install expensive sprinklers.

The council balked at a resolution to set up a program in which Court Services established a method for online payment of court fines and fees. Councilman Gravitt said the firm's charge of eight percent was "very high."

He said, "I know the city will not be paying, but the citizens of East Ridge will be paying that rate." 

It was decided to bid out the service.

The council passed a resolution to put no parking signs on certain streets. Vice Mayor Jim Bethune abstained.

Officials said the city might be liable if a fire truck or ambulance could not get down a street because of parked cars on both sides.

The council is still wrestling with the idea of a memorial at City Hall for East Ridge soldiers killed in foreign wars.

Mr. Phillips said he put a halt to the process until the council decides whether it should include just soldiers from Vietnam or from all wars and whether it should be part of an existing war memorial that is at the Pioneer Frontier playground or a new memorial. He said the memorial could cost as much as $20,000.





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