East Ridge Settles Beth Tatum Lawsuit; New City Treasurer Post Approved

Friday, January 24, 2014 - by Gail Perry

The East Ridge Council members voted 4-1 Thursday night to settle a lawsuit pending since 2012. Former budget clerk Beth Tatum sued the city and former City Manager Tim Gobble for wrongful termination and an alleged violation of the fair labor standards act. In the settlement, the city agrees to reinstate Ms. Tatum at the same rate she was paid at the time of termination. However, she will now be placed in the city clerk’s office. Her original seniority date will be uninterrupted and an additional payment of $100,000 will be made.  

Mayor Brent Lambert voted against the settlement. 

At the May 8, 2012 council meeting it was announced that East Ridge had received a 50/50 matching state grant to purchase 30 bullet proof vests for the police department. Several weeks ago, it was discovered that those vests had never been bought and some officers were still wearing outdated ones from 2003. Failing to find an explanation for why that happened, Vice Mayor Jim Bethune said he concluded that “the ball just got dropped.” That should never happen, he said. Every grant that is received should be used. That grant was valid for three years and so the vests have now been ordered JR Reed, the new East Ridge Police Chief, told Mr. Bethune.

This incident prompted Mr. Bethune’s proposal to create a new management position of city treasurer. The position would oversee all city finances, and would include being a full time grants coordinator as well as an assistant city manager. His thinking is that if more grants were procured they would pay for the additional job. The motion to create this job was approved and it will be advertised as “salary negotiable, based on qualifications.” The person hired will answer directly to City Manager Andrew Hyatt.

The position of court clerk will now be elected and this will be the only race on the August ballot in East Ridge. It was decided that one qualification would be that the person must live in East Ridge, which is consistent with all other elected positions in the city. Out of the concern for job security of the current employees in the clerk’s office, it was specified that the elected clerk must adhere to the city’s employment policies and that any firing has to be for cause.

The council also created a plan for providing city health insurance for spouses of retirees. The councilmen agreed that an employee of 25 or more years should benefit from their loyalty and voted to pay 100 percent of the cost for the retirees insurance and 50 percent of the cost for their spouse. A 90-day window was designated, so that this benefit will apply to anyone retiring in the next 90 days.

The sign at the entrance of Camp Jordan will be revamped with a message board mounted below the existing one. The work will be done by Ortwein Signs that submitted the winning bid of $44,053. Stump Martin, director of Parks and Recreation, was authorized to request bids for a second smaller sign with a video board to replace the one now in front of the City Hall on Tombras Avenue.

A resolution by the council approved the city manager to open a non-interest bearing escrow account for use by the police department. It will be used to deposit evidence money collected by the police that will be returned. After approval is given by the court, the finance department will be the one to issue checks. 

Authorization was also given to the city to apply and accept a clean energy grant from the Tennessee Department of the Environment and Conservation.

 A gift of landscaping, way-finding signage and outdoor furniture worth approximately $72,000 has been given from the Lyndhurst Foundation, for use at the new canoe launches at Camp Jordan Park. The vote was unanimous to accept this donation.

A request to purchase a new garbage truck was made due to the excessive cost of repairing a 2002 model that is now out of service. Approval to begin the bid process was authorized. The new truck will be self financed by the city of East Ridge.

The council also voted to give compensation for the assistant fire and police chiefs for the time they served as active chiefs. Each will receive $1,000 for every month they served in the interim chief capacity.

A study of flooding in East Ridge is available from the Army Corps of Engineers. Councilmen were told that the study alone is estimated to cost $700,000 and, with a 50/50 matching grant, the city would be responsible for paying $350,000-$400,000 to have the study done. It is possible that the recommendations that will be made to alleviate the problems could be excessively expensive and that the city could not afford to actually implement the plans once they have been developed, it was stated. The city manager suggested that the federal government may have funds available for this type of project.

Before the money is spent for a study, Mayor Lambert suggested having a representative from the Army Corps, FEMA and TEMA come to a regularly scheduled council meeting for discussions about the project.

East Ridge resident Mimi Lowry, who heads up the city’s community garden at Camp Jordan Park, reported that she has applied for a grant and, if it is received, will ask permission to make raised garden beds behind the City Hall. These would provide easier access for seniors or those with handicaps. These gardens are intended to encourage family and friends to work together. Credit is given for time worked and workers are paid with the food grown.  

A proposal was presented to the council by Ritchie and Tracy King based out of Bristol, Tn. Their family business would like to set up a 2014 holiday light show from Oct. 1-Jan. 27 in Camp Jordan Park. Their family business already has similar exhibitions in Myrtle Beach, Nashville, and Sevierville. These are computerized light displays that are synchronized with music, and are viewed from an automobile. The mile-long trail that cars follow ends at “Santa’s Village" where children can sit on Santa’s lap and shop from food and merchandise vendors each with an additional cost. Inflatables, pony rides and petting zoos would all be available for additional charges, as well. The cost to enter the drive through course is expected to be $20-$23 per car. This would cost the city nothing, but $1 per car would go to the city to be used for the Needy Child Fund. A vote on the proposition will take place at a later date.

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