The East Ridge City Council on Thursday night approved letting voters decide on 17 changes to the city charter, including one that requires that the city manager and city attorney can only be dismissed if four of five council members are in favor.
Mayor Brent Lambert thanked members of a charter study committee and told the council members that the group of 10 East Ridge citizens “brought individual thoughts and hammered out the changes” from the original charter.
He said that the work of the committee deserves to go before the public.
The council approved that the changes be put on a referendum in the November election. Among the changes are the qualifications for a city manager, which now will be defined as having a bachelor’s degree in any field along with having had three years of direct supervisory experience in government. The city manager and the city attorney can now only be removed with a super majority vote by the council. The proposals also include provisions for recalling the mayor and city council members. It stipulates that salaries for these positions can only be adjusted by referendum. Under the new charter, East Ridge would be allowed to establish its own school district but it does not commit the city to do so.
The budget for 2014-2015 was approved on second and final reading. The total expected revenue for all funds is $17,461,364. The property tax rate remains unchanged at $1.4227 per $100 of assessed value. Money was appropriated in order to balance the 3013-2014 budget. This is a “housekeeping” matter, said City Treasurer Thad Jablonski. He said this is not asking for more money, but is just moving money that is already in the budget to a new place.
The ban of Electronic-cigarettes from the inside of buildings that are owned or leased by the city passed on second and final reading. A violation of this ban would have no penalty, fine or arrest. A person in violation would first be asked to leave and, if that fails, would be escorted out.
It was the recommendation of the city treasurer to keep the current health insurance plan with Blue Cross Blue Shield. There are no problems, he said. In addition, the dental and vision plans will also be moved to BCBS for ease of administration. The budget anticipated a 10 percent increase in insurance costs. The accepted plan increases the city’s cost 8.83 percent.
Discussion continued from an earlier meeting about amending the city code concerning peddlers and solicitors. Councilman Marc Gravitt said that the more stringent regulations that he recommends are not directed toward properly run businesses. It is meant as a deterrent to prevent crime. He said unsolicited peddlers can determine if someone is home in order to commit a burglary. Mr. Gravitt suggested that the permit required to sell items from door to door be increased from $20 to $25. A photo of the salesperson would be put in a clear plastic holder on a lariat that must be displayed around their neck while attempting to make a sale. He also would like a magnetic sign to be displayed on the side of the peddler’s car. The $500 fine for failing to get a permit remains unchanged. There are exceptions defined in the ordinance such as Girl Scouts selling cookies and for charitable and religious organizations. The changes will be re-written and voted on at the next city council meeting.
A fee schedule was approved for the disposal of bulk items at the city’s dumpster. Residents of East Ridge will be identified with a driver’s license and will be allowed to take items there twice a month for no charge, excluding construction materials. Charges have been established for non-residents and for more than two drop-offs from a citizen with an East Ridge address.
The donation of a 2008 GMC Sierra pickup truck was made to the city from Volkert and Associates, an engineering firm in Chattanooga. It was specified for use in animal services. The bed will be customized to suit the needs for animal control.
Stump Martin, director of parks and recreation, made the suggestion to name ball fields at Camp Jordan Park for dedicated city employees. The councilmen agreed and voted to name fields for Freida Wheeler, Wayne Thompson and Bill Owen. One field will be left un-named leaving it for corporate possibilities in the future.
City Manager Andrew Hyatt told of the plans to make Pioneer Park more secure. He asked the council to give him authority to enter into an agreement with the Electric Power Board for providing additional lighting at the park. The lighting will help determine where security cameras will be placed. He said that additionally, some limbs have been trimmed for better visibility.
Councilman Gravitt asked the city manager to look into putting cameras in the council chambers so that people who are unable to come to the city council meetings could watch them on TV.
City resident Mimi Lowrey reported that the Salad Patch city garden is doing well with produce just beginning to be ready for picking. She said this year there are more volunteers to help. She also told the council that Friends of the Playground will meet next on July 26 at 10 a.m. at the community center and a table will be set up by the group at Liberty Fest on Saturday. There, people who are interested in participating in the restoration of the playground can sign up.
Fire Chief Mike Williams addressed the council to announce that the city has an ordinance pertaining to fireworks. He wanted to put people on notice that it would be enforced this year. He encouraged people to watch fireworks displays Saturday night at the end of Liberty Fest and said that other municipalities have them on the night of the Fourth of July. Safety precautions have been put in place at these shows he said. Last year there were three or four house fires attributed to fireworks in the East Ridge. Other damages he said the fire department sees are severe burns and eye injuries. He said if seen using fireworks, a person would first be asked to stop. If that does not happen, city officials can confiscated and destroy them.