Despite Disputes, Signal Mayor Picks Up Papers To Seek Re-Election

Councilman Landrum, Former Mayor Lusk Also Likely To Seek Post

Sunday, June 24, 2018 - by Judy Frank
Mayor Chris Howley
Mayor Chris Howley

Controversial Signal Mountain Mayor Chris Howley, under whose tumultuous 18 months of mayoralty the town has careened from one political battle to another, apparently has no plans to retire from the field.


Friday – just 10 days after announcing he intends to moderate two candidate forums in which a candidate he already endorsed will be participating – the mayor picked up qualifying papers which, if completed, would enable him to run for another term on the town council.


Should he follow through, candidate Howley will face plenty of opposition.

Four other would-be candidates already have picked up qualifying papers, and more could do so before the Aug. 16 deadline.


As of now, in addition to political newcomers Joe Durek and Susannah Murdock, the field of potential candidates includes two of Signal’s experienced politicos: former Mayor Bill Lusk and current council member Dan Landrum.


Mayor Lusk was a member of the council for 10 years, from 2006 to 2016, and served as mayor for the last eight of those years. He did not seek re-election when his term expired two years ago.


Councilman Landrum, elected to the council in 2016 on a campaign platform that contended “growth without comprehensive planning and prior citizen input leads to potentially reactive decision making,” has been a thorn in the mayor’s side practically since the day he took office.


During the past year, they have butted heads over issues ranging from how to determine the viability of Signal creating its own independent school system, to what should become of the town’s aging but dilapidated Mountain Arts Community Center, to the accuracy of the proposed town budget.


Currently the two are at odds over a number of issues, including expanding commercial zoning beyond the limits set by the town's land use plan and the sale of the town’s water system.


Another bone of contention – naming a replacement for widower Councilman Dick Gee who recently remarried and moved out of Signal – also has sparked heated exchanges during recent weeks.


Soon after the impending departure was announced, the mayor – without asking for applications from anyone interested in filling the vacancy – announced that he already knew who he wanted to appoint.


That led to a wide variety of protests, including some from Councilman Landrum.


On League of Signal Mountain Voters, a blog managed by former Signal Mayor Paul Hendricks, Donald Strickland recently shared a letter sent by Sandy McCrea to all members of the town council regarding the vacancy and how it should be filled.


“Members of the Town Council and Manager Veal,” the letter began.


“None of you were in your current positions the last time a vacancy occurred on the Town Council, so you will not recall the process used to fill that vacancy. As I was a participant in that process, I recall it very well . . . The vacancy was announced and those wishing to be considered completed a questionnaire giving their reasons for applying and what they felt they had to offer  . . . In an open meeting, the council then heard from the candidates, discussed their qualifications, and voted for the person who would fill the vacancy.


“This seems to me,” Ms. Crea’s letter concluded, “a reasonable, democratic and fair way to determine who will fill a vacancy, rather than having one member of the Council solicit a person for the position and then propose only that person for the job.”


Her suggestion was well received on LOSMV.


Councilman Landrum, for example, wrote that he has heard from multiple people who either are interested in filling the vacancy or who wanted to suggest somebody else for the position.


He hasn’t taken any of those names to the full council, he said, because no process has been created for doing so.


“Should it be up to me to decide which single individual is the right fit?” he asked. “This is, without doubt, a political position. This person will be involved in decisions that could impact the town for years to come. I haven’t presented any of those names because I want to see us follow a fair and open process.”


Melissa Muscovalley Barrett, a frequent Howley defender, pooh-poohed that idea.


“Mention names . . . just like the mayor did,” she wrote. “Why is that so hard? And why didn’t anyone come forward to a council meeting to say they are also willing to serve? . . . Sorry to sound harsh, but IF ANYONE wanted a process to be followed for this too then that should have been mentioned when (Gee) first announced he’d be marrying and moving out of the town limits. Not everything has to be political or made into something nefarious . . . I’m so WEARY of people making issues out of nothing.”


“It’s not hard,” Councilman Landrum countered. “It’s bad process.”


Former Mayor Hendricks, the blog moderator, also took exception to Ms. Barrett’s view of how government should work.


“The council is the one derelict in not addressing this formally earlier,” he wrote. “It is not the fault of interested parties not lobbying council members.”


Others agreed.


 “Knowing a council member should not be a reason to be under consideration,” Annie Impink Hall wrote.


Ms. Hall said she has been waiting for the council to announce the process it will use to choose a replacement “since I am willing to serve out Dick Gee’s term and not be on the ballot in November. My guess is many others are also interested in applying for the position (i)f only we knew the process for doing so.”


Ms. Barrett thought that was funny.


“I couldn’t help but chuckle when I read that you’ve been ‘waiting’ for a process to be announced,” she wrote. “NO disrespect intended, but I would think that like me you would have made your wishes known a few months ago.”


“Disrespect, intended or not, is still disrespect,” Ms. Hall retorted.

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