Signal Mountain Council Is At It Again

Saturday, July 7, 2018

They’re at it again. See the update below from Councilman Dan Landrum.

Civic engagement fought off two rezoning requests in our town. Now our water is on the  brink of being sold off without proper deliberation, citizen input or reasons provided to us - the people who elected this body - as to why it is so urgent. And it’s on the agenda for Monday night’s meeting. Along with a vote on the budget and the appointment of a council person to fill in for Dick Gee.

Every vote and issue these days is consequential. Our Town’s future is in the hands of four people (excluding Mr. Gee) whose votes will have ramifications for generations to come.

Read this update and get up to speed on the issue. Stop by Pruett’s this weekend and talk to citizens who have studied this and sign the petition requesting that the council take a step back and be more deliberate in their decision making on this issue. Once our utility is sold, there’s no getting it back.

An Urgent Message from Councilman Dan Landrum

Attention Signal Mountain residents. Your Town Council has scheduled a vote to sell our water system in less than three days. Surprised? So am I, and I'm a council member.

The agenda posted Thursday afternoon, July 5, displays a gross manipulation of the public process by deviating from the previous agenda meeting's decisions. Mayor Chris Howley is abandoning protocol to determine three highly impactful outcomes: ownership of our water system, the selection of an interim council member, and a budget that violates General Fund Policy. These items will be decided Monday, July 9.

PROTOCOL
Agenda meetings, also called work sessions, are where we establish agendas for the next regular council meeting. This process of deliberating and scheduling actionable items is necessary so that citizens know what is upcoming and can plan to attend. It also gives council members time to educate themselves and come prepared. The greater the notice, the better the chance for preparation and citizen participation. The inverse is also true.

It isn't unusual for something unforeseen to come up during the approximate two weeks between the agenda meeting and the regular council meeting. When this happens, it is appropriate for staff and council members to add items to the upcoming agenda via the Town Manager, but items and topics that were added by agenda meeting deliberation are settled. In the paragraphs below, you'll see a recent example of this in which Phil Noblett, Town Attorney, has offered this very opinion

The next few headings address items that are on the agenda for July 9, 6:30 PM at Town Hall. I'll note the deviations in the posted agenda versus what was decided at the Agenda Meeting.

SIGNAL MOUNTAIN WATER DEPARTMENT
The Agenda Meeting decision was to add two items regarding this topic: 1 - a discussion, and 2 - a resolution to send three options to the planning commission for their recommendation. The decision decidedly did NOT put first reading of a final decision on the agenda, as it now appears. The council has not even voted that it wants to sell, or even discussed what it would mean to keep the system. There are hundreds of unasked and unanswered questions about the possible benefits of keeping and restructuring our system.

It is not only our water delivery infrastructure that is being sold. The profitable commodity in this transaction is the water customer. We, the citizens, are THE PRODUCT, and the two bidders think we are worth at least 4 million. Ratepayers need a say in determining our value as customers. The mayor has manipulated meeting dates and unilaterally decided to schedule ordinances of enormous consequence with minimal notice. This vote was not discussed in the agenda meeting. This is a problem.

FURTHER STUDY IS NEEDED
At the last agenda meeting, an ad hoc group of citizens made a formal request to be placed on the next Regular Meeting agenda. Their hope was that the town council would recognize the need for a deeper assessment of this complex subject as it pertains to keeping and reorganizing our water asset, which would be accomplished by creating a Water Systems Viability Committee. Their stated goal is, "recognizing the council has done good work researching options for selling the water system while requesting similar care and attention be given to assessing the steps, costs, and benefits of keeping our system. We contend that the best choice for our town cannot be determined without this essential research and analysis." It is also important to note that MTAS (Municipal Technical Advisory Service) has offered to perform a viability analysis on our system. This would be at no charge to us as a member of the organization. They also provide rate structure analysis at a minimal charge. Both of these services would speed and enhance a Water Systems Viability Committee's work.

Council denied the request, offering to hear the group prior, but not during, the meeting. I later asked that it be placed on the agenda using my right as a council member. The Town Manager relayed that the Town Attorney believes Council's denial created a de facto denial of my request, too. Notice the entirely different standard being applied here compared to Chris Howley's adding of actionable votes.

Regarding the process, the ad hoc group's petition followed to-the-letter the same procedure used by an ad hoc group that ultimately lead to the Signal Schools Viability Committee. This is troubling. We, as Signal Mountain Town Council members, need to remember that at the top of the organizational chart in our Town Charter, the box contains the word CITIZENS. Beneath that box, you'll find the words TOWN COUNCIL.

INTERIM COUNCIL MEMBER SELECTION
To date, Town Council has not voted to determine whether and how Dick Gee will be replaced after he is no longer eligible to serve due to his recent move out of town limits. Dick is still eligible to serve until the end of August. The only item that was to be on the agenda regarding this was a discussion of the selection process. Again the Mayor unilaterally added to the agenda a vote on two candidates. This is before even voting on how we would choose the candidates and before any such opening exists! Prior councils have had to name interim replacements. The process did not involve a free-for-all naming of candidates by each council member, rather, they accepted applications, held a public hearing, and then voted. We should follow the precedent. Instead, we again see an attempt to manipulate the outcome. Please demand that your council follow established precedent.

BUDGET
I've written about this before and you can find that on my Facebook Page.

 

Thank you for making the public aware of this urgent and consequential vote taking place in twodays.

Susannah Murdock 
Signal Mountain, TN

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