By Jim Young
A proposal by Crossville City Councilman Pete Souza for a vote of "confidence in the city council by Crossville citizens" was ruled out of order during the January council meeting. There was no action by the council, but the matter could be brought back up for discussion at a future meeting.
Souza proposed essentially to place a straw poll on the ballot for the upcoming Cumberland County primary in May that would allow city voters to indicate their confidence by a yes or no vote on each of the current five members of the city council. Souza said he promises to resign if he does not get at least a 50 percent favorable count.
The problem with Souza's motion, according to City Attorney Ken Chadwell, was that adequate information was not given with the meeting's agenda for the public, the press and the other council members to know what Souza was proposing prior to the council's meeting.
“There's been a lot of controversy on how I've handled my office and things that I've said,” explained Souza. “I had several goals and I've pursued exactly what I came into office for, looking out for the welfare of the people. But there's those people who disagree that I've performed my duties properly. I've also had a whole lot of support.
“I stand ready to answer to the voters of the city of Crossville in a confidence or no confidence vote, and if I get a no confidence vote that is greater than 50 percent, I will resign,” promised Souza.
Souza moved to put the matter on the upcoming primary election ballot. Councilman Jesse Kerley asked what such a ballot measure would cost the taxpayers. Souza said he didn't think it should cost anything.
Crossville Mayor J.H. Graham III asked the city attorney if the city's charter would allow such an action and Chadwell responded that the action proposed by Souza had “big problems.”
Chadwell explained, “It can't be brought to this meeting because there was not sufficient notice of what that motion would be. Should Mr. Souza want to bring the item up at a future, lawfully called council meeting, that problem could be overcome and action could then be taken."
Souza objected, saying that at the very last meeting a motion to subpoena his records was brought up without notice.
“Now we've got double standards. If Pete Souza comes up with something, it is wrong,” complained Souza. “If somebody else comes up with something, it's just fine.
“I challenge this,” said Souza. “That means this now goes before a vote.”
“That doesn't mean it goes anywhere. It's a meaningless motion, Councilman Souza,” responded Chadwell.
“Wrong answer!” countered Souza.
Souza said the motion wasn't binding on anyone and the he felt the charter did not say such a vote could not be taken.
Following further discussion, Graham ruled that the motion was out of order but could be brought back before the council at another meeting. Graham also directed City Manager David Rutherford and City Clerk Sally Oglesby to contact the election office and get information about having a referendum put on the ballot and what, if any, costs would be involved. In addition, Chadwell will review the charter and get in touch with the Municipal Technical Advisory Service for a recommendation.
Graham continued, adding that is the reason for items to be put on the ballot so there is enough information to make an informed decision on matters coming before the council.
Councilman George Marlow said he felt he had been elected by the citizens for a four-year term and he made a commitment based on that. Marlow said the most such a vote might put him out would be three months early.
“I feel like I made a commitment and, if I wanted to run again, that's when they would decide, not three months early.” Marlow concluded, “I intend to stick with my commitment.”
Kerley said he agreed with Marlow, adding that elections were held for a reason. He added that he did not feel he could support the confidence vote. Kerley continued, asking about why the city attorney did not stop previous votes before the council.
Chadwell said there had been times in the past when council members don't follow the rule that requires some information to be in the public concerning what action might be taken. When asked again by Kerley why he hadn't stopped other such motions, Chadwell said, “It's not my job to get you follow the law.”
Since last week's meeting, Rutherford and Oglesby have met with Cumberland County Administrator of Elections Suzanne Smith and she is checking with the state to see if such an item could even be put on the ballot. It is unclear yet what the proposal might cost or if it could even make the May primary ballot or the August county election.