Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

November 16, 2013

No changes made in city ethics policy

By Jim Young
Chronicle correspondent

CROSSVILLE — Councilman Pete Souza's proposed changes to the city of Crossville's ethics ordinance were voted down by a majority of the city council at their regular November meeting saying the current ordinance is adequate.

Council members Souza and Jesse Kerley supported the changes while Mayor Graham and Councilmen Danny Wyatt and George Marlow voted against the changes.

Souza's ordinance would have removed the city attorney as the designated city ethics officer though Souza stated that the action was “no reflection on city attorney (Ken Chadwell) or the execution of his duties in any way shape or form.” Souza said his concern was that the ethics officer is hired by the council and if a member of the council is to be investigated he feels that would be a bad policy. “We need to do better than that and we need to have complete transparency,” added Souza.

Souza had proposed a change would have removed the reference to the city attorney as the ethics officer and given the council the option to have the city manager hire a certified ethics lawyer to handle future investigations. The new ordinance would have given any adult citizen the right to make an ethics complaint that would require the city to determine if the complaint has merit within 30 days.

Mayor J.H. Graham asked new city manager David Rutherford if any adult citizen could make such complaints to him. Rutherford responded that was true and he could be reached by phone or at city hall. Rutherford, who is also a licensed Tennessee attorney, pointed out that if a citizen had an ethics complaint they could directly contact the district attorney's office, the state controllers office or the open records counsel from the controllers office. In addition, if federal funds are involved in any wrong doing complaints, Rutherford added complaints could be made to federal offices as well.

Chadwell said he agreed with Mr. Rutherford's statements and reiterated his comments from the earlier work session that ethics was important but there are many routes for the public to report any ethical concerns already in place. In addition Chadwell pointed out that the current ethics ordinance was recommended by the city's legal consultant at MTAS (Municipal Technical Advisory Service) and also approved by the state. According to Chadwell, any changes would also have to be studied and approved by the state before it could go into effect.

The council approved the sale of two lots on Waterview Dr. that the city purchased a number of years ago for a fire station but plans changed. The city advertised the lots and took sealed bids for the two properties. Two bids were received on each lot.

The two lots were appraised at $45,000 each and the highest bid on the lots came in at $21,550 each. The high bids were placed by Rebecca Koucheki. The other bids were for $16,200 for each lot.

The council discussed the sale and did not have to accept the bids. Councilman Souza said that while the bids were lower than he had hoped, he felt the property should be put back on the tax rolls and the money put into the Snodgrass building project. Mayor Graham said he felt the city should wait to sell the property until the market improves and they can get a better price for them.

Souza moved to accept the high bid on the property and the motion was seconded by Kerley. The motion passed with three votes in favor from Souza, Kerley and Wyatt. Graham voted no and Marlow abstained, saying he was good friends with the high bidder.

Under the city charter, the sale of the property must now be advertised for 30 days before it is finalized in order to give citizens a chance to send the sale to a citywide referendum if 10 percent of voters in the last election sign a petition to do so.

The November Martin Elementary School student of the month Jordan Thompson was recognized. Jordan, a third-grader, received a plaque for his character trait of manners. Jordan was described as “coming to school each day with a fine display of impeccable manners.”