Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

August 22, 2013

Motion fails on limiting negotiating power of council

By Heather Mullinix
Assistant editor

CROSSVILLE — With the city looking to bring a new city manager on board, Councilman Pete Souza wants to ensure the council follows proper protocols while conducting city business. Specifically, he called on all city business and negotiations to be done by the city manager, and to rescind any authority granted individual elected officials to conduct city business.

Souza also called for the council to require all workshops of the council to be recorded.

"I'm not here to make cheap shots. I'm here to put things in order," Souza said. "If we're going to hold the city manager responsible, we need to give him the ability to handle all negotiations."

Souza moved that, effective immediately, all city business and negotiations be conducted by the city manager, and that all city elected officials' authority to conduct city business be rescinded. Councilman Jesse Kerley supported the motion.

"We need the city manager to be sure he has a handle on every bit of city business that's going down within the city," Souza said. "When you bypass the manager, you create problems and show that you don't have trust."

Souza referenced a recent request of Mayor J.H. Graham III of an engineering firm for a report on the sewer line serving Brown Elementary School. Souza said such action could obligate city funds.

Graham noted he had been granted authority by the council, prior to Souza's election, to pursue discussions regarding a merger with South Cumberland Utility District and, also, to explore a merger with Tansi Sewer Utility District. The document he requested from the local engineering firm was an opinion letter for the use of the sewer line.

"I'm not saying it shouldn't have been done. I'm saying it should have been done through the city manager and the department heads," Souza said.

Interim City Manager Jack Miller said he did not believe he had ever been hindered or bypassed by council members. He further stated the city had adhered to those ethics and the council-manager form of government, at least since he was appointed to the interim position.

All council members, any member of the public, is welcome to discuss any matter with me at any time," Miller said. "We've attempted to keep all of you closely informed."

Miller said the proposed action was "superfluous" and he urged the council not to approve the action.

City attorney Kenneth Chadwell said no individual member of the council can take action to bind the city to any action or position.

"The city speaks through it's resolutions and ordinances," Chadwell said. "This resolution, as it's written, encroaches on the charter power that you already have...A resolution like this would really have the effect of locking up the business of the city."

Councilman Danny Wyatt said he would support the motion if it were reworded.

"If one or any of us are negotiating for the city, he [the city manager] need to be aware and we need to have his blessing."

Councilman George Marlow said, "I think it's very valuable the friendships and personal contacts the mayor has. He can't do anything without council approval, but a lot of time, just starting to put together a deal, it's very beneficial to the city. I think it's a good thing that we have a mayor that's willing to donate his time and work on as many projects."

Graham said, "It's not just me. I think it's a duty and responsibility for me as well as for the whole entire city council to work and negotiate with the citizens on making Crossville a better place to live."

The motion failed with Souza and Kerley voting in favor and Graham, Marlow and Wyatt voting against.

Souza also stated some workshops of the council have not been recorded and that requests have been made during workshops to turn recordings off. He also said there was a recent attempt to have a workshop meeting not open to the public.

"It is paramount that all meetings be public," Souza said.

Kerley supported the motion and it was unanimously approved.