Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

July 5, 2013

Citizen: Search a 'disaster'

Early council votes violate Sunshine law

By Heather Mullinix
Assistant editor

— The Crossville City Council continues to search for a new city manager, though interested parties have withdrawn their names and councilmen are at odds on how to proceed and questions have been raised regarding council votes to reach candidate finalists. Members of the council suggested starting the process over, but Tuesday the council decided to "reflect" on the process before revisiting the matter.

"This process is a disaster," Crossville resident Lou Morrison told the council during a special-called meeting Tuesday. "It's supposed to be an open and honest search for a city manager to serve the taxpayers."

Morrison's comments were directed at Councilman George Marlow who, following information that possibly one of the top three candidates in a second ballot may withdraw his name, told the council it needed to continue with the process agreed to during a June 25 special-called meeting.

"We said that we were going to pick three and then the council was going to pick from those three," Marlow said. "I think it's important for council to do what it says its going to do and stick to its guns when you say you're going to do something. I think you're changing the rules right in the middle of it if we go back and change it now."

About 45 résumés were received for the city manager position. The council voted by secret ballot June 21, narrowing the list down to seven receiving more than one vote. On June 28, the council again voted by secret ballot, with council members directed to vote for their top three candidates. The council had voted at the June 25 meeting to interview the top three candidates, or all those receiving three or more votes.

The Chronicle requested records of those votes; however, official tallies of each councilman's vote were not kept and the original ballots were destroyed. Councilmen reconstructed their votes from memory for the newspaper.

The Tennessee Open Meetings Act, or Sunshine Law, states deliberations and actions of a governing body are to be conducted in the public, with minutes to be recorded and open to public inspection. Those minutes are to include the results of any votes taken. All votes of a governing body are to be by public vote or ballot or roll call. "No secret votes or secret ballots or secret roll calls shall be allowed." Action taken in violation of the Sunshine Law, according to TCA 8-44-105, "shall be void and of no effect; provided, that this nullification of actions taken at such meetings shall not apply to any commitment, otherwise legal, affecting the public debt of the entity concerned."

In response to the Chronicle's request, city attorney Kenneth Chadwell said he had requested an opinion from Municipal Technical Advisory Service regarding the private balloting and their legal consultant verified those votes should have been made in a public meeting.

Councilman Jesse Kerley cast his first ballot for Randy Martin of Morehead City, NC; David Rutherford of McMinnville; Aaron Elmore of Crossville; Gregg Mims of Gulf Shores, AL; and Jack Miller of Crossville.

On second ballot, Kerley voted for Miller and Elmore.

Councilman Pete Souza cast his first ballot for Jeffrey Skidmore of Crossville; Elmore; Miller; Steve Goodwin of West Point, GA; and Carlo Pilgrim of Boothbay Harbor, ME. On second ballot, Souza voted for Skidmore, Miller and Scott Collins of Newport, TN.

Mayor J.H. Graham III cast first ballot for Martin, Rutherford, Skidmore, Mims, and William (Bill) Hall of Crossville. On second ballot, Graham voted for Martin, Rutherford and Skidmore.

Mayor Pro-Tem Danny Wyatt's first ballot went to Skidmore, Martin, Rutherford, Collins and Gregory Wood of Mansfield, GA. On second ballot, he voted for Rutherford, Collins and Skidmore.

Councilman George Marlow's first ballots went to Elmore; Miller; John C. Hayden of Newport, KY; Scott Martin of Chatsworth, GA; and Richard McGill of Sikeston, MO. On second ballot, Marlow voted for Elmore and Miller. Elmore is Marlow's son-in-law.

Following the first ballot, Martin and Mims withdrew their names.

During the June 25 meeting, Wyatt requested the council take its second vote on candidates in an open meeting. Souza, who had moved to have the council revote on the candidates, choosing from the seven candidates receiving more than one vote, said he didn't object to the council taking that second vote in public, but didn't feel it was necessary at that point in the process. Wyatt, who had supported Souza's motion, withdrew that support without the call for an open vote. Kerley supported the motion which passed with Graham and Wyatt voting no.

Souza said the council would then interview those with three or more votes. "I don't know the number. I suspect three, but the top three unless there's more than three with three votes."

On second ballot, Collins, Elmore and Miller received three votes while Rutherford and Skidmore garnered two votes.

Collins is to begin a new position as city administrator in Fayetteville, with a six-month probationary period, but has expressed continued interest in the Crossville position.

Skidmore and Elmore were both finalists interviewed in the last city manager search conducted in the fall of 2011. At that time, Skidmore was assistant city manager at Weston, FL, and owned a home in Crossville.

Elmore is a graduate of Cumberland County High School and Tennessee Technological University with a degree in finance. He previously worked as an auditor for the IRS but returned to Crossville where he has worked for Farm Bureau insurance and is currently employed by TAP Publishing as a web coordinator.

Rutherford is city administrator for McMinnville.

Tuesday, Souza questioned if the council would have three candidates to interview, with Collins starting the city administrator position.

"I would like to see the top five, or top four if Collins is not available, because I don't want to be restricted to vote for any one or two or three people," Souza said. "I would like to have at least five people up there, myself."

Souza added he did not wish to rush the process, but he also didn't want to delay the search process unnecessarily.

Graham asked the council if perhaps the search should start over if possibly three individuals had withdrawn from the search or if the council should revisit the action taken June 25.

Souza said he'd prefer the council appoint a personnel committee to screen applicants and "keep politics out of it."

Marlow asked City Clerk Sally Oglesby to read minutes from the June 25 meeting and to replay the audio from that discussion.

Kerley said, "The tapes show a clear direction. I don't see how we can backtrack."

Morrison asked Marlow who, and how many candidates, he voted for on the second ballot. Marlow stated his second ballot had marked Miller and Elmore. Morrison said Marlow had failed to follow through with the direction of the council and select three candidates. He accused the councilman of attempting to push his son-in-law through the search process, an accusation Marlow denied.

"Don't talk about morals and ethics until you have some," Morrison told Marlow and then left the meeting.

Souza also suggested starting the search process over.

Souza said, "I believe this whole thing has lent itself to political maneuvering and the objective is to find the best candidate."

Wyatt asked what Souza meant by "political maneuvering." Souza said rumors were circulating in the community that "deals have been cut on this," adding he'd had three phone calls Saturday regarding "deals" he'd made in the process.

When asked from his suggestions on how to proceed, Souza said, "There's nothing I can recommend that wouldn't piss everybody off. That's a given."

Following a short recess of the meeting, Wyatt asked for interviews to begin immediately with the remaining five candidates, a motion that previously failed. As the motion failed in a previous meeting, Wyatt noted Roberts Rules of Order permitted reconsideration in a subsequent meeting. Souza seconded the motion

Graham asked if more applications should be sought for the job. He noted in previous searches, the city would receive more than 100 applications from interested candidates. Now, after carving out seven candidates, only four were left to interview.

He noted the city had a lot of business to deal with at this time, including the downtown infrastructure project.

"Maybe we just need to take some time and reflect and take our time with this interview process," Graham said. "Maybe we just go with what we've got for a while and maybe reflect on all of the things that have been going on in regards to this interview process."

Question was called on the motion to begin interviews, with Wyatt voting in favor and Marlow and Kerley voting no. Souza and Graham initially passed, but then Souza voted in favor and Graham voted no.

Souza asked, "Where are we at in this process?"

Wyatt said, "We're in no man's land."