I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention, but there has been a lot of feather ruffling lately in the government of one of our neighboring municipalities, East Ridge. TheChattanoogan.com has done a wonderful job of reporting every juicy detail, so I want to take this opportunity to paraphrase some of the highlights.
• Dec. 10: A power shift started in East Ridge with the election of Jim Bethune as vice mayor. Bethune takes the post previously held by Larry Sewell. During the last administration, Sewell had formed a voting bloc with Mayor Brent Lambert and Councilman Darwin Branham on many issues, often outvoting Bethune. A reception followed.
• Dec. 13: East Ridge City Council votes 3-2 to fire City Attorney John Anderson, who had been criticized for his charges to the city, effective immediately. Vice Mayor Larry Sewell said the termination was leaving the city in the lurch because it has a major court case coming up next week. After a debate over the question was stopped, Mayor Brent Lambert called it “bush league” but moved on with the vote. He then wished everyone a “Merry Christmas” and had ex-city attorney Anderson lead in a prayer.
• In a raucous four-hour meeting, members of the East Ridge City Council lambasted City Manager Tim Gobble over his hiring of a 19-year-old with a $35,000 annual salary. Councilman Bethune said when he arrived at the city Christmas party he immediately heard from five female employees who all make less than the new hire. Councilman Manning said that all he has seen the new employee, who attends church with Gobble, do is wash the city manager’s car, get the oil changed, get him Cokes and fetch his umbrella for him. Gobble defended the hiring of Chris Clabough as administrative assistant and grants coordinator, calling him extremely bright and personable. “He handles people well and made a high score on his ACT.”
• Dec. 14: East Ridge City Council votes to nix the idea of altering the fire and police departments to include a number of public safety officers, who would be trained for both duties. Public Safety Director Eddie Phillips said there would be three firefighters and six police officers trained to handle both duties. That would allow, he said, the public safety officers to be on police patrol, then switch hats for a fire call.
• East Ridge City Council, in a special meeting, named Hal North as interim city attorney on a three-month trial basis. Councilman Marc Gravitt and Vice Mayor Jim Bethune both praised North. Mayor Lambert said he was taken aback because he said Vice Mayor Bethune had told him he wanted to name attorney Cris Helton to the post. Council members Gravitt, Bethune and Manning voted in favor. Councilman Sewell paused for a time and then said yes. Mayor Lambert abstained.
• Dec. 15: A new majority on the East Ridge City Council has asked Public Safety Director Eddie Phillips to stop driving a Cadillac Escalade. Vice Mayor Jim Bethune said, “We don’t need a Cadillac Escalade running the streets.” Phillips said the state Department of Safety awarded the Escalade, seized from a multiple DUI offender, to the East Ridge Police Department. It was wrecked and simply required $7,200 to repair. He stated “The city was in need of three police vehicles and the decision was made to buy two vehicles and use this Escalade at a cost of $7,200 instead of another new car at $23,000-$25,000+.” Phillips told the council he was driving it “because it saved us buying one. We don’t care (about keeping it). I’m not emotionally attached to it.” Then he added, “I’m walking home.”
Wow. This is the kind of small town drama you just can’t make up. Priceless. I’m keeping an eye on further developments and will report them as soon as possible.
Have a great New Year’s Eve and New Year!
Chuck Crowder is a local writer and man about town. His opinions are his own.