Macon County Chronicle

RBS Vice Mayor's Removal Called Illegal - Petition Claims Mayor, Council Violates City Charter

While three members of the Red Boiling Springs City Council, Terry Newberry, Bobby Etheridge and John Cook (vice mayor), were absent for last weeks regular city meeting, it was unanimously decided by the three city council members in attendance and RBS Mayor Kenneth Hollis, that the role of vice mayor would be taken from John Cook and given to the newest council member Willy Brown.

The topic was brought up by council member Billy Joe Carver during the agenda’s ‘Any Other Business’ section, and no explanation was given before or after the vote.

“I make the motion that we do away with John Cook as vice mayor,” Carver simply stated. After a second by council member Stevie Newberry, Brown and Mayor Hollis agreed to the motion.

Prior to the news that he had been ousted from his role as vice mayor, Cook filed a petition in Macon County Circuit Court claiming that Mayor Kenneth Hollis and council members Willie Brown, Billy Joe Carver and Steve Newberry acted illegally when they voted to remove him as vice-mayor last week.

The petition notes that Carver subsequently made a motion to give the vice-mayor title to Brown, which was also seconded by Steve Newberry and passed by a vote of 4-0 “with no discussion.”

According to the petition, Hollis and the three council members violated both the City of Red Boiling Springs’s 1953 charter as well as the city’s new charter, which took effect on Oct. 8, 2009.

“Our position is that the City Charter is a legal and binding document which cannot be changed whenever the Mayor and three other council members wish to do so,” said Cook’s attorney, James D. Hawkins of Gallatin. “In fact, the Tennessee General Assembly passed a special law in 2009 which established, word-for-word, the language of the City Charter of Red Boiling Springs.”

“This City Charter states that the City Council members ‘shall elect one of their number as vice-mayor to carry out the duties of the mayor in his absence, for a term of two (2) years,’” Hawkins added. “The Charter also says that it can only be changed by a two-thirds majority of the City Council, plus passage of the amendment by the State Legislature, plus publication of the proposed change in a local newspaper, plus a public hearing and another approval of the change by a citizen referendum or a two-thirds majority vote of the City Council.”

Cook, who received the most votes of any candidate for Red Boiling Springs City Council as a write-in candidate in April, was elected by the council to serve as vice-mayor “for a term of two years” on May 14, 2009.

Cook’s petition states that “irreparable harm” may result to the City of Red Boiling Springs if a temporary restraining order is not issued against the Red Boiling Springs City Council, Mayor Kenneth Hollis and City Clerk/City Recorder Coby Knight to “restrain and prohibit” them from removing Cook as vice-mayor – as well as recognizing Brown as vice-mayor – “pending a final hearing in this matter.”

Cook’s petition argues that Hollis and the three council members did not have either the legal authority to act in direct conflict with the provisions of the city’s charter or to effect a change to the city’s charter.

“None of the five mandatory steps required by the 2009 Charter were followed or complied with before the Mayor and the three council members present on November 12, 2009, acted in violation of both the 1953 Charter and the 2009 Charter in attempting to remove and replace John Cook as Vice-Mayor,” the petition states.

“In the alternate event that the City Council should somehow maintain that they were permitted to deviate from the provisions of either the 1953 Charter or the 2009 Charter because of their use of Robert’s Rules of Order, then such argument fails and must be rejected,” the petition continues.

Any use of Robert’s Rules of Order, the petition notes, must yield to expressed provisions set out in the city’s charter.

“The Charter of Red Boiling Springs is the bedrock legal document upon which the City’s legal existence is based, and its provisions must not be lightly disregarded,” the petition states. “The record is clear that the five mandatory steps required by the 2009 Charter in order to amend the Charter were not met prior to November 12, 2009.”

The petition also raises the question as to whether or not Hollis and the three council members may have violated Tennessee’s Open Meetings Act.

“The swift and apparently coordinated action of the Mayor and the three other council members present in passing the two motions … without any discussion gives rise to a possible inference that such motions may have been discussed and coordinated prior to the November 12, 2009, meeting by and among two or more of such four persons, in violation of the Open Meetings Act,” the petition states.

In the petition, Cook asks that the court “immediately” issue an order to Hollis, Knight and the Red Boiling Springs City Council to appear on an expedited basis and show cause – “if any exists” – why the relief requested should not be granted.

Cook also is asking the court to “immediately” grant a temporary restraining order prohibiting Hollis, Knight and the Red Boiling Springs City Council from removing him as vice-mayor and from recognizing Brown as vice-mayor “pending a final hearing and adjudication of this matter.”

In addition, Cook asks that the court to conduct an adjudicatory hearing and to issue a declaratory judgment that the actions of the Red Boiling Springs City Council are “invalid and illegal.”

“Petitioner … further prays that this Honorable Court conduct an adjudicatory hearing and determine whether any of the four City Council members who voted to pass such motions without discussion had discussed such proposed motion prior to the City Council meeting of November 12, 2009, in violation of the Tennessee Open Meetings Act,” the petition states.

Cook also asks that the court award him damages in the form of his attorney fees and court costs, as well as other relief “as the justice of his cause may require.”

“My client … is committed to resolving this matter in an orderly and proper way through the judicial system in order to protect his ability to serve the citizens of Red Boiling Springs,” Hawkins said.

In other news, Red Boiling Springs residents will soon be witnessing much-anticipated road improvements to Dale Street, Donald Drive, Spring Street, McClure Street, Valley View Drive, Zena Street, Grandview Drive, College Street, Heady Ridge Road and Whitley Hollow Road after a paving bid of $120 per ton, from lone bidder RPH Enterprises, was accepted by the council.

Council members also agreed to $100 Christmas bonus for all city employees and turkeys for members of the RBS Fire Department. Mayor Hollis explained that the bonuses were accounted for in the city budget.

Also under the topic of city employees, RBS police officer Doug McDonald was promoted by the council to lieutenant with no pay change and the probationary period for new city employees was lengthened from three months to one year.

After the probationary period for new employees was approved by the council, the motion was made by Mayor Hollis to add nine months to Officer Kimball Hall’s probationary period. Officer Hall was employed by the RBS Police Department three months ago and would have been finished with his probationary period if not for change.

Mayor Hollis also spoke to council members about commercial rates for the city’s sanitation department stating that “We are losing money on the commercial side and we’re going to have increase our rates.”

Red Boiling Springs School, The Palace Care & Rehab and Bill Martin’s were said to bring in a total of 2,320 pounds of garbage a day.

The council agreed to table any decision making on the rates until next month.

A Barge Waggoner, Sumner & Cannon representative presented the council with information on the next CDBG project, stating that the sewer project isn’t expected to qualify for the grant and the city will have to submit plans for the water project.

A resolution was passed to begin the survey process for the project.

It was also reported that the CDGB Cotton Hollow and Sabin Spring project was progressing and is thought to be completed by December 1, 2009.

In other business: -       The stop sign at the Heady Ridge Road and College Street intersection will be moved from Heady Ridge Road to College Street.

-       Results from an inspection on the city’s water tank were reported. No problem areas were discovered inside the tank.