In the wake of Red Boiling Springs councilman John Cook’s court ordered reinstatement as vice mayor, last Thursday night’s council meeting was expected to be a so-called ‘barn burner.’
But what came as an unexpected surprise to many was the blatant expression of individual emotions and the intensity of personal grudges still held between city officials and much to our astonishment, this newspaper.During the ‘Any Other Business’ portion of the agenda, it was councilman Stevie Newberry that made the motion “to change newspapers” from the Macon County Chronicle to the Macon County Times, in other words to newly adopt the Times as “the city’s official newspaper” and exclusively pay to advertise bids in the publication.
Discussion was made on the topic between councilman John Cook, who reminded the council that the swap would not refrain the Chronicle from reporting on city matters, and councilman Billy Joe Carver, who stated that he didn’t like “what was being said in the Chronicle.”
Carver referenced the term “Chimpanzees,” saying that the Chronicle used the word to describe city council members.
While the term was used by columnist Jimmy Cook in an editorial entitled “The Demise of A Small Town,” published in the Chronicle on November 24th, it was never referenced in connection to the Red Boiling Springs City Council or any specific government body.
Below is an excerpt, including the chimpanzee reference, from that column:
Brain-gain has hurt many small towns. Some of our most intelligent young people go off to college, but following graduation; they choose not to return to their small towns. Consequently, we lose the benefit of the highly intelligent young. What is even more revolting is that the city and county “fathers” don’t want them back for fear that they will be competition for them or their grandchildren. The smart young aren’t going to stay in a place where this type of mentality exists. They leave, and it is difficult to blame them. When a town is being run by a group of Homo sapiens who are only a notch or two above a sophisticated chimpanzee, then it won’t be long until a death notice will appear and we will see it.
While there were never any inaccuracies or falsehoods brought up concerning the reporting of city happenings in the Chronicle, the council voted 4-2 to adopt the Times as Red Boiling Springs’ official city newspaper, and to exclusively spend advertising money with the publication.
Cook, who voted against the change, said “Ya’ll are something else . . . are you carrying out all of your vendettas tonight? Unbelievable . . . When’s it going to stop?”
Voting to make the change were council members Bobby Etheridge, Billy Joe Carver, Stevie Newberry and Willy Brown. Voting against it were John Cook and Terry Newberry.
Immediately after the motion passes, Cook asked Hollis why he was passing around a cell phone at the last public hearing, held earlier this year, and alluded to the fact that Hollis was allegedly sharing pornographic material with council members on his cell phone. Hollis did not respond to the accusations and swiftly adjourned the meeting.
Controversial topics didn’t end there however, as the meeting began with a request by Cook’s attorney Jim Hawkins for the city to reimburse his client for attorney fees, totaling $3,937.50. Hawkins’ request came after the court found no provision in the city charter for the Court to order the City to pay Cook's attorney fees, at which time Judge Jon Wootten made an "advisory suggestion" that Mr. Cook was free to request the City Council to pay his lawyer fees.
The council voted, with Cook and T. Newberry passing, not to reimburse Cook’s attorney fees.
Next to speak, though not next in order on the agenda, was RBS Police Officer Doug McDonald, who approached the council to report an incident between himself and John Cook.
McDonald stated that on November 23rd at approximately 12:05 p.m., Cook, RBS Chief of Police Terry Tuck, City Clerk Paulette Pippin and himself were at RBS City Hall when Cook asked McDonald if Mayor Hollis had asked him to appear in court that day. McDonald claims that he refused to discuss the case with Cook, to which Cook allegedly replied by saying he was a council member and could ask McDonald anything.
“I then told John that he could ask, but that I did not have to answer any of his questions, and then he responded by saying that he could deal with me,” McDonald told the council. “His cell phone started ringing at this time, and that was all that was said until later this night when he started sending me text messages.”
A copy of the text messages referred to by McDonald, were dispersed to council members. In those messages, both Cook and McDonald exchange sarcasms and express negative opinions of one another.
Officer McDonald told the council he felt he had been “harassed” by councilman Cook and claimed that the animosity between them began when he arrested Cook on September 10, 2008.
After Cook denied that he had acted hostile towards McDonald following that incident, McDonald addressed Cook by saying “I want you to know that I’m not intimidated by you whatsoever,” to which Cook replied, “And I’m not intimidated by you Doug.”
“The harassment needs to stop tonight,” McDonald went on to say.
Cook then requested that the messages be read to those in attendance, and his request was denied by Mayor Hollis, who went on to say, “The employees need to treat the council with respect, and the council needs to treat the employees with respect also. I know we was in a lawsuit and that kind of stuff with John, and that . . . but this is just the way it turned out.”
The discussion took a turn when Cook accused McDonald of retaliation against him, saying “This is a vendetta because I turned you in for cheating on your time cards.”
“And that’s been taken care of,” Mayor Hollis replied before quickly ending an exchange of words between Cook and McDonald.
Also concerning the RBS Police Department, Mayor Hollis announced that Assistant Chief of Police Kimball Hall, hired in August 2009, recently resigned from the department, but was hesitant to discuss any background information on the reason for his untimely departure.
“It’s under investigation right now and I can’t discuss it,” Hollis remarked.
When questioned by Cook on who is investigating the matter, Hollis answered, “There’s one, then there’s another one and there may be some more, but we can’t discuss it, it’s under investigation and we’re not discussing it . . he has resigned. It’s internally in the City . . .”
“I’ve notified other parties that needed to know,” added Chief Tuck. “There’s a possibility that there could be other agencies involved.”
“Was he told to resign or else?” Cook asked.
“Uh basically, yeah,” answered Hollis. “I asked for his resignation or to be brought in front of the council and he said he would resign.”
In a surprise move, Hollis then announced that McDonald would be the new Assistant Chief and that the council would “need to set his salary.”
When questioned about his decision and McDonald’s qualifications by Cook, Hollis simply stated, “I’m promoting him. That’s his qualifications. I’m promoting him. I can do it. I can do it . . . so I’m doing it.”
When asked why the Mayor didn’t promote McDonald when former Assistant Chief Steve Evans resigned, and Hall was hired, Hollis responded with, “I didn’t, but I made a mistake . . . I’m promoting him because I want to promote him. I can promote any one of them. That’s my job. I can do it.”
Cook made the motion to keep McDonald’s salary the same, which is now $14.62/hr., until after a 90-day probationary period and then discuss a raise, which the council voted against (3-1-2).
Councilman Bobby Etheridge then made the motion to give McDonald a $1/hr. raise and, after 90 days, another .54 raise, in order to give him the same pay rate that former Assistant Chief Evans was making at the time of his resignation.
It was also approved in a vote of 4-2 to advertise bids for a new certified city police officer.
It was also reported during the meeting, by Water Superintendent Brian Long, that the city sanitation department is losing money on its three commercial dumpsters, located at Red Boiling Springs School, The Palace Care & Rehab and Bill Martin’s.
Currently, the city charges each business $225 a month for sanitation services and is looking at increasing that fee to $600 a month.
City Attorney Jon Wells informed the council that the increase would have to be made in an ordinance, which the council will discuss next month.
“Even if they go somewhere else, we’re still saving the city money,” Long explained.
The three commercial dumpsters are said to bring in a total of 2,320 pounds of garbage a day.
In other business:
- A request was approved, contingent on the agreement from landowner Mr. Parker, to accept the petition requesting the annexation of 10633 Hwy 52, a house purchased by Gene Carman Real Estate to be used as an office location. A public hearing date was set for discussion on the matter for January 14, 2010 at 6:45 p.m.
- The council voted to give Natural Gas Department employee Tim Scott a $1/hr. raise effective immediately to be paid out of the natural gas department fund. Scott never received the $1/hr. raise promised to him three years ago after his probationary period expired.
- Estimates for a new and used backhoe engine were presented to the council, as the current engine is irreparable. A used engine will cost the city around $3,950 including labor, and a new, long block engine would cost approximately $5,900. The estimates do not include parts (oil, filters, gaskets, etc.). The council tabled discussion on purchasing an engine until more information on warranties could be presented.
- The council requested that three estimates from three different companies be presented at the council’s next meeting for a salt spreader. One estimate from the Swenson Spreader Company was presented during the meeting, quoting $6,700 for a new salt spreader with a gas engine and $4,900 for a new salt spreader with an electric engine.