Red Boiling Springs residents and business owners filled the seats at City Hall for a special called meeting last Thursday, May 5, requested by City Council members John Cook and Terry Newberry to discuss the effects of the recent flood on the city’s utilities, parks and assets, assess the damage and hear from Senator Mae Beavers, Representative Terri Lynn Weaver and County Mayor Shelvy Linville on financial recovery options.
But while seats were filled by concerned citizens, it was the empty seats of city council members Billy Joe Carver, Willie Brown and Bobby Etheridge, and City Mayor Kenneth Hollis, that caused the biggest discussion of all, as it was announced the four elected officials had ‘refused’ to attend.
With only three members of the council present; Cook, Terry Newberry and Steve Newberry, the special called meeting did not meet the quorum requirement and was not legally able to held.
“We are not having a meeting, the meeting is not happening,” Cook told the crowd. “But I want to share something with you . . . on Sunday this community suffered a lot of water damage, and there’s local people and local businesses that have suffered from it, and on Monday morning Senator Mae Beavers called me and said that she already spoke to our County Mayor and that we needed to start outlining what our needs are going to be . . . Governor Bredesen asked our President to declare 52 counties in Tennessee a disaster area, and as of tonight, the President has declared six of the 52 and there’s hope that he will declare more, but Macon County is one of the 52. Mae said that on Monday, there was already city’s knocking on her door wanting to talk about their needs. So I kept trying to call Mayor Hollis and could not get him to return my call.” (note: since this meeting, Macon County has been included in the Disaster Declaration)
Cook explained the process of requesting a special called meeting to the crowd, but his explanation seemed to only raise more questions as to the reason the meeting was refused by the four council members not in attendance.
“On Tuesday, I called two council members,” Cook explained about the special called meeting process. “Our Charter states that two or more members of the City Council can call a special called meeting. Myself and Terry Newberry called City Hall and requested for a special called meeting at 6 o’clock tonight.”
Cook went on to explain that when a special called meeting is requested, a police officer brings a notice to each council member and the City Mayor to sign in acceptance, or the notice is left at their door in the event they’re not home. The officer also signs an affidavit to certify that the notice was received or left at each council member’s residence.
“I signed the notice first . . . Terry Newberry signed it second, Steve Newberry signed it third,” Cook remarked. “Well then a huge surprise happened - Mayor Hollis, Willie Brown, Bobby Etheridge and Billy Joe Carver refused to accept the paper. I came to Chief (Terry) Tuck and asked ‘In all the years you’ve been here, have you ever seen council members refuse to come to a meeting?’ and he said ‘No, this is the first’.”
Cook said that after Steve Newberry signed the notice, Mayor Hollis “called him out to the hardware store (owned by Hollis) and put pressure on him to reverse his decision and write ‘refused,’ but Stevie knew that wasn’t right . . . and he just wasn’t going to be told what to do.”
Cook said he contacted the City Clerk, Coby Knight, and was told by Knight that Mayor Hollis had prohibited her from attending the meeting and keeping the minutes. He also claimed to call City Utilities Supervisor Brian Long and was told Mayor Hollis told him not to come to the meeting as well.
After becoming aware of the refusal to attend the meeting, Cook says he contacted Senator Beavers and Representative Weaver and relayed what he learned in an effort not to “waste their time.”
Cook announced that County Mayor Linville was also scheduled to attend the meeting, and he too received a call from RBS Mayor Hollis telling him not to come to the meeting.
“This elected council has a duty to run this town for you,” Cook told the crowd. “We felt like we needed to know what was going on, especially when all these towns are getting in line telling about their needs and getting on a list. For some reason, Mayor Hollis wanted to make sure we didn’t have this meeting tonight, and I’m disappointed. This called meeting was not about anybody but the citizens of Red Boiling Springs to let Mae Beavers explain the process we needed to go through to start getting people’s needs met.”
Council member Terry Newberry also spoke to the crowd, saying that he hasn’t been informed about anything going on with the city recovery process and hoped that the meeting would be a way for everyone to become informed.
“Being a council member, we should be kept informed about what’s going on,” he said. “I think that’s what the people elect a council member to do.”
The 20-or-so concerned citizens in attendance had their own questions and comments to add to the discussion, most alarmed by the lack of interest displayed by their local government.
“What do we do?” asked Sherry York. “At our church, we have three buildings that were totally destroyed . . . major, major repairs . . . We have got calls concerning our church and our food pantry from as a far as Rutherford County willing to help so we can continue to help the people in Macon County. I think it should be the elected officials’ place to make sure if you’re a business or a community outreach that they do something.”
Dennis Emery, who owns the Armours Hotel along with his wife, also spoke.
“As business owners, we also have a vested interest in the health and welfare of the whole city,” he stated. “I’m just confused and at an absolute loss as to why we’re not having a meeting. I’m interested in the infrastructure of the city and what our condition is as far as water treatment, trash pick-up and clearing debris. I don’t see the downside in having had the council meet tonight to give us reports. We obviously need to have some changes made, and I think this may be the straw that broke the camel’s back as far as how this city council is functioning and what we need to do to get some leadership in place that is responsive to the people that live here in Red Boiling Springs.”
One member of the crowd asked what Mayor Hollis could do to a council member if he went against him and attended the meeting, to which another citizen referenced “the good ‘ole boy system.”
Red Boiling Springs resident and County Commissioner Phillip Snow also attended the meeting and voiced his opinion, saying that Mayor Hollis was against the meeting because it was Cook’s idea.
“He (Mayor Hollis) controls three council members, and there’s a personality conflict between you (Cook) and him. This is a time to set that aside. This community matters,” he said.
Snow, who was involved in emergency flood efforts in RBS, talked about businesses that received flood damage, listing Cyclemos, the Gas Hut, a church and the Palace Care & Rehab facility, which was evacuated as the water began to rise.
“She was criticized, unjustly, for evacuating when she did,” Snow said about Palace Administrator Rita Crabtree. “Three hours later that rain came down, and you couldn’t get a bus in that parking lot for an evacuation and water flooded the back of the nursing home. She made a good decision.”
One citizen shared his concerns over the safety of water conditions, to which Cook responded, “Brian, in my opinion, does a very good job in our water treatment plant . . . he would not let you drink that water right now if it wasn’t safe. He would’ve been here tonight but he was demanded not to come.”
Cook told the crowd that a list of damaged areas is being compiled by city employees and Mayor Hollis, but that no one has shared that list with city council members.
One RBS resident asked if anyone knew what it would take to oust a City Mayor out of office, and another asked, “If you don’t know more than I do, then what good are you to me as a city council member? The people that usually sit around that table, I would think, and most common sense would tell you, need to be kept informed. Especially on the heels of a crisis like we just faced this past weekend.”
“When you have a natural disaster like we just had, the well-being of the people, the town, the community and the children should be everyone’s concern. And if it’s not, then you’re unhuman,” York added.
Citizens also talked amongst themselves about the compassion and neighbor-helping-neighbor atmosphere that they witnessed during and after the flood.
“It appears to me that everyone was willing to chip in, and get wet, dirty and muddy if they needed to,” Emery commented. “But now that the sunshine has come out and things are drying up and we’re trying to take stock of what’s going on, now the local politics come into play, and that’s unfortunate.”
RBS resident Richard Eden remarked that, “It’s pretty sad when you have an individual like that (Mayor Hollis), that lacks the concern of the community as an elected official. That’s what he was put into that office for. He should’ve been down to every one of these businesses Monday when we were back in business, trying to clean up the mess, and say ‘hey, is there anything I can possibly do to help’? This is absolutely pitiful when you have someone like that’s an elected official. This guy needs to get out of town. This is supposed to be his community, and he’s supposed to be in charge of it, and when you have someone who plays the games he does, that’s just not right in this world and hopefully things will change in time.”
Another resident spoke about the city government in office when the last flood hit Red Boiling Springs 40 years ago.
“They stepped up to the plate when that happened,” he said. “They were Johnny-on-the-spot, they were there for the people. I remember my family got grants because it washed away everything we had, within days.”
Cook urged citizens to contact County Mayor Linville, Senator Beavers, Representative Weaver, councilmen and/or Mayor Hollis with their questions or concerns.
The same afternoon the special called meeting was to take place, Mayor Hollis sent out this press release to local news media:
The city is working along with the city engineers to access the damages to the roads, bridges, parks and utilities. The water and sewer is safe and up and running. Trash pick-up has resumed. Clean up in the park is planned for Friday, with help from the City of Lafayette and Macon County Rescue.
Please bare with us as the clean-up process continues to be slow so not to do more damage. We are cleaning our creeks, ditchlines, streets and under bridges as fast as possible.
If you know of exposed water lines or anything that needs brought to our attention, please call City Hall. If you have any questions or concerning flood damage or recovery, we will do our best to help you.