Doug Scarlett

Doug Scarlett
Click the Image for more info on Doug Scarlett!

New Car Dawg App

New Car Dawg App
Click here for details on the New Car Dawg App!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Crossville Police Chief Rod Shoap resigns--Politics appear to be to blame.

Rod Shoap addressed the Crossville city council about upgrading the emergency radio system at a recent council work session.  He resigned June 30, 2016

In a move that surprised many, Crossville police chief Rod Shoap tendered his resignation Thursday afternoon. The highly respected chief had given a new face to the Crossville police department and brought a variety of new ideas that strongly affected the local crime rate in a positive way.

Thursday evening Mr. Shoap said “I was tired of waiting for them.” Shoap said that 2 months after he was hired as interim, city manager David Rutherford had decided he wanted to hire him as the full time chief and had even put him in the retirement program.

According to Shoap, since Rutherford was fired, he'd tried working with the interim city manager Steve Hill on the matter but he kept getting put off. Shoap said initially Steve Hill told him it would be a month. That turned into two months, then waiting for the recall to be decided, then it became two and a half months and he was told it would be after the election.

Shoap said his question was, “Why?”

“(Steve Hill) admitted to me that the only issue is with Kerley, and no one else,” said Shoap, referring to councilman Jesse Kerley. Shoap said that Hill told him “Kerley has a problem with a couple of things you've done.” Shoap explained that those two things were that he wouldn't arrest a couple people that Kerley wanted arrested. Shoap added, “I just can't deal with that.”

Shoap continued, “Then (Hill) told me that they were going to meet this weekend to discuss it. I told him that he couldn't do that, “You can't have a meeting with those council people to discuss this unless you do an open records meeting.”

“I've been in law enforcement for 35 year years and I have never once heard anyone say that we had too many cops.” In so many words, that is what councilman Kerley said at the last budget work session proposing instead to take the funds out of the budget for an additional detective for the police department and use the money to build sidewalks.

“We're no longer the most dangerous city in the state, but were not that far from it,” siad Shoap A detective would be targeting criminals, not just patrolling. Shoap explained that the evening after he resigned he had people he didn't even know writing him and telling him how frustrated they were over this situation.

Shoap continued that he had found out another thing that Steve Hill had done. Shoap said he had planned on attending the state wide police chief's meeting. He said that the vendor's all come and that the department had saved $50,000 to $70,000 by attending last year. He got an email from the group recently saying that he was registered but they hadn't gotten the check for the fee. Shoap looked into it and found out that the city manager had canceled the trip without even telling him.

“I'll miss the guys, I love working there, but I'm tired of (the politics),” said Shoap. He added that he especially liked working with the younger guys and training the next generation of law enforcement. “I've worked as hard as I can work and the department has worked as hard as they can work.

He said in the last 2 months while he was waiting he had been contacted by 5 departments looking to hire him but he didn't even apply for those jobs. He said two of them were Murfreesboro and Lebanon.

He said he didn't have any specific future plans and that he and his wife bought a house and would like to stay here.

Long time Crossville police officer Mark Rosser has been named interim police chief for the time being. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Videos from the Crossville city council special called meeting to approvie final action on the city 2016-17 budget.

First action taken on the budget was to increase the water and sewer rates.  Water rates going up 2 percent and sewer rates up by 5 percent.  Because of the finances of the department, a rate increase has been required by the state comptroller's office.  The comptroller's office wanted the rates increased all at once though in the discussion it was revealed that former city manager David Rutherford had negotiated a phase in of the increase.

Water and sewer rate increase discussion

Though the council says it wants to complete the downtown sidewalk project, the $3 million expenditure and loan was removed from the budget when an amendment to the budget was proposed by council member Danny Wyatt.  The council is waiting for information on the cost of the project if the city hires a 4 man crew that will be dedicated to sidewalk construction and repair.  Numbers on that program are being prepared by city engineer Tim Begley and public works department to be presented at the July regular meeting.

The final version of the city's 2016-17 budget remained in the red by $1.2 million with more than adequate funds in the rainy day fund to cover that amount many times over.  The tax rate remains at 63 cents with no increase over the previous year.

Budget approval and discussion and approval of amendment removing funding for the downtown sidewalk project. 

And the council approved the resolution listing the donations to the outside agencies and non-profits, all reduced by 10 percent from the previous year after a 10 percent reduction to most of them also in 2015-16 as well. 

Action on resolution of donations to outside agencies 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Budget and tax rate approved by city council

Interesting a non special called meeting, the Crossville city council approved their 2016-17 budget and an un changed tax rate of 63 cents. 

The $3 million downtown sidewalk project was amended out with support of 3 council members including Danny Wyatt, Pamala Harris and Jesse Kerley.  The city is looking at a dedicated sidewalk crew and will reopen discussion on the project when the numbers are presented at the July council meeting. 

Even with the change, the budget was approved at $1.2 million in the red.  Funds for project expenses and loan proceeds cancel each other out and the bottom line does not change. 

Council also approved the radio system change so the city will use the new county radio system once radios are replaced.

Downtown Sidewalk project removed from city budget

Budget motion amended to remove downtown project but change will not affect bottom line of budget ' s $1.2 million deficit.

Souza and Mayberry voted no and Wyatt, Harris and Kerley voted to remove project from budget.

Make plans for Crossville's annual July Fourth celebration

Friday, June 24, 2016

Crossville council called meeting for final approval of 2016-17 budget Monday June 27 at Noon.

Following the Friday work session and no changes to the budget document, the council will meet in special session Monday June 27 at noon and are expected to approve the third and final reading of the 2016-17 fiscal year city budget.

The general fund budget stands at a deficit of $1.2 million dollars but has millions in the rainy day fund to cover the deficit amount.  PDF file of the Crossville 2016-17 budget document.

In addition to the approval of the budget, other related items on the agenda include the water and sewer rate resolution that includes a 5 percent increase in water and 2 percent sewer rate increase. Water rate resolution PDF file

The agenda includes approval of the outside agencies of non-profits receive donations, (Non-profit donation resolution)  and the tax rate resolution at 63 cents with no change in the tax rate from last year,

Council will discuss and act on the city's radio system upgrade to join the county digital radio system and approval of a $10,000 grant through the Three Star program provide funds to Cumberland Rising, the anti-drug coalition, a change order for work on landfill pump station renovation and approval of road closures for the Chop Shop block party on June 9th.

Council holds budget work session--final approval on agenda Monday at noon.

The Crossville city council spent an hour Friday June 24 reviewing the 2016-17 fiscal year budget in preparation of approving the final reading Monday June 27 at noon.

The budget stands at $1.2 million in the red with final adjustments made by finance director Fred Houston.  Those adjustments include projects carrying over from one year to the next. Link to PDF file of the full 2016-17 budget document.

The budget includes funds for the city to join the county's radio system and a new detective position for the police department.  Councilman Jesse Kerley questioned the need for the new detective position at a cost of $50,000 to $70,000 a year.  He felt the funds would be better used for new sidewalks.

Police chief Rod Shoap told the council he offered the additional positions as one of several options to improve service to city residents.  Shoap said that the council makes the decision and with out the new position his department would do at least as well as last year and possibly better.

"It's my job to give you the best information and you make the best decision," Shoap told the council.
Crossville Mayor James Mayberry, right, makes a point on the discussion of the 2016-17 budget while council members Pamala Harris, second from right and Pete Souza third from right listen. 

The city's water and sewer budget includes a 2 percent increase in water rates and 5 percent increase in sewer rates.  Those increases have been directed by the state comptroller's office after reviewing the budget numbers for the department. 

Council discussed the changes in funding from the E-911 and additional money is budgeted for the operation as the E-911 board has lost some funding and will not be paying one third of the operational costs as in previous years.  The state law only requires that the E-911 use its funds to maintain the equipment.

At the very end of the meeting, councilman Pete Souza suggested that the council be polled to determine if any changes should be made to the budget that had been discussed of the budget as presented put on the agenda for third and final reading at the special called meeting on Monday June 27 at noon.  

Mayor James Mayberry said he wanted the budget as presented and Mr. Souza agreed.  Council member Pamala Harris said she felt the detective could be left in the budget but wait a few months before the position is filled until things can be ironed out.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Council animosity still apparent in emails this week over city manager and chief of police. Kerley accuses Mayberry of charter violation

What started as a seemingly routine email communication concerning an important city personnel matter seems to have degenerated into sniping, accusations and further examples of the animosity that remains between some Crossville city council members.

Monday evening June 20, Crossville mayor James Mayberry sent an email to interim city manager Steve Hill pointing out that the interim police chief's contract was near its end. Mayberry wrote, “with no other applicants from within the department, and the excellent results with coordination of other agencies, and the overwhelming community support, I request the city manager to pole (sic) the council for their input on the appointment of Mr. Shoap as permanent police chief.”

Mayberry continued, “The council is not authorized to hire or fire city employees. Being the interim city manager would cause reservations on the hiring and firing process and I'm sure cause concern. Therefore, I think council input is of utmost importance on the paramount decision for the city's future.”

That email generated a response email the next day from councilman Jesse Kerley asking that hiring a permanent city manager be placed on the July regular council meeting agenda and accusing the Mayor of violating the city charter by trying to interfere with the city manager's decisions. Since the council has not received any city manager candidate info from the city consultant MTAS, it appears Kerley's proposal may be to hire interim manager Hill permanently.

The following day, June 22, councilman Pete Souza sent his own email. Interestingly enough, Mr. Kerley's emails are blocked by Mr. Souza and Mr. Souza does not copy Mr. Kerley on their emails.

Souza wrote, “First of all the comment of councilman Kerley that the Mayor violated the charter is without merit. He made the same claim on me and I addressed this to the city attorney. It is our (the council's) prerogative to let the city manager know our desires not to be construed with ordering him to hire or fire someone. Mr. Ridley can feel free to correct me if I am wrong. I find it incomprehensible that councilman Kerley can bring up former assistant chief Sherrill but the mayor can't bring up Shoap.

Souza's email went on to praise the work of chief Shoap and his value to the community. He said he added his approval of Shoap with mayor Mayberry's and said while he couldn't speak for council members Danny Wyatt and Pam Harris he did say they had praised the chief in public meetings.

Souza's email continued, “Moving on to councilman Kerley's agenda item to appoint a permanent city manager, this was already decided in a motion. The selection would take place after the upcoming city council election with the help of MTAS.” Souza concludes, “So the question is how disruptive to the community does the city council and for that matter the interim city manager want to be?”

Based on looking at the email forwarding trail, councilman Danny Wyatt forwarded Mr. Souza's email to councilman Kerley and Kerley responded asking city attorney Will Ridley to advise on Article V Section 6 of the charter. Wrote Kerley, “I'm having trouble finding Souza's law degree license on the internet. It APPARENTLY is filed with the state along with his business license.” The last reference to an earlier squabble over Souza's electrical business. Kerley concludes with a political reference to Souza's race for county tax assessor adding in caps, “SIMCOX FOR ASSESSOR.” Mr. Souza was not included in the distribution list for Kerley's email.

City attorney Will Ridley responded to request for information on the charter and quoted the article and section in question.

Except for the purpose of inquiry, the council and its members shall deal with the administrative officers and employees solely through the manager. Neither the council nor any member thereof shall give orders to the manager’s subordinates or otherwise interfere with managerial functions through such means as directing or requesting the appointment or removal of any of the manager’s subordinates…………..”

Ridley continued, “I can only provide information. I cannot make a decision as to whether an individual council member has violated the charter. To do so would violate my ethical duty to represent the council as a whole. Nothing in the above section prohibits a council member from giving their opinion or view point on an employee or department's performance. However it prohibits a council member from “directing or requesting” the city manager to make a particular decision.”

This reporter received some of these emails from Mr. Kerley in an email that opened with his opinion that, “FYI. This is a clear violation of article V section 6 of the city charter.” That remains to be seen.

Councilman Jesse Kerley has released a statement on the Crossville Recall matter.

To my fellow citizens of Crossville.  

I want to first and foremost express how proud I am of our City for the overwhelming support shown Council members Danny Wyatt and Pamala Harris.  The failed recall petition has sent a message to anyone who viciously and without merit attacks our governing body should think twice.

It troubles me that the few who are attempting to disrupt our work for the citizens of the City found it necessary to maliciously attack me and falsely accuse me of actions which have never happened.  No doubt their empty allegations toward me were to take the focus away from their inability to obtain very many signatures on the petition.  It matters not.  I will not lower myself to their standards and get into a petty name calling match and waste valuable time that I need to put in working with the other progressive-minded council members to keep Crossville headed in the right direction.

We have very positive things happening in our community. An unprecedented cooperation between the City and County governments, over seven-hundred jobs available for those who want to work, record sales tax collections in this fiscal year and many more wonderful projects planned for the great benefit to our residents.  I will continue to serve as a conservative voice to help grow our City and ensure Crossville is a place where folks are proud to call their home.

Jesse Luke Kerley

Crossville city council working to finish 2016-17 budget--work session Friday and called meeting Monday

A budget work session on the 2016-17 fiscal year city of Crossville budget has been called for 11 am on Friday June 24 and is not expected to last over one hour.  There have been some final adjustments to the budget based on projects that will carry over from the current fiscal year to the next and a discussion of other possible changes will also come up for discussion during the work session. 

There will then be a special called meeting on Monday, June 27, at 12:00 noon to adopt the budget and tax rate on 3rd reading.  In addition, there will be other agenda items that need approval.  That agenda will not be processed until Friday afternoon once the final budget document is ready to be distributed.  The additional items that are expected to be on the agenda include:

1.       Approval of Change Order #1 – Landfill Pump Station Renovation
2.       Approval of temporary street closings for Chop Shop block party on July 9
3.       Approval of water/sewer rate resolution
4.       Resolution approving outside agency allocations for FY2016-17
5.       3rd Reading of Ordinance adopting a budget for FY2016-17
6.       3rd Reading of Ordinance adopting a tax rate for FY2016-17
7.       Discussion and action on Radio Communications System Upgrade
8.       Approval of Three Star Contract

Crossville city council worksession set Friday at 11 am

A work session is set for Friday June 24 at 11 am on the budget for the Crossville city council.

The meeting notice was given via email at 11 am Thursday exactly 24 hours prior to the meeting, barely meeting the required deadline.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Long Planned Indoor Water Rec Center Referendum Expected on November Ballot

Crossville city council has studied an indoor recreation center with a swimming pool off and on for 15 years.  As the years have passed, the estimated cost has increased.  The total now expected to be between $19 and $20 million. 

The city council discussed the matter in a work session June 16 and it came before the county commission at their regular meeting on June 20 to ask that the referendum be put to citizens countywide.

The proposal is to put the matter before voters and give them a chance to decide if they are willing to support a bond issue to borrow the money necessary to build the project with the tax increase that would be required to fund the payments for the community amenity. Previous surveys and public meeting have shown a high level of support by citizens for such a facility but when the question becomes approval of a tax rate increase, officials are unsure if such a measure would continue to still have that level of support. 

The referendum  would be capped at a maximum of $20 million expenditure for construction and, if approved countywide, the expected property tax increase would be about 10 cents.  If the referendum is put just before city voters, the city tax rate would increase by about 38 cents and residents out side the city would then be required to pay a higher fee to use the facility.  Neither of these amounts includes the funding necessary for operation of the facility estimated to be $1.3 million.  A portion of that cost would be offset by membership and use fees while the balance would come from tax funds.

City council discussed a project that would be similar to a facility at Manchester Tennessee to include a 16,000 sq. ft. gymnasium with a second level for a walking track, locker rooms, classrooms, racquet ball courts and a full size competition indoor pool.  In addition to the 66,000 square foot building, the Manchester facility also has an outdoor water park feature with slides, a lazy river and splash pads.  The outdoor water feature may or may not be included in the Crossville facility as it would add another $3 million to the total cost.  

Crossville city councilman Jesse Kerley said it was time for the people to decide if they wanted it or not.  Cumberland county agreed and gave permission for the matter to be put before countywide voters with approval to come on the actual language of the ballot question to come back before the county commission for final approval.  

One possible location for the facility is next door to City Hall on Main Street on the site of the current Villager Inn.  City officials say the property is available for sale but no price has been quoted and it would also require additional parking.  The photo below shows a footprint of how a facility similar to Manchester would fit on the property.  

The deadline to have the matter turned into the election commission for inclusion on the November ballot is August 25.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Full statement issued by Councilman Danny Wyatt on the announced ending of Recall efforts.

After learning that the recall petition has been withdrawn to have myself and Council Member Harris removed from the Council,  I believe the people have spoken - again.  

I was elected to the City Council to serve the people to the best of my ability and that is what I have tried to do.  I believe in our City and its people.  

We have much work to do and I think we can do it if we join together for the common cause of progress for our town.  It has not been easy with the problems the Council has been subjected to over the years, but that does not mean we can simply throw in the towel. I will continue to serve the people through all adversity to make certain our city grows and provides the best services to the taxpayers. 

I will not address the ones who wish to cause turmoil and disarray for the council.  They have their reasons and causes but they are outweighed by the greater objective of tending to the business at hand - making Crossville the best place possible to live, work and play. I want to thank the voters who put me in this position and will continue to diligently serve your best interest.

Recall efforts against city council members Danny Wyatt and Pam Harris ended

A press release issued by Howard Burnette of Crossville, the man behind recent recall efforts, says he is no longer perusing the recalls against Danny Wyatt and Pamala Harris.

The letter gives a number of reasons and outlines issues with city councilman Jesse Kerley including incidents previously reported on social media that he Danny Wyatt had confronted Burnette at the Crossville flea market a few weeks ago.

Burnette's letter says that he believe ending the the campaign "is in the best interest of the safety of me and my family." The timing of the letter is interesting considering the group had only four more days (June 24) to come up with the necessary 2225 signatures needed to put the recall on the ballot for November 8 election.  

Burnette's letter alleges "threats and actions by council member Kerley."  Burnette also wrote that he had witnessed what he called, "the assault on council member Souza" and described alleged vandalism incidents at the Mockingbird Drive home of J. R. Blankenship.  None of the items brought up in the letter have resulted in any known charges.    

We attempted to reach Burnette hoping to find out how many signatures the group had actually collected, but when he returned the call, he said he had told all his supporters to stop collecting signatures.  Burnette said he did not know how many signatures they had.  There has been much speculation that the group was still short of the necessary number of signatures.  

Councilman Danny Wyatt, one targets of the recall efforts, commented on the end of the recall efforts, "There's no hard feelings.  I'd like to thank Howard and his supporters, They exercised their first amendment rights and did what they thought was right.  I'd especially like to thank the people of Crossville that supported me and didn't support the recall.  I think we need to dust off and try to continue to make Crossville be the best place that its been for years."

Here is a video of Howard Burnette speaking before the Crossville city council at the April regular meeting stating that he wanted a completely new city council.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Crossville looks at joining the county radio system for emergency services

The Crossville city council is considering a large expenditure recommended by the Crossville police and fire chiefs and would put all emergency radio traffic on the county's current digital system.

During a work session June 16, Crossville police chief Rod Shoap explained to the council that he has serous concerns about the current VHF radio system the city is now using and encouraged the city to partner with the county on their new system. According to Shoap, the new county digital radio system is working extremely well and with the city's older system there are times and places that his officers can not adequately communicate to the emergency communications dispatchers, creating what could create a dangerous situation.
Crossville police chief Rod Shoap explains the need for new radios to the city council

Chief Shoap said that even he has be caught in a situation where he could not raise the dispatch on his radio while he was making a stop and had another officer not happened along there was a possibility that something could have gone wrong.

Part of Shoap's presentation included a recording of an example of the problems his officers have been having with there communication.  The video below shows the problems Crossville police officers face with the current system.

Poor radio communication example

In addition, the way the current radios work, the police officers can't talk directly to sheriff's deputies as the tow systems are incompatible with each other. Said Shoap, “The sheriff's office is my best business partner. If I can't talk to him then I'm in trouble. This change will solve all those problems”

County Mayor Kenneth Carey and Emergency Management director Kieth Garrison attended the work session and talked about the system and saying that they welcomed the city to join the system. In addition to law enforcement and fire departments, the system will be fully expandable into the future and allow the addition of utility maintenance, road departments and school buses when the need arises for communication.

Cumberland Co. Mayor Kenny Carey talks about the radio system benefits

Chief Shoap said that in a countywide emergency such as an ice storm, there could be as many as 250 people working in the field and on the radio system. “The radio is as important as the officer's weapon or the firefighter's turnout gear,” stressed Shoap. He added that the current system leaves a very real possibility for a responder to be hurt and the possibility for litigation as well.

Fire chief Mike Turner said, “I think it's time, last week we had a mutual aid fire and we couldn't communicate.” He added, The department is reaching a level of recognition statewide and the biggest drawback is communications. It's a hindrance.”

EMA director Garrison told the council, “For 30 years we've been looking for a good communications system and this is it.”

The total cost of the upgrade is estimated to cost $1,111,497.60 and that would include additional channel capacity for the county's system, necessary software upgrades and radios for police, fire, Catoosa, utility maintenance and Meadow Park. All the current radios used by the city would have to be replaced as part of the upgrade. Some value is expected with the trade in of the current radios that will offset up to about $100,000 of the cost.

According to Shoap, if the funding is approved by July 1 he expects the system would be up and running by October 1 this year.

The council must decide if they want to move forward with the project and the expense and if so, do they want to take money from the rainy day fund balance or as was recommended by city finance director Fred Houston use a short term capital improvement note to be paid back over three years.

The council discussed briefly in the work session that there was support for the three year note and Houston will put that in the 2016-17 budget.   

Friday, June 17, 2016

Crossville and 11 other communities receive $15,000 award for Tennessee Downtown program.

Crossville has been selected as one of 12 communities to be awarded $15,000 toward Downtown Revitalization.  Tennessee Downtown is a precursor to the Tennessee Main Street program.

Other communities awarded include Ashland City, Dickson, Gainesboro, Hohenwald, Humboldt, Lenoir City, Livingston, Lynchburg, Manchester, Wartburg and Woodbury.

The communities will be provided some training and have two years to complete a project using theri funds and the goal is to leverage the $15,000 into more suing partnerships and donations.  

Link to state announcement:

Photo by Jim Young

Photos showing windmills visible from Oak Ridge Tennessee

Both of the photos in this post were shot from near the Walmart store behind the old Oak Ridge Mall.

In this photo, the red area marks where the close up photo below is taken.  The windmills are visible from parts of Oak Ridge, but do not seem to create any issues for the residents there.  The windmills that belong to TVA have been present for many years.

There is a quick survey on the blog page for you to vote your feelings on the windmills proposed for Crab Orchard, TN.

The red box shows the same area shown in the close up photo below.

Several windmills that overlook the city of Oak Ridge, TN

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Exclusive Interview with J. R. Blankenship--”I did not intend to break the law.” From Council meetings to Court to Yard Signs--the saga continues

The saga of J. R. Blankenship, where it stands now, 
and how it is sparking further discord in the city council.

What started, according to J. R. Blankenship, as a way “to inform elected officials of something they should be concerned about” has turned into a dispute that stretches across multiple courts, numerous accusations and numerous signs.

This reporter had an exclusive interview with Mr. Blankenship, has spoken to Crossville Police Chief Rod Shoap and sat in on Crossville municipal court held June 14 where motions from Blankenship concerning his citation and fine were heard.

The man, J. R. Blankenship, who gives his address as 279 Mockingbird Drive first came onto the public radar when he spoke at the end of the March 10 regular city council meeting with a very brief statement claiming he had evidence of council members who were “in breach of their fiduciary duty.” He continued that he had “polled 25 law professors” and added that he would make the information public after he heard back from them.

J. R. Blankenship's comments at March 10 council meeting

Distributing unsigned material

The next time Mr. Blankenship's name came up was a day or so after the council meeting when some fliers (and no one seems to be able to determine exactly how many) were reportedly found posted on downtown businesses offering “a reward” of up to $500 for photos of any city elected or appointed official doing something wrong. The flier promised anonymity for the informant and that the evidence would be published. The flier was signed “Sam at the Daily Bull” with a phone number. According to Blankenship, he is known to some people as Sam.

The "unsigned flier"

The first reports of the fliers are believed to have come from city councilman Jesse Kerley who reportedly said he'd had several complaints about the fliers from downtown businesses. As the investigation moved forward, there were more emails flying between councilman Kerley, former city manager David Rutherford, city attorney Will Ridley and police chief Rod Shoap.

Emails from Mr. Kerley went to the city attorney and city manager. The city manager was asked to forward Kerley's email to the police chief suggesting the perpetrator should be charged with littering. Kerley's email to Ridley asked if someone distributing fliers needed a permit. Ridley responded that it appeared the action could be in violation of two city ordinances and Ridley said he had informed the police of his findings.

According to Police Chief Rod Shoap, Mr. Blankenship was quickly developed as a suspect and a copy of the ordinances was delivered to the house on Mockingbird Drive. Shoap said that Blankenship called the department and offered to turn himself in.

In an exclusive interview between this reporter and Blankenship, he said he had researched state and federal law before distributing the fliers but said he had not considered local ordinances. Said Blankenship, “I had no intention to break the law.”

Blankenship said that emails between Shoap and Rutherford indicated to him that Shoap felt there should not be prosecution. An email from Shoap to Rutherford said, “the culprit has confessed-he understands what he did was wrong and will be willing accept the cite, however, if we just warn him I am hoping he does not make a return visit.” Blankenship concluded that he would not have been cited except for direction by councilman Kerley.

We spoke with Chief Shoap and he said Blankenship's conclusion was inaccurate. According to Shoap, a council member can not direct his action.  Chief  Shoap stated that he would not allow that to happen. Shoap stressed that Blankenship had always been respectful to him and his officers but he said that he had received a call from a downtown business manager about the flier. Shoap described the complainant as “put out” telling the chief that he did not allow anyone to put fliers in his windows. Shoap said because of that complaint, on March 24, 2016 his department issued a single citation, not 30 citations as has been reported elsewhere.

Shoap commented on the situation, “I do want him (Blankenship) treated fairly.”

Shoap told this reporter that he only saw one flier and he said four were actually documented by his department. Shoap also said that Blankenship himself did not know how many fliers had been distributed. Shoap told us that he wanted to be very cautious on the action taken as he felt he needed to consider how charges might affect other fliers distributed for things such as fundraisers that kids might put out.

Shoap added that up to this point he and his officers had spent some 40 hours on the matter of the fliers, time he felt could have been better spent protecting the public.

Blankenship stated in our interview that he didn't know how many fliers had been put out but he had 50 of the fliers printed and he still had a stack of them at his house.

From Council to Court to yard signs

Blankenship's anger is generally directed at councilman Kerley who he feels has pushed the prosecution of him through his position on the council and friends that, according to Blankenship, include city judge Ivy Gardner. Blankenship's feelings come through in the yard signs at the Mockingbird Drive house and the signs he has brought to city council meetings in the back of a pickup truck. In our interview he described Kerley's actions in the flier case as “official misconduct and oppression.” His comments mirror comments in a memo from councilman Pete Souza to city attorney Will Ridley dated June 1, 2016 that questions the actions taken in the case against Mr. Blankenship and Mr. Kerley's involvement.

Two page memo to city attorney Will Ridley outlining Pete Souza's concerns about Kerley's actions

It appears that some of the animosity currently between Councilman Kerley and Councilman Souza stem from this issue as well with Kerley accusing Souza of assisting Blankenship with the plywood signs he put up in his yard on Mockingbird Drive. Souza has also sent a letter to the Tennessee Open Records office after Blankenship filed several open records requests and received no information. Form letter responses indicate there are “No such records exist.”

Letter from councilman Pete Souza to State Open Records office

Blankenship faced his citation on the fliers May 10 in Crossville city court before city judge Ivy Gardner. After hearing about the case, Gardner found Blankenship guilty of 30 counts of “distributing unsigned material” from a single citation and fined the maximum $50 fine on each count totaling $1500. Blankenship also has questioned the ordinance under which he was cited and it appears that no one except Mr. Blankenship has ever been charged with the offense since the ordinance has been on the city books since the 1960's.

As this situation has further played out, city judge Ivy Gardner has filed a request for a restraining order against Blankenship claiming in a court filing that he “has engaged in a pattern of conduct to harass and unnecessarily alarm” Ms. Gardner. The action was filed for Ms. Garner by attorney Kevin Bryant.

Complaint against Blankenship (left) filed by city judge Ivy Gardner and temporary restraining order pending the next court date of July 7, 2016

Prior to the initial hearing on the matter, a temporary restraining order was issued by General Sessions Judge Larry Warner. At the court appearance, a continuance was granted for Blankenship to hire an attorney to defend him. The next court date on the mater is July 7 at 1 PM.

It appears that the restraining order request comes from the sign in Blankenship's yard on Mockingbird Drive that says, “Twerley Trash=Quid Pro Quo 107 143 68” The numbers correspond to house numbers of property owned by councilman Jesse Kerley, his brother Joseph Kerley and a house owned by Joe B. Gardner, Jr.

279 Mockingbird Drive with yard signs including one some perceive as a threat

When asked about the numbers on his sign, Mr. Blankenship said it was a joke and they were the combination to his safe. He said he was willing to let anyone contact the man who keeps his safe. Crossville Police Chief Rod Shoap said that a safe combination was also what Blankenship told him the numbers represented.

Blankenship's Latest Court Appearance

Even though he is under a temporary restraining order, J. R. Blankenship appeared before Crossville city judge Ivy Gardner in Crossville city court on June 14 concerning motions he made following his guilty finding on distributing unsigned material and fined $1500. Blankenship filed a motion for discovery seeking documents, records and more related to his case. In addition Blankenship is seeking written “finding of facts” and “conclusion of law” for his case related to Judge Gardner's decision on her refusal to recuse herself, dismissal of Blankenship's counter claim and the fine imposed.

Gardner told Blankenship that her court was a municipal court and was not a court of record meaning that civil procedures do not apply and she was not required to provide the information he was requesting. Stated Gardner, “If a higher court tells me to do so I will do it gladly.” She said that she currently has no jurisdiction on the case as it was on appeal to a higher court.

Blankenship also asked that Gardner recuse her self from the case saying she “bore false witness against me.”

The city court fine has been appealed to circuit court and is scheduled be heard by Judge Jonathan Young on August 29, 2016.

Blankenship Appeal Notice to Circuit Court

Vandalism of Blankenship's Yard signs

Blankenship shared an image from the infrared camera in his yard that shows a person wearing a hoodie, shorts and tennis shoes wielding what Mr. Blankenship says is a sledge hammer that was used to knock down the signs that were nailed to a tree. While the face is unclear, Blankenship would like to know who the person is that damaged his property

Unidentified vandal in Blankenship's yard destroying signs 

BOLO recieved from Crossville PD Wednesday Morning 7:51am

Followup call from authorities states the man has been located by police.  Disregard original message.


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Crossville city council election update--Two petitions already returned

The deadline to qualify to have a name put on the November 2016 ballot for Crossville city council is still 2 months off, but at least two candidates have turned in their petitions already.

According to the Cumberland County election commission, former mayor J. H. Graham and first time candidate Terri Manning have both turned in their petitions.

Others who have taken out petitions include incumbent councilman Jesse Kerley, Barry Field and Jeanette Parsons.  No additional candidates have taken out petitions.

The deadline to turn in petitions with necessary signatures to the election commission office is August 18 at Noon.

Council to meet in work session on emergency radios and indoor recreation facility

The Crossville city council holds a work session Thursday evening June 16 to discuss two items of business.  The meeting will be in the third floor conference room 317 and starts at 5 PM.

The council is considering the purchase of new radios for police fire and city employee use that would allow them to access the county's current radio system.  Currently the city has separate VHF radio system and according to Police Chief Rod Shoap and Fire Chief  Mike Turner at previous meetings they have tested the new county digital radio system and found it to be superior to the system they currently use.

In addition to better coverage, the system will allow the city to communicate directly with county units, something difficult to do with the current system.  Chief Turner said FCC regulation changes have dropped the power out put from 100 watts down to 15 watts on portable radios.

During the work session, there will be both types of radios at the meeting and council will be able to see the difference between the two systems.  The cost of the change over is estimated to be $1,135,000.

Estimated costs for an indoor recreation facility similar to the one at Manchester TN will be presented to the council.  The council will discuss the type of facility and costs that might be put on the ballot as a referendum for city voters in November.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Souza unsuccessfully tries again to reverse standing rules--says he will keep placing on agenda as long as he's in office

For the third month in a row Mr. Souza requested to have an item on the agenda proposing to rescind the standing rules adopted March 10, 2016 that abolished monthly work sessions and ended public comments during an agenda item. When this item came up on the agenda, Mr. Souza began by saying, “When we stopped the public from being allowed to speak, curtailed their right to present their case to their elected officials.”

Mayor Mayberry asked Souza if he had a motion? Souza apologized and moved to rescind the standing rules adopted on March 10, 2016. Mayberry asked for a second and receiving none, seconded the motion himself.

Souza said he will continue to put the item on the agenda every month while he remains in office.

Councilman Jesse Kerley said he disagreed with Souza saying that he had sat on the council for four years between 2006 and 2010 when public comments were never permitted. Said Kerley, “That has changed. People have the option to speak in public.” Kerley continued saying that the reason to redo the standing rules was because “people were getting up here grand standing and not speaking to the motion on the floor. We are here to conduct the city's business.”

Souza started to comment about the remarks Mr. Kerley made during a may special called meeting concerning the settlement with John Turner referring to “signs painted in a barn.” Kerley called point of order saying that Souza's comments had nothing to do with the item on the floor. Mayor Mayberry ruled against Mr. Kerley.

Souza asked to address the city attorney Will Ridley asking about the concept of violating the rules once making the rules then unenforceable as took place on separations between beer licensees and churches.

Ridley explained that there was a difference between ordinances that apply to all Crossville citizens and those that the council puts upon themselves. The standing rules and Robert's rules of order are ruled on by the mayor according to Ridley. If a council member does not agree with the ruling an appeal should be made at that time.

The motion on rescind the standing rules failed in a tie vote with Mr. Souza and Mayberry in favor and Mr. Kerley and councilman Danny Wyatt opposed. Pamala Harris was absent for the meeting.

Souza says ACLU Complaint filed over public comments at May 12 Council meeting--Council shuts down free speech disucssion

Normally minutes of the Crossville city council meetings are handled in the consent agenda without discussion or controversy. That was not the case during the June regular meeting.

Council member Pete Souza requested that the minutes be pulled from the consent agenda and acted upon separately. Minutes for May 17 and 23 meeting were approved with no discussion and councilman Jesse Kerley moved to approve the minuets of the regular May meeting held on May 12.

Souza addressed the minutes saying the city attorney Will Ridley had looked into the matter of paraphrasing the actions at the meeting in the minutes. Souza added that there was nothing wrong with that practice. “However,” Souza continued, “there are some omissions in exactly what was said.”

Souza said a constituent came to him and showed a complaint that was turned over to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on an alleged violation of First Amendment rights and that was the reason for his pulling the matter aside to discuss.

“What comes of that (complaint), I don't know,” said Souza. “I'm not involved with it. So basically, at this point I want to make a comment that the contents of May 12 are not inclusive of everything that was said at that meeting.”

A roll call vote on approving the minutes passed unanimously with council member Pamala Harris absent.

Near the end of the agenda, Mr. Souza had requested an item to discuss what was captioned as “Discussion and possible action on failure to comply with the standard rules and Robert's Rules of Order during the May 12, 2016 regular scheduled meeting, and violation of first amendment rights.”

The main thrust of the first amendment complaint is that council members interrupted a public comment by Jeff Dahlberg at the end of the May 12 meeting during his three minutes telling him that he could not make public attacks against any council members during his time to speak. Dahlberg was speaking on behalf of the Crossville Recall and Crossville Citizens for Good Government website.

Souza started out on the item saying he was requesting three minutes to address the issues involved and after comments from Mr. Kerley about what procedure should be followed, Souza moved that he be allowed the time he requested and the matter was supported by Mayor Mayberry. Kerley stressed that any discussion should be on the motion only and not Mr. Souza's comments. A vote on the motion to allow Souza to speak was quickly voted down in another tie vote with Souza and Mayberry in favor, Wyatt and Kerley opposed.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Question raised over whether Crossville Recall signs qualify as political or not

Are they political or are they not? That is the question about the signs put up in support of the recall effort against city council members Danny Wyatt and Pamala Harris.

Do these qualify as political signs or not?

The city of Crossville's sign ordinance has an exclusion that allows political signs while outlawing other similar temporary signs that are not political. But even political signs can not be put up as to block views and create hazards for drivers.

Councilman Souza working on recall sign

Thursday evening before the city council's meeting, city officials including city manager Steve Hill, city attorney Will Ridley and codes department director Jeff Kerley met with councilman Pete Souza who has been seen putting up and working on some of the Crossville recall group's signs. According to the discussion, it appears that the current signs may not be political based on the opinion of Cumberland County Administrator of Elections Jill Davis.

Councilman Souza said that if it was clear that the signs did not qualify as political messages, he would have them taken them down. Souza said that the city has removed signs before that have been a hazard and usually those signs are collected and the city tries to contact the person they belong to and will hold them for a few days so they can be picked up.

City codes director Jeff Kerley said that he felt the ordinance on signs needed to be fixed, adding that it had many holes in it. He added that all signs need to be treated the same way. Councilman Souza also agreed that for the enforcement to be fair it had to treat all signs the same.

While the matter of signs did not come up during the city council agenda, during the meeting a pickup truck was parked in the parking lot in front of city hall with another sign in the back. The same truck was at last month's meeting with a different sign and appears to be brought to city hall by J. R. Blankenship who reportedly has put up the signs on Mockingbird Drive that mention councilman Jesse Kerley.

Parking lot political sign

The signs around town were brought up during a public comment at the end of the meeting. Citizen Bill Harwell complained about the political signs as well as the signs on Mockingbird Drive. Mr. Harwell started by reading some of the 101st Psalm and followed up with a discussion of the signs.

Public comments by Bill Harwell

Harwell said that county election coordinator had told him that it was not political season yet and the signs did not qualify as political signs. He said the signs were in violation of federal voting codes. He also felt the sings on Mockingbird land should be brought down or at least brought to someone's attention.

Crossville mayor James Mayberry asked if Harwell's comments were in reference to the earlier meeting and Harwell responded that they were. Mayberry said he was sure those involved in the meeting would looking into this.   

Friday, June 10, 2016

APEX Wind Farm had more detractors then supporters at the Crossville city council meeting

While admitting that the Crossville city council had no “dog in the hunt” over the proposed wind farm project near Crab Orchard, city councilman Danny Wyatt proposed that the city not support the project and encourage the county to do the same.

Reasons given by Mr. Wyatt for his motion include, “the effect on our natural beauty and tourism.” Wyatt also claimed that the project had “a large amount of tax subsidy tied to it.” Wyatt's motion was supported by councilman Jesse Kerley and after lengthy discussion was approved.

Mayor James Mayberry stated that there were people in favor of the project and people opposed. Mayberry added that he personally had business in that area and he would abstain when it was time for a vote.

Councilman Pete Souza sought the floor and spoke in support of the project saying he was disappointed by Sen. Alexander's letter. He added, “I have some reservations about information that was provided by government mail outs.” He said there were tousits destinations like Pebble Beach and Palm Springs that had wind mills and they did not seem to bother them any.

 Council members discuss the proposed wind farm near Crab Orchard. L-R are Pete Souza, Danny Wyatt, Mayor James Mayberry, Jesse Kerley and city clerk Sally Oglesby

Souza said you can drive all over the US and see them, especially out west, “I was out underneath one three weeks ago and I didn't hear any noises. Souza continued saying comments were made that the power was not needed and he reminded the audience that when there was a drought that electric customers had been asked to turn their air conditioner's off during the day. He explained that the power gird in the US and Canada are all tied together and power generated at Hoover Dam or Oxbow were all tied to lines here.

“People are worried about nuclear waste, continued Souza, “Some people worry about the safety. People don't want to dam up anymore rivers and stop the fish, no more hydroelectricity. They don't want solar panels because it obstructs the travel of tortoises. They don't want wind farms because it may kill birds or make noise or whatever.”

“Somebody's got to start thinking, because since I lived in this county, I've seen the county grow. So, are we going to use renewable power?” Souza said he had close friends that were opposed to the project.

Souza summed up, “I believe this is not going to hurt the county. I think that that's misinformation.” He added that the use of grant money depends on which side of the argument you want to stand on. He added, “We use it all the time. I'm not going to support this.”

Councilman Wyatt responded saying he didn't want to take a chance of us losing our appeal of our community. “That's how we got to where were at.” Wyatt ticked off elected officials that opposed the project including state representative Cameron Sexton, US Representative Diane Black, state senator Paul Bailey and US senator Lamar Alexander.

Said Wyatt, “I'd like someone to tell me one positive point to this. It's not going to have any local jobs to speak of.”

Mayor Mayberry responded saying “property tax.” He added that the tax on the windmills was estimated to provide $364,000 in property tax per year, the equivalent to a 2 cent tax increase according to Mayberry.

Souza spoke again and said more positive was that the works who would build the project would be staying here and spending money here and it would take a long time to build the project. He said that spending would also generate tax revenue though he couldn't say how much that would be. The third thing Souza mentioned was power and the nationwide need for it.

Councilman Jesse Kerley thanked Mr. Wyatt for putting the item on the agenda as it is a subject he's been discussing with other people. Kerley added, “There's a lot of unhappy folks out there and I don't think I've run into a one besides Mr. Souza here who actually supports this.”

The vote recorded with two votes in favor was approved. Mr. Souza was opposed and Mr. Mayberry abstained. Council member Pamala Harris was absent from the meeting.

At the public comment time at the end of the council meeting, citizen Randall Kidwell also spoke in opposition to the wind farm project.  

City Software Upgrade means no city utility or tax payments June 14 at 3 pm

On Tuesday, June 14, at 3:00 p.m. the City will begin a software upgrade that will shut the financial system down.  

No payments will be accepted for utilities or taxes from 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, June 14, until Wednesday, June 15, at 7:30 a.m. at City Hall or the Catoosa Water Department. 

The night deposit at City Hall will be available during that timeJune

Thursday, June 9, 2016

More signs in the city hall parking lot

For the second month in a row, a sign expressing political comments decorates a pickup truck at Crossville city hall. 

This sign includes a barrel of tar and one of feathers listed as a political repair kit.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Latest on the Wind Farm Controversy from the UCBJ

What started out as an announcement that seemed to be great economic development news for Cumberland County has started to sound more like a political hot potato.

My latest article for the Upper Cumberland Business Journal is at the link just below.

Wind Farm Stirring Controversy in Cumberland County