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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.

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