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Friday, September 2, 2016

September Council meeting--Souza agenda items take aim at interim manager Steve Hill and his connection to Councilman Kerley

The September Crossville city council meeting seems to have a theme for the last several items on the agenda, the position of Crossville city manager.

The September 8 council's schedule includes the following meetings:
  • Audit Committee 5:15
  • Beer Board 5:45, 
  • Solicitation Board 5:55 
  • Council meeting 6:00 PM

Those items, put on the agenda by councilman Pete Souza as his council term nears its end, take aim at interim city manager Steve Hill, his administrative ability, his actions and his relationship with the councilman who has become Souza's antagonist, Jesse Kerley. Kerley and Souza have been locked in a battle of words, signs and allegations of physical altercations for the last several months ultimately leading to assault charges placed against Mr. Kerley.

The items placed on the agenda by Mr. Souza include discussion of standards of selection of the new city manager and possible legislative actions, discussion of rumors affecting morale of city employees, discussion and action on the performance of the interim city manager, and discussion and action on the use of the city managers vehicle. More on these matters below.

Other matters on the councils agenda include more typical business items including budget amendments, temporary road closings along with several purchases and contract approvals.

One item that seems sure to spark discussion is the sponsorship of the Tennessee Women's Open golf tournament and the Tennessee Men's Senior golf tournament that are both up for renewal. The cost to sponsor each tournament is $25,000 per year and the Tennessee Golf Association and the Tennessee Section of the PGA are requesting a 3 year contract for the sponsorships.

Council will also consider a 3 year contract with retail consultant r360, the firm selected in action at last months council meeting to guide the city in attracting large retail chains and additional resturants. The contract negotiated with the firm is for $35,000 for the first year and $28,000 each for the second and third years. Each additional year of the contract is approved year to year.

Council will also consider a press release policy following a discussion at last months council meeting. A final version of the policy was not finished at the time of the agenda's release but is expected to be available with a recommendation by manager Hill at the meeting.

Councilman Souza's item on standards of selection a new city manager expresses concern about the possibility of appointing a city manager prior to the seating of the newly elected council members so they can have a hand in making the decision. Souza also expressed concern that many of the applicants do not have previous city manager experience. (Link to applicant story) Souza sums up his concerns saying, “I would encourage the council to consider to defer the selection process until after the general election and look for a manager with both executive and municipal experience."  Link to current city manager applicants.

Mr. Souza's item on rumors and morale of city employees states “the city has gone into a period where rumors run wild resulting in negative effects on the morale of employees and thus the effectiveness of their performance to the community.” Souza cites the firing of the city manager David Rutherford, the resignation of police chief Shoap and the false allegations given to the press that Shoap was under investigation, and several other items he said all lead to the rumor mill running wide open.

While he says he does not believe the rumors he said they included that former Mayor J. H. Graham would take the position of city manager and that a back door agreement to put Steve Hill back in charge of parks and recreation replacing Tami French, a new appointee would replace chief Mark Rosser and Sally Oglesby would be replace by the assistant city clerk. Wrote Souza in conclusion, “I believe it is incumbent for this council to dispel these rumors at this meeting and so that the employees can go forward without fear of losing their jobs.”  Link to text by Souza on rumors he says are circulating at ctiy hall.

The most brutal agenda item offers a report that targets the performance of interim city manager Steve Hill, and it is not a good report. Souza wrote just over 4 pages starting off with his first action on his first day as interim manager to order the parks and recreation director to swap vehicles with him so he could drive a crew cab pick up truck he drove when he was parks director before taking early retirement. The current parks director has been driving the Impala that was originally purchased for the use of the city manager. And in the final city manager agenda item Souza is proposing the swap be reversed back. The complete text of Souza's statement on the performance by Steve Hill as city manager is available at this link.

Souza points out that the three previous city managers enforced the policy that the employees playing golf take personal leave to do so. Hill is reported to have said that if an employee works 40 hours a week then they don't have to take time off, but according to Souza this change was not disseminated to city staff. In addition, Souza states that it has been custom for the manager to advise the mayor and council members when he was unavailable for work but Hill has not done so in correspondence documenting his time off. Souza says Hill calls the assistant city clerk but should notify the council, city clerk and the finance department.

Souza outlines an email Hill received that came from councilman Kerley to marketing director Billy Loggins that ordered Loggins to tell Hill to call Butch Smith and tell him that Souza was looking into the property that Smith wanted and “was going to cause the deal to fall through.” Souza says this email that is public record shows that “councilman Kerley is telling the staff and manager what to do.”

“Mr. Hill's role in the resignation of Police Chief Shoap reflected the will of councilman Kerley as opposed to the needs of the city of Crossville,” according to Souza. He outlines several incidents including that Hill ordered the IT department to open early to allow Hill, council Kerley, and Kerley's father Jerry to review the video of the June 2 incident between Mr. Souza and the Kerleys.  This was done before chief Shoap arrived there and the group was deciding which part of the video to release and formulating a story that fit the video. Souza accused them of having “interfered with the investigation.”

Souza also references an exclusive story that states the accusations by Mr. Kerley of an investigation into alleged actions of chief Shoap at the time he resigned were false as stated by Mr. Hill.  The original story is available here.

It is not specified what action Mr. Souza wants taken under the agenda item.