Can the Commission violate the charter?

Of course they can!

They can, in the inimitable words of Mayor Elam, “do anything they want until a judge tells them otherwise.”

Can the City Commission adopt an ordinance that violates the City Charter?

Well, they can… but that won’t make it a valid ordinance.

It appears they have, and the interesting question is why Mayor Elam (who is a licensed, practicing attorney) and the City Attorney, Jason Holleman (who is likewise, a licensed, practicing attorney) don’t seem to be able to read and understand the City Chater (which is, after all, written in English).

Here’s what the charter says about the Powers and Duties of the City Manager with respect to personnel decisions: Section 6-21-108 (2)

Except as otherwise provided in this charter, appoint, promote, demote, suspend, transfer, remove, and otherwise discipline all department heads and subordinate employees at any time, subject only to any personnel rules and regulations adopted by ordinance or resolution by the commission. Any hearings on, or appeals from, the city manager’s personnel decisions provided for in the personnel rules and regulations shall be exclusively before the city manager or a hearing officer designated by the city manager;

According to a story in this week’s Chronicle of Mt. Juliet, Dennis Buchanan has appealed his termination as parks director. It then goes on to say:

City Attorney Jason Holleman, citing the City personnel policy manual, said that the city commission will convene in administrative session within 30 days of receiving notification of the appeal request from the human resources department, and the commission may reverse the final decision of the city manager (to terminate Buchanan) and/or whatever action the commission deems appropriate under the circumstances, including but not limited to amending the decision of the city manager.

With all due respect to City Attorney, Jason Holleman, NO THEY CAN’T.

A) There is no exception in the Tennessee Open Meetings Law for a City Commission to meet in “administrative session” to consider a personnel matter. Mayor Elam, City Commissioners, Citizens and even the City Attorney may think that the City Commission SHOULD be able to meet behind closed doors, but until the State Legislature amends the law, it’s illegal for them to do so (unless they are meeting to be briefed on a pending lawsuit – and even then, they can take no action and cannot engage in debate).

B) Whether you agree or disagree with the City Manager’s decision and like or dislike Dennis Buchanan, under the Mt. Juliet City Charter, personnel decisions of the City Manager can only be appealed to the City Manager or a hearing officer designated by the City Manager. Mayor Elam, City Commissioners, Citizens, and even the City Attorney may think that’s a bad idea, but until the City Charter is amended, the City Manager’s decision is final. The City Commission can fire the City Manager, but they can’t “amend his decision.”

Doesn’t matter what the 2009 Personnel Policy Manual says. Ordinances that violate the City Charter are invalid. It would be just as crazy as the US Congress passing a law stating that decisions of the US Supreme Court could be appealed to a joint session of Congress. The only way to make that change would be to amend the Constitution.

There’s a way to amend the City Charter if the Mayor and the City Commission want to do that. Propose a change, and submit it to the voters. If they approve the change, it will take effect. There’s a reason why amending the City Charter takes a few extra steps and requires the approval of the voters. Because it’s a big deal! It’s the city-level equivalent of amending the constitution. It’s not supposed to be as easy as just passing an ordinance. The City Charter is supposed to set the boundaries as to what ordinances the City Commission can adopt. But Mayor Elam, and this City Commission recognize no boundaries. They won’t obey the boundaries. It’s questionable as to whether they know where the boundaries are!

Mayor Elam and this commission have demonstrated their arrogant disregard for the City Charter over and over again. They took an oath to uphold the City Charter. And then they ignore it. If you want to amend the Charter, do it the right way. Shame on all of you for thinking you could do it by ordinance. Shame on the Mayor for not knowing any better. Shame on the City Attorney for not knowing any better.

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10 Comments

Filed under City Charter, Mt. Juliet City Commission, Open Meetings Law

10 responses to “Can the Commission violate the charter?

  1. Southsider

    The division of powers in government is meant to limit the abuse of power. The true genius of the founding fathers was the “check and balance” effect of competing authority.

    We will now see what the City Manager of Mt. Juliet is really made of. He should seek another legal opinion quickly.

    The City Attorney works for the City Manager and is subject to oversight like any other employee.

    Mr. Robertson has recently confronted the Mayor when she has overstepped her authority.

    Will he confront the whole commission now that they have overstepped theirs?

    He should.

  2. Butch Huber

    It’s like watching the Keystone Cops. They are one farce after another.

    Elam’s statement that they can do anything they want until a judge tells them otherwise couldn’t be a truer statement. How much money has Elam cost us using this philosophy so far? We should put together an accounting of her costs to the city and send them to the citizens.

  3. Will a b

    Southsider is right about this. It is up to the city manager to defend his authority. If the city commission can control who is terminated, every city worker will become a political appointment.

  4. Isn’t the reality though that they can pass a resolution requesting that the city manager reinstate Dennis, and if he doesn’t they can fire the city manager and hire another manager who will do what they tell him to do?

    I am not happy to see Dennis lose his job, I like Dennis, and if he can return to work and wants to return to work I think the city manager should let him. On the other hand, if Dennis really can’t do the job anymore they do have to get someone who can do it. The bigger issue here is whether the commission really should get itself into the business of directing day-to-day operations of the city. My feeling is that they need to stick to what the charter authorizes and stay out of the daily operations of the city.

  5. Doc Cider

    This is an interesting issue. First of all, Dennis Buchanan has always been one of the ‘good guys’ in city government. He cares about his job and does it well, at least to the point of his injury. He is honest and justifiably well liked. And if that injury occurred at work, as the involvement of workman’s comp indicates, then he certainly has a legitmate cause for appeal. On the flip side, I can’t think of any case of someone being on the payroll and not at work for almost a year, although I’m sure many examples exist.

    Surely a solution exists that would resolve this to everyone’s satisfaction, including Mr. Buchanan’s. But this action by the City Commission isn’t it. The fact that this is a rare instance of the mayor ignoring the rules to try to help someone rather than hurt them doesn’t make it right.

  6. Butch Huber

    The city manager should just appoint an interim manager to fill Dennis’ position until he is capable of returning to work. The city isn’t obligated to pay his salary permanently if he cannot return to work, although it may be cheaper than being sued. In the meantime they need to put someone in place to lead the daily operations of the parks department. I agree, Dennis is one of the good guys, I have always like him, but the work of the city continues.

  7. Doc Cider

    This week the saga continues. The good news is that Dennis Buchanan has a case. The bad news is that the mayor is using this as an opportunity to cast herself in a positive light and perhaps build a case against the city manager. I can almost picture Dennis cringing as (to paraphrase a very regular contributor here) she ‘swooped down on him like a vulture’, reeking of false empathy.

    Tomi Wiley was on top of things to bring up an interesting case about a possible 2006 ‘reprimand’ of Dennis. Wasn’t this in some way connected to the nativity scene in front of City Hall that Elam objected to? Would like to see that avenue explored in more detail.

  8. Butch Huber

    Oh, my! If Dennis was reprimanded over the Nativity Scene, and then they are using this in some way to paint him in a negative light, as it appears they are, they will most definitely get a double earful from me!

    I warned Randy Robertson on here, and I believe elsewhere, that the Vulture, I mean the Mayor, would turn on him! I stated that he would need the help of the group that pays attention to this site, but he chose to fight us rather than help us right the wrongs she and others had done. Mr. Robertson told me that my efforts would be appreciated and respected if I were to draw a line in the sand, forget the past, and move on. I wonder if he will want me to draw a line in the sand, forget the past, and move on when Linda rips his lungs out?

    Right now Linda is about, I don’t know, 6,6,8 and O. She has taken down just about everyone she has wanted to and she is still standing! Randy isn’t in the kind of power position he needs to be in to take her down. If it comes to a head, which I hope it does, I am not sure he is man enough to take our Linda Elam. Of course, if he were to open the iron gates in Mt. Juliet, and let the public information to be “PUBLIC”, perhaps he could get some help! He has protected her from day one by keeping as much public information as he could hidden from the public! If he were to ever give up the secrets I think Linda (A.K.A, “The Vulture”) would find her days are numbered! Public Officials in this city have committed Crimes, felonies, that go unpunished because the information necessary to bring them to justice is locked up in Stalag Mt. Juliet and Randy Robertson is the Gatekeeper! When he realizes, if he hasn’t already, he made nicey-nice with a scorpion perhaps he will fling open the gates and let the people do their duty!

  9. marketing 101

    Randy’s military background will not allow him to fling open the gates and allow us access. And if he did choose to do so, I’d bet the house that there’s enough evidence in there that would not only hang him but guarantee that he never work again in another city goverment. He’s between a rock and a hard place; his alliance with The Red Queen caused him to do some very underhanded things early in his tenure. But he were to expose Elam and her sins, all of his would spill onto the table as well.
    The whole commission’s dealings should be carefully monitored over the next few months. I have a feeling there’s going to be a lot of dirty deals coming our way. I urge everyone to go to http://mjcharter.wordpress.com and download the petition for a charter commission. It’s the first step in taking back our city.

  10. Paul Deyo

    I signed it.

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