Category Archives: Open Meetings Law

Who “cancelled” the City Commission meeting?

At 6:56pm on Sunday, February 27th, the City of Mt. Juliet’s Nixle account was used to send the following message:

The regularly scheduled Board of Commissioners meeting of Monday, 28 February 2011 at 6:30 p.m. has been moved to the next regularly scheduled meeting date of Monday, 14 March 2011. There will still be a public hearing at 6:15pm on 28 February, allowing the public to address issues that would have received their second reading from the BoC at that meeting.

This action by someone at the city (Mayor Linda Elam? City Manager Randy Robertson?) raises a host of questions.

The most important question, of course, is “WHO cancelled the City Commission meeting, and on what authority?” The Mayor (Linda Elam) has NO authority to cancel a regularly scheduled meeting. The City Manager (Randy Robertson) has NO authority to cancel a regularly scheduled meeting. The City Commissioners, meeting as a body, may vote to postpone a meeting, but there is no record of their having done so. If they met privately, or were even polled informally, such an action would violate the Tennessee Open Meetings Act (aka the Sunshine Law).

Legally, the meeting is still scheduled. If Mayor Elam cannot attend, that is no reason to cancel the meeting. The City has a properly elected Vice Mayor who is designated by the City Charter to chair the meeting in the Mayor’s absence.

The citizens should insist, nay – demand, that the Commissioners meet at their regularly scheduled time and transact such business as is properly before it. We urge Vice Mayor Ed Hagerty and Commissioners Floyd, Maness, and Bradshaw to meet at their regularly scheduled time on Feb 28.

WHO cancelled the meeting, and on what authority?

Could it have anything to do with this?

Tennessee General Assembly –
House Schedule forĀ Monday, February 28, 2011

WHO cancelled the meeting, and on what authority?

Adding insult to injury, there is no agenda for the meeting posted on the city website, nor are there any copies of Commissioner Packets with the text of ordinances to be considered posted either. Such contempt for the law and the citizens is deplorable.


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

Politicizing Personnel decisions

It was painful to read the stories of the marathon “hearing” conducted by the Mt. Juliet City Commission last Monday night. And they’re not done yet. After meeting until midnight, they will resume next Saturday, May 8th, at 10am.

The embarrassing airing of dirty laundry, questions, accusations, and innuendo is a perfect illustration of what a terrible idea it is for the City Commission to get involved in hiring & firing decisions. By state law, the City Commission cannot take any action, or conduct any debate behind closed doors. If they become involved in personnel decisions, they are obligated to make it a public spectacle. The result is bad for everyone. It’s bad for the citizens; it’s bad for the affected employee; it’s bad for the city manager; and it’s bad for the City Commission. All this badness is rooted in two serious errors – the desire by the mayor to acquire more power over the operations of the city, and the cavalier way in which the entire commission ignores the city charter.

Monday night’s spectacle illustrates the wisdom of the City Charter, which divides the policy-making functions (which belong to the City Commission) from the operational function (which is directed by the City Manager). The City Manager, according to the charter, has absolute control over the hiring and firing of city employees. The only two employees hired by the City Commission are the City Manager and the City Judge.

The Mt. Juliet City Commission made a huge mistake when they adopted personnel ordinances which provide for an appeal from the City Manager to the City Commission. They should have known better. It violates the charter. And it’s just plain stupid. There are over 100 employees working for the city. There are, most likely, terminations every month of the year. Does the city commission want to hear appeals every month? Even if they wanted to, it would be both a bad idea, and a charter violation.

They should fix their mistake and repeal the 2009 personnel ordinance.

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

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

Mayor tries to move ‘retreat’ out of town

That’s the headline on a story in this weeks Chronicle of Mt. Juliet (which can be read online by clicking on the link).

It’s actually far more serious than just an attempt to move the deliberations of the City Commission to an inconvenient location. The clear intent of the Tennessee Open Meetings Law is to insure that the business of the city commission is conducted in public. And it is clear that moving a 2-day meeting to a remote location out of the city is for the express purpose of being able to conduct city commission business out of the view of the public.

Compounding the deliberate insult to Mt. Juliet citizens was the way in which the mayor attempted to make this change – by adding it to the agenda for Monday night’s meeting even though there had been no advance notice that the item would be discussed. Apparently the mayor failed to submit her agenda item in time to make the agenda.

The mayor, of course, does not take lightly anything that thwarts her desires. Rules are for other people. She attempted to add it to the agenda anyway. This requires a suspension of the rules, which needs a 2/3 vote according to Robert’s. In Mt. Juliet that means a vote of at least four of the five commissioners. Hagerty and Bradshaw both objected.

The mayor then attempted to violate Robert’s Rules, by over-ruling the objections of the two commissioners and announced that her item was on the agenda. This occurred AFTER the city attorney pointed out to the entire commission that placing the item on the agenda required a suspension of the rules and that a suspension of the rules required four votes.

After announcing her unilateral, red queen ruling, Commissioner Bradshaw requested an opportunity to speak. The mayor refused to allow Commissioner Bradshaw to speak on the matter.

The real howler in all of this is that the mayor believes the public wants her to serve in the state legislature, in order to continue to provide a “conservative, Republican” voice from the 57th district.

She’s neither a conservative, nor a Republican.

In spite of being a lawyer, she either doesn’t understand the city charter, or Robert’s Rules – or she believes that she can dispense with either whenever it suits her fancy.

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Filed under Mt. Juliet City Commission, Open Meetings Law

City had a $2 million offer for Mundy Park. . . and turned it down

story on the Mt. Juliet News website:

Dec. 16, 2009 – Though oneĀ  commissioner said he was “intrigued” with the idea and called for discussion, Mt. Juliet City Commissions turned down a church’s offer of $2 million to purchase Mundy Park in a 4-1 vote Monday night.

On Dec. 7, Hermitage Hills Baptist Church sent commissioners a non-binding letter of intent to purchase Mundy Park off Belinda Parkway for $2 million with “intentions to include structures, fixtures or other permanent installations.”

On Dec. 8, Mt. Juliet Mayor Linda Elam sent a letter to HHBC trustee Donald Kohanski stating while “we appreciate the interest … the commission … respectfully declined the offer.”

Something in the dates is not quite right. The MJ News article says the Mayor received the letter on December 7th and sent a reply on the 8th, declining the offer in the name of the City Commission. But the Commission didn’t have it on their agenda until the 14th.

Anybody know if the Commission actually discussed it at their meeting on the 7th? Or was the Mayor freelancing (again)? Or did they (say it ain’t so) violate the open meetings law by discussing this outside of a meeting?

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Filed under Mt. Juliet City Commission, Open Meetings Law

Headlines from the Mt. Juliet News, July 30, 2008

Is your home safe?
Some MJ homes built without proper firewalls

[a report on the press conference called by the city in advance of the Channel 5 news story]

Auto emissions testing comes to MJ
[mobile testing center will set up at Mundy Park the last week of each month]

Safer passage for all
City to receive $2M grant for Curd Road L Connector
Ribbon cutting celebrates installation of traffic light at Benders Ferry/Lebanon Road

[good news. Pssst: the new high school opens tomorrow]

Bradsahw makes bid for MJ mayor
“I listen to people. That’s why I’ve been elected four times.”
[Still no word from Mayor Elam on whether she intends to run for a second term.]

Mt. Juliet News wins seven awards
[to which RFMJ says, “Congratulations”]

Mt. Juliet finance director resigns
[Mayor Elam says “she did not want to spend her days dealing with irresponsible individuals asking her for tons of information and at times accusing her of incompetence.” Mayor, there’s a simple solution. If the budget had been posted on the city’s website, the finance director wouldn’t have had to spend ANY time providing “tons of information.” As to accusations of incompetence, how would you characterize a budget where the columns of numbers didn’t add up to the published totals?]

Commission’s decision for in-city retreat correct move
[there’s another “retreat” scheduled for August 8-9, at Tennessee Sports Medicine. By law, it must be open to the public and a videotape record must be made.]

– Publius

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Filed under Open Meetings Law, Public Records

Headlines from the Mt. Juliet News and The Chronicle 1/30/2008

Its a target-rich environment this week.

from the Mt. Juliet News:

Officials eye Easter Seals camp up for sale
[100 acres, on the lake, asking price: $8.5 million – two problems. The city doesn’t have $8.5 million. The camp is not in Mt. Juliet. Its not even in the city’s 20-year urban growth area. The City Commission is fiddling with park land while traffic backs up further & further . . .]

Commission gives final nod to Paddocks
[but the Mayor got caught collaborating with the developer]

Getting fair concessions for the city
[the shocking turn of events Monday as Paddocks was approved apparently prompted this editorial]

Retreat fosters ‘air of collaboration and cooperation’ for commission
Mission statement, ‘vision’ revealed during Henry Horton retreat

[actual text of the vision statement not available yet. We can hardly wait. “revealed?”]

City hires finance and legal directors
[New city attorney is Jason Holleman, who is also an elected official serving on the Metro Nashville city council. New finance director is Kimberly Vollet who was the Tax Administrator with the city of Loveland, OH. Looks like they’ve pro-actively gotten someone who knows how to administer a city property tax.]

Dozens make bid for police chief post
[article has a very interesting quote from City Manager Robertson. See if you can tell what it is.]

from The Chronicle:

Special MJ commission meeting retreat a ‘success’

Kelsey Glen advancement approved
MJ commisioners approve Kelsey Glen plans despite citizen concerns

Commissioners make visionary plans at retreat
Retreat a success in spite of citizen disapproval

There’s more that can and should be said, but this will get the ball rolling.
– Publius

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Filed under Open Meetings Law