There is much that is troubling about the Mt. Juliet City Commission right now. Special Meeting contracts, YMCA land gifts, and the repeal of the adopted MTAS Ethics Ordinance are all things to be very concerned about.
It is hard to choose the worst thing this Commission is doing right now. I guess for me the city’s resistance to allow access to public record is the most alarming. Public access to information has never been this difficult in the 26 years I have lived here.
Butch Huber is not the only person having trouble getting access to public records. Many requests are being met with resistance. Let me give you the examples I am aware of:
The first is related to my termination last summer. When the city terminated me they also denied my state unemployment benefits. I was forced to get an Attorney and request the production of public records in order to make my case in a state appeals tribunal hearing. My Attorney subpoenaed a number of easily accessible records from the City of Mt. Juliet. That subpoena was ignored and the City didn’t even attend the hearing. Needless to say, I won my complaint against the city. I followed up by requesting email records from the city through the Tennessee Open Records Act. The first response from then Attorney Paula Flowers was to try and charge me 3000 dollars!
If I were just any citizen that would have probably stopped me from gaining access to those records. But I had worked there. In fact, I helped set up the exchange server that handled all of the city’s email. The Information Technology Department reported to me! So I explained how getting the information off the exchange server would take only 15 minutes, not 120 hours.
Sonny Griffin encountered resistance when he asked about YMCA funding availability. State law requires a statement of available funds from the Finance Director prior to the approval of any amendment to the city’s budget. He wanted to see the Finance Director’s statement that the city had available funds to pay for the giveway of land to the YMCA. The City Manager had refused to communicate with Sonny Griffin through email.
When the city quibbled with Sonny he just showed up at City Hall and asked to inspect the records in person. State law requires that public records be made available for the public to view. He took County Commissioner Fred Weston along with him as a witness. Sonny didn’t haggle over price or format of duplication (as the city tends to do) he just went to look. No one could produce a statement of available funds. Two weeks later Kim Vollett, the Finance Director resigned. Linda Elam publicly blamed “irresponsible citizens” for running off a good employee. Inspecting public records is now irresponsible?
According to Chris Sorey’s posts to this site, Randy Robertson tried to harass and intimidate him when he asked for public records. Robertson (according to Sorey) took him to an office and grilled him repeatedly about why he wanted the records and what he was looking for.
Butch Huber was also given the “Mt. Juliet public records run around” on a request for a complete copy of the 2008-2009 budget. He had requested a copy of the electronic budget spreadsheet files. (Files that had been posted on the city website from 2001-2007) If you remember, several city officials were blaming the previous City Manager for current budget discrepancies. The column totals did not match the actual summary. Huber’s posts to this site indicate it took months before Robertson finally produced the file – after telling Mr. Huber it didn’t exist! And of course, Butch found the spreadsheet errors in just a few minutes. Perhaps Ms. Vollett resigned in embarrassment.
These are examples of how four citizens of Mt. Juliet were treated who simply attempted to access public records. I feel sure there are more cases. These are just the ones I know about.
I have lived here since 1982 and have always been involved in the community. I served as Director of Planning for the City from 2001 to 2007. My record request found email communication proving Acting City Manager Sheila Luckett and Mayor Linda Elam both knew that the charges made in a termination letter sent to me were false. The letter stated I had tried to defraud the state of Tennessee in a grant application. The truth is, I did not fill out the grant application or supply any of the disputed information. The emails revealed they had resolved the population number discrepancy with the person who did prepare the grant months before I was accused of defrauding the state. I used this evidence to win the appeals tribunal hearing.
Sonny Griffin has probably lived here 40 years or more. He owns a Mt. Juliet business and is an appointed member of the Mt. Juliet / Wilson County Development Board. He discovered that Kim Vollett had never written a statement of available funds for the YMCA budget amendment. This stalled the Commission from squandering 2 million dollars the city obviously didn’t have.
I do not know how long Chris Sorey has lived here. Chris is now a Wilson County Commissioner. He discovered that Mt. Juliet Building inspectors had approved homes with inadequate fire rated walls and ceilings. You may have seen this on TV 5 news.
Butch Huber was a member of the Mt. Juliet Payroll Advisory Committee. I am not sure how long he has lived here. Butch discovered why the 2008-2009 Budget numbers would not add up. It was due to a spreadsheet formula error.
The public has a right to public records. You need to ask your elected officials why they are allowing this. They have done nothing to correct, reprimand, or give direction to the City Manager when he allows city staff to be rude, intimidating, and hostile to citizens who make public records requests. By sitting silently, Mayor Elam and the City Commission are endorsing and giving their approval to this lawless behavior of the City Manager and his staff.
– Bobby Franklin
September 11, 2008