Today is Saturday, July 22, 2017

Citizens fill Lebanon City Hall

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Citizens turned out en masse at Lebanon City Councils meeting Tuesday night, expressing both support and opposition for a resolution that would change the city government to a City Manager form during a public hearing held 30 minutes prior to the regular session.

The resolution was proposed, but later withdrawn from the agenda by Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Huddleston.

There was an overwhelming feeling among those who spoke that the council and mayor could not work together and some blamed one party or the other and sometimes both. Several citizens in attendance said the people of Lebanon did not have enough information about the resolution or what was being proposed.

One citizen, Jim Heller, said he was a city employee for 30 years and noted the city has lost the integrity it once had and that he opposed the city manager proposal.

We dont need another yes man for the city council, Heller said.

Jim Redcke said the resolution to change the government was a selfish action by select members of the city council and the effort was to usurp the power of the people of Lebanon.

This is an issue to be decided by the people of Lebanon, Redcke said, adding it should not be up to only a vote of the city council.

Gordon Poole spoke in support of the resolution and said he lost trust in Mayor Philip Craighead because he sat in that chair and admitted to committing a crime. Poole said the mayor is the main cause of the citys problems and has circumvented the council and has been using his position to benefit himself and his friends.

Poole said he voted for Craighead, but no longer trusts the mayor and said the only council members who have tried to go against the mayors wishes are those who support the City Manager resolution.

Robert Knowles drew a comparison between a city manager and the appointed superintendent of the Wilson County Schools System. He said the director of schools is appointed and only has to have a majority of votes on the school board to have policies enacted.

Knowles said the same thing would happen with the city manager, who would be appointed by the council, and also would only be held accountable by the council.

If that is a good example of a city manager, then I am against it, he said. Knowles asked that the council and mayor work together and move forward but added they should be held accountable to the people of Lebanon.

Another citizen supported the resolution and commended Huddleston for proposing the measure. Bob Bright said the change should be studied in light of everyones opinions. He said the city elections are at times a popularity contest and that people can be elected who have no qualifications to run a city government.

We dont need a full-time mayor, theres no way to justify it, Bright said.

Also, Jim Dunn said the city manager is a very qualified person who has experience and education to operate and run a city government. He said there is no harm in discussing this measure, and dialogue between the council and the people about this subject is a good thing.

One of the great things about democracy is that we can all have our opinions and we can come here and speak our opinions, Dunn said. Whats wrong with discussing something?

Dunn and many others said the reason so many citizens showed up for the public hearing Tuesday night is because they do not know enough about a City Manager form of government nor how the resolution was drawn up or proposed.

Larry Hubbard said the resolution basically called for the city council to completely control all affairs of the city. He said everything in the city manager resolution ends with the phrase, must be approved by the city council.

He pointed out the council has not set a budget for the next fiscal year and said that needs to be done before a change in government is considered. Hubbard also claimed the council has been slowly trying to chip away at the powers of the mayor.

They showed their hand, they went all in here guys, the chips and cards are still on the tablethose chips are our future, Hubbard said.

Many of those who spoke said the conduct and discussions of the council and mayor have been detrimental to the city and some even said their conduct was embarrassing.

At the end of the public hearing, the mayor thanked everyone who gave their opinions and said it was the duty of the council and mayors position to work to bring jobs to the city and provide the best services for its people.

When Craighead announced the resolution would be withdrawn from the agenda, many audience members applauded the removal of the measure.

We will make a solid effort to make a change for this community because we all do love it, Craighead said.

During the councils time for comment, Ward 1 Councilor Alex Buhler said he never said he would or would not vote for the resolution. He also noted he has been asking for a budget since January, and said that has always been a priority for him.

I want this town to be run fairly, openly and honestly, thats all I ask, Buhler said.

Huddleston said if the resolution comes up again, everyone would have another opportunity for the citizens to voice their opinions. He also said he wanted every budget work session to be broadcast live on television.

I think a lot of this stuff has been twisted certain ways, he said. I want (the meetings) to be live, so everyone can know whats going on.

Ward 3 Councilor Rob Cesternino said the large turnout should also occur for every council meeting and work session. He also said he would not support the city manager or any other measure unless he knows how much it would cost.

Ward 4 Councilor Joe Hayes said all the phone calls he has received have been from citizens opposing the city manager. He did say the city manager could be a good thing, but he does not know enough about it. Hayes called the way the resolution was proposed and brought to the agenda was dirty politics.

Until I know more about it, theres no way in the world that I can vote for it, Hayes said.

Ward 5 Councilor Haywood Barry said he would like for the citizens to learn more about this and pointed out they had a work session about the city manager and no citizens came Id much rather it go to the people, if it goes anywhere, and see them vote on it, Barry said.

Barry said he supports a move to the city manager and noted it was nothing personal toward Craighead, but feels the city manager would be better equipped to handle the day-to-day management of the city. He said if the vote ever comes up, he would vote for a city manager.

He also noted he had been working on a separate resolution to move to a city manager government and pointed out that City Attorney Andy Wright was also working on one, which Wright indicated was correct.

Ward 6 Councilor Kathy Warmath said the day-to-day operation of the city is all about management and that its not much different than private businesses of all sizes.

Warmath said before the resolution even came up Tuesday night, there was so much negativity in the community and that it was portrayed as negatively as possible.

The negativity was already out there, no matter what happened with the ordinance, she said.

She said she has no problems with discussing a city manager, but said it is proper to discuss the particulars such as cost and other issues. She said a city manager was not a bad concept, if done well.

The council scheduled a special called meeting for tonight at 5:30 for several measures that were set to be on Tuesday nights agenda.

By PATRICK HALL, The Wilson Post
Hall may be contacted at phall@wilsonpost.com.

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