published Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

Budget botch angers many in East Ridge

by Chris Carroll

On a marquee outside East Ridge City Hall, the crooked letters spelled urgency Tuesday: special called meeting tonight.

The message caught the attention of 40 angry residents who shook their heads in disbelief as they listened to city officials explain their way through a botched budget.

According to City Manager William Whitson, East Ridge fell behind $657,000 for a budget period that ended June 30. The news isn’t any better for a budget that’s yet to be approved, as he predicted another shortfall for 2011.

A white paper sign marked with black ink was passed around the small room: “We want a state audit.”

“I know this is disappointing news,” Whitson said in his opening remarks. “If there’s any blame or those kinds of things ... you can cast that blame on me.”

Councilman Denny Manning didn’t hesitate, criticizing Whitson’s financial management and questioning an $8,000 raise he offered his administrative assistant after she showed him another job offer she received.

“When your contract comes up again, I will not vote to renew it,” Manning concluded. “I won’t back off.”

The city manager said the budget numbers were preliminary and unaudited, adding that “we don’t think we’ll ever know” what happened. He blamed a shaky overall economy and “bad luck with the weather,” referring to flood repair in 2009.

“We tried to plan ahead, but at the end of the day some of these issues overwhelmed those efforts,” Whitson said.

Councilman Brent Lambert said Whitson’s explanation was “not acceptable,” and Councilman Larry Sewell went further.

“I’m leaning to call the state in here to do some checking,” Sewell said. “And we need to do some major cutting.”

Sewell recommended axing already controversial public relations funding completely and fees for City Attorney John Anderson “quite a bit.”

Communication apparently broke down, as Manning and Sewell became aware of the meeting through a legal budget notice in the Times Free Press.

“He told us we were in the green for so long and never said we were in the red,” Manning said.


The East Ridge City Council will hold a budget session Monday at 4:15 p.m. at a location to be determined.

Both men called the special meeting and alleged that Whitson did not want budgetary discussion in public, a charge the city manager denied Tuesday.

All councilmen attended the special meeting except outgoing Mayor Mike Steele, who was on vacation.

Lately East Ridge officials have touted the city’s financial strength, even buying a crumbling community pool for $120,000. Repairs for that pool could cost between $500,000 and $750,000, Whitson said last month.

One resident summed up several who spoke Tuesday evening.

“Who was asleep at the wheel?” Marc Gravitt asked.

No one answered.

Continue reading by following these links to related stories:

Article: East Ridge limits strip clubs, adult bookstores

Article: Towns find money for employee raises

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harrystatel said...

"Lately East Ridge officials have touted the city’s financial strength, even buying a crumbling community pool for $120,000. Repairs for that pool could cost between $500,000 and $750,000, Whitson said last month."

I suggest the pool be named "East Ridge Asleep-at-the-Wheel Cesspool."

Here's a suggestion. Hire the Waterhouse PR firm to tout it as "East Ridge Mineral Springs" with "Ducky Doody."

East Ridge, remember the scene in "Frankenstein" when the villagers stormed the castle with pitchforks, swords, and torches? What are you waiting for?

August 4, 2010 at 12:18 p.m.
TwinkleTN said...

People can say all they want about the budget deficit, but it is getting old reading comments about the pawn shops, check cashing and fast food stores in East Ridge. I am not sure any of the people making these comments ever shop in East Ridge. People come from Cleveland and Dalton to shop at East Ridge Bicycle. Kingwood Pharmacy has customers from outside of the City for the services they provide. Osbourne Shopping Center just did an outstanding job of painting their entire facility. The newly renovated building at the corner of Springcreek and Ringgold Roads is beautiful as is the new facade on the building at the corner of Mack Smith and Ringgold Roads. The newly renovated Holiday Inn Express continues to get outstanding reviews. As far as restaurants are concerned there may be fast food outlets but people come from other areas to eat at Wally's, Shoney's, the Epicurian, Eidson's and Jenkins. Nobody ever comments on how the East Ridge police have been written up four times in the media recently for stopping crimes in progress. The fire department saved a business on fire due to the short response time. Did anybody comment when the fire department was placed in the top 4% of all fire departments in the country for all cities?

Concerning the budget deficit the city manager and other staff members may have dropped the ball on estimating the revenue and expenses, but all of the council members share more responsibility. They are ultimately the ones elected to provide oversight.

August 4, 2010 at 10:43 p.m.
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