published Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

Councilman Branam insists he can do job from his Florida home


by Chris Carroll
Councilman Darwin Branam was appointed to the council to replace new mayor Brent Lambert. File photo.
Councilman Darwin Branam was appointed to the council to replace new mayor Brent Lambert. File photo.

For better or worse, Darwin Branam is the virtual politician.

The newest member of the East Ridge City Council has spent most of the last two months at a 24th-floor vacation condominium in Daytona Beach Shores, Fla., despite assurances that East Ridge was his “number one residence.”

He said he has spent 48 days in Florida and 16 in East Ridge since he was appointed Jan. 27.

“Wow,” said Ken Meyer, an East Ridge resident and former Republican state representative. “Governing is not a part-time endeavor. You have to be in the community on a day-to-day basis. ... You can’t do it from Florida.”

But in several interviews from Florida, Branam, 74, insisted that a councilman can govern remotely. He said his email address works anywhere with wireless access and calls to his publicly listed phone number connect to his iPhone.

“I’m very accessible to talk about anything,” Branam said. “And when I’m in the city, I do nothing but city business.”

He also said it was widely known before he was appointed that he spends winters in Florida.

That’s where he was when councilmen debated Feb. 28 whether to terminate City Attorney John Anderson and cease paying his already-over-budget legal fees. Branam declined to return, declaring the meeting “wasn’t emergency.”

Branam’s four colleagues, who finished the meeting deadlocked 2-2 on Anderson’s fate, delayed their decision until Branam returned briefly from Florida on March 11. Before that meeting, Branam said only one East Ridge resident emailed him about the attorney.

City records show he actually received five emails, including four supporting the city attorney’s ouster. Branam responded to only one — an email praising him for asking “serious questions.”

“He needs to be here where his job is if he’s going to do it,” Councilman Denny Manning said. “He can’t vote over the phone, and you can’t do it over email.”

East Ridge council members are paid $7,200 a year. Only “bona fide residents and registered voters of the City of East Ridge” can be on the council, according to the city charter. There is no statutory requirement that council members attend meetings.

“THEY ALL KNEW”

Councilmen in January unanimously appointed Branam to fill a seat previously occupied by Brent Lambert, who was elected mayor in November.

Branam did not run for council during November elections, although six others did. The surprise choice of Branam angered some people, including the election’s third-place finisher, Marc Gravitt. His supporters cried foul and said he should have been named to the vacant seat.

Branam was an East Ridge commissioner between 1988 and 1990 when the city had a commission-style government.

He said he told Lambert he would serve “if nobody else would” during a chance encounter at a Cracker Barrel restaurant a few weeks after November’s election.

Branam said the Florida home — and how much time he spends there — never became an issue before he was appointed.

“All the councilmen — they all knew I spend the first three months of the year in Florida,” he said. “The council does oversight ... we don’t run the city.”

Lambert did not return several calls seeking comment, but Vice Mayor Larry Sewell, a Lambert supporter, defended the decision.

“I don’t think it’s an issue,” Sewell said. “To me there’s not much happening on a daily basis like the city [Chattanooga] or the county. He’s here when he needs to be.”

Sewell said the city should look into conference calling so absentee councilmen can participate when a special meeting is convened.

Branam said he would be in town for “when we do the budget” and wouldn’t spend much more time in Florida since spring is here.

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eastoftheridge said...

"Sewell said the city should look into conference calling so absentee councilmen can participate when a special meeting is convened" That's hawgwash Sewell! If the city doesn't have money to provide for it's citizens, then the city doesn't have money for conference calling. East Ridge needs councilmen who reside in East Ridge FULL time!

April 3, 2011 at 8:30 a.m.
harrystatel said...

Could science clone Mr. Branam so every community could benefit from his hands-on experience? Could he be the new master of "phoning it in?"

http://bit.ly/gXGJR5

April 3, 2011 at 11:51 a.m.
ricardo said...

He wants meetings to be declared an "emergency" so the city will pay for his plane fare. Sounds like he needs to get his priorities in order. I think everyone would like to do their jobs from a Florida beachside condo.

April 3, 2011 at 11:54 a.m.
eastridge8 said...

And here I thought by voting for Brent Lambert we were getting new, fresh ideas and not the same old "good ol' boy" crap we have always gotten. I wish I could live in Florida 3 months out of the year but since I'm on a fixed income I can't; but it must be nice.

Well, Lambert, you won't get my next vote unless you do some SERIOUS house-cleaning and get things going in a more positive and beneficial way for EAST RIDGE! THAT'S why you were voted in. We expected better things from you but if you're not up to the job that next one will be!

April 3, 2011 at 12:35 p.m.
bpqd said...

Residents expect more leadership from politicians than teleconferencing can provide.

April 3, 2011 at 7:09 p.m.
TwinkleTN said...

Lambert and Sewell do not know what they are doing and Branam should have never taken the position. He said he would do it if nobody else would. I personally spoke to Gravitt and Brenneman and they both said they would serve.

Also, I wonder how LIfe Care is going to feel after they have committed to spending a substantial amount of money to expand their facility if gaudy fireworks stores are opened just across the road. Who is going to be allowed to open these facilities? Can you say "kick back?"

April 3, 2011 at 8:37 p.m.
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