published Saturday, December 15th, 2012

East Ridge Council meets today to hire new attorney

Vice Mayor Jim Bethune
Vice Mayor Jim Bethune
Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

COUNCIL ACTION

• Councilmen canceled a special election planned for March 5 to select the city's new court clerk. The council voted in October to change the clerk's position from one named by the municipal judge to an elected office. The election will be pushed back to August 2014 -- the next regular Hamilton County general election.

• Councilmen lowered the amount of money City Manager Tim Gobble is allowed to spend without council approval from $10,000 to $5,000. Councilman Marc Gravitt pushed for the change. The change means council members will have to vote on an average of about 10 spending items each meeting that may include routine charges such as the city's utility bill.

• The council voted down a proposed end-of-year bonus for city employees that would have cost about $152,000. Full-time employees would have received $1,000, part-timers $750, and reserve employees would have brought home $500. The money would have come from the city's fund balance and could have caused the city to go into a deficit.

The East Ridge City Council will meet to hire an interim city attorney today, less than 48 hours after firing City Attorney John Anderson and paying his $22,500 severance fee.

Vice Mayor Jim Bethune and rookie Councilman Marc Gravitt called the special meeting, which is set for 5:30 p.m. in City Hall. The meeting is open to the public.

The interim attorney will serve for 90 days, City Manager Tim Gobble said in a news release.

After firing Anderson Thursday night, the council is scrambling to hire a new attorney before a Monday-morning court appearance, Gravitt said.

"We have to make a move to ensure the city has some representation," Gravitt said.

Mayor Brent Lambert said he believes some councilmen are planning to appoint Cris Helton to replace Anderson.

Helton was the city's attorney for more than 10 years until he was fired in 2007, shortly after he was arrested in Chattanooga for allegedly mishandling an estate in probate, part of his private practice. He was replaced by Anderson.

Lambert said he's not sure he wants Helton back.

"He may be a great individual, I don't know, but with the circumstances surrounding his original termination, I just think there is too much baggage there," he said.

He added that he was disappointed by the way the council handled Anderson's firing. The 3-2 decision was made with no discussion at the end of Thursday's marathon meeting.

"I've been on the council for four years now, and I've never seen an issue so ramrodded through as they did last night," he said. "They didn't want to talk about it. So to use the mechanism of calling the question -- that was very, very frustrating and I think it's a slap in the face to open government."

The council didn't put any reason for the firing on the record, but Councilman Denny Manning and Gravitt both said Friday the issue was Anderson's salary and fees.

"He was too expensive," Manning said.

Gravitt estimated the city has paid Anderson, who worked part-time, more than $150,000 this year.

Lambert said he thought Anderson was worth the money.

"He was just an outstanding attorney," he said. "He was very prompt -- anytime I had a question I could pick up the phone and talk to him. He always projected a very professional persona."

Manning didn't like how Anderson did the job and said he wants a city attorney who will "treat employees fair."

"We want the best for the city," he said. "If the person who gets the job can't do it, then they don't need to be there."

about Shelly Bradbury...

Shelly Bradbury joined the Times Free Press as a business reporter in January 2013, after starting with the paper as a general assignment intern in July 2012. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint Hill Times. Outside the newsroom, Shelly enjoys ...

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