published Thursday, February 7th, 2013

East Ridge revisits Gobble's contract

IF YOU GO

East Ridge's council meeting will be held tonight at 6:30 at 1517 Tombras Ave.

The first line under the "New Business" section of East Ridge's City Council agenda for tonight is terse, but loaded.

"City Manager Contract" is the only detail listed for agenda item A. But the three words have set the city rumor mill spinning and spurred heated exchanges between officials as city leaders and residents speculate what will happen to City Manager Tim Gobble's position today.

"I'm just one vote. But with all the controversy that has been surrounding East Ridge, I think that it's time we need to go a different direction as far as the city manager's position," Councilman Marc Gravitt said Wednesday.

Gobble -- who did not return requests for comment Wednesday -- has held the position since April 2011, when he was hired by unanimous vote.

Eight months later, the council unanimously decided to give him an $8,200 raise to augment his $116,800 salary and extended his contract to April 2015.

But over the last several months, the city manager has been the subject of growing criticism from city leaders.

Recent Gobble-related controversies have included his decision to hire a 19-year-old church friend for a $35,000 administrative position that more than 70 others -- some with master's degrees -- had applied for; dozens of lengthy and argumentative Facebook interactions with residents on the city's social media page; and his discipline of the city's court clerks after he claimed they mishandled a robbery case in which his daughter was the victim.

In November, a special judge stated that Gobble had "overstepped his bounds" in that case.

Little early comment

Councilman Denny Manning, who asked for Gobble's contract to be placed on tonight's agenda, said he did not wish to elaborate on the matter at this point.

Councilman Jim Bethune, who is a frequent Gobble critic, did not respond to phone calls for comment Wednesday. East Ridge Mayor Brent Lambert, who has voiced support for Gobble, also did not comment.

Another supporter of Gobble, Councilman Larry Sewell, has cried foul.

"I think he's doing a fine job," Sewell said. "I have no problems with him at all. I think he's brought us in the right direction financially, and got a lot of positive things going here."

Sewell said he had wanted to work something out with other councilmen in a meeting with the city's attorney. A meeting had been set with Gobble and the city's attorney on Monday but was canceled when Gravitt was hospitalized.

Sewell said he would rather see Gobble resign on his own terms than face termination tonight.

"Personally I think he's justly been done wrong," he said. "If he's got to leave, I want him to get everything he deserves [in severance]. He ought to be able to defend himself."

Sewell said that if Gobble leaves, it will be just the beginning of more cuts made by an emerging voting faction comprising Bethune, Manning and Gravitt.

"I don't think this is the end of it. I think there's going to be more after this," said Sewell. "It's going to be a mess before it's all over with."

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