The East Ridge City Council voted Thursday on first reading to pass an ordinance that will change the city court clerk to an elected position in a 3-2 decision.
The ordinance will need to pass a second vote Nov. 8 before officially becoming city code. Council members Jim Bethune and Denny Manning voted against the ordinance.
The ordinance sets up a four-year term for the clerk and gives the City Council the authority to set and change the clerk's salary between terms. The ordinance also requires that the new clerk live within East Ridge city limits.
If the ordinance passes a second reading, the city will hold a special election as soon as possible to elect a court clerk who will serve until the next regular county election in August 2014.
Bethune asked City Manager Tim Gobble why the changes necessitate a special election.
"Why have we let this get to the point that it's at?" he said. "Why haven't we done anything sooner?"
Gobble suggested the change at the end of the Sept. 27 council meeting - weeks after he suspended Court Clerk JoAnn Thomas and formally reprimanded two other court employees for "insubordination" after he said they failed to tell him about court scheduling changes for a Sept. 3 robbery case in which his daughter was the victim.
City Judge Arvin Reingold said the proposed change is solely a political move, stemming from Gobble's personal conflict with the clerk's office. Thomas does not live in East Ridge and would not be eligible to run for the position under the new ordinance.
But Gobble maintains that the problems in the clerk's office predate his tenure as city manager - including failure to properly maintain records, failure to collect fines and failure to alert victims, police and witnesses of court scheduling changes.
"This has been on our radar screen and it's taken months to get to where we are," he said.
At Thursday's meeting, Reingold tried to address the council to rebuff some of Gobble's statements about the clerk's office - which he said were inaccurate - and left after Mayor Brent Lambert told him residents couldn't address the council at that time.