As a pair of residents debated two pieces of land and what to do with them on April 11, an elderly woman in the back of the East Ridge Council Chambers squeezed the sides of her seat and pushed. Her arms quivering, Dorothy "Dot" Guinn lifted herself up.
"Mr. Mayor, may I speak from back here?" she asked.
Still in midsentence in the front of the room, Paula Gurley of Eledge Road tried to complete her thought: "My biggest worry is --"
Mayor Brent Lambert interrupted to address the woman in the back: "If you'll hold on just one minute, Miss Dot."
"Well," Guinn said, her voice creaking as she drew out three or four extra L's.
"As soon as this lady's finished," Lambert said.
"I need to be heard about this situation," she answered, now howling.
Again, Lambert asked Guinn to wait; it was Gurley's turn. And again, Gurley tried, managing half a sentence -- "My main concern is" -- before Guinn, 91, cut in.
"You don't want to know what I know?" she asked Lambert.
Hopeless, Gurley thanked the council for trying to hear her and returned to her seat to watch the rest of the meeting. Lambert then told Guinn she could speak.
East Ridge was holding a public hearing for Ordinance No. 942, an ordinance to rezone James and Ora Citty's land at 4014 and 4016 Bennett Road from residential and neighborhood commercial land to warehouse and wholesale land. The Cittys wants to build a warehouse so James will have a place to store his antique cars and motorcycles.
Gurley, who has lived behind that property since 1956, worried about the noise from such a warehouse. James Citty told her he would run the vehicles from time to time, but it wouldn't be too loud. The place will be classy and look like an old drug store, he said, with a pinball machine and jukebox near the front.
In March, the Regional Planning Agency recommended East Ridge deny the Cittys' request. The land in question sits next to houses, and the RPA fears allowing this land to become a warehouse sets a bad precedent. What happens if other people on Bennett Road start to turn their property into warehouses?
The East Ridge Planning Commission, however, recommended the city approve the change. So did Guinn, James Citty's third cousin. His great-grandma and Guinn's granddaddy were brother and sister.
Guinn told the council she couldn't walk to the front of the room, where microphones await residents making public statements. James Citty used to own a business on Bennett Road, Guinn told the council, and it was an asset to the neighborhood. This also will be an asset, she said.
"Now, if you all don't give him a zoning freedom to build this building," she said, "you going to have trouble out of me. And I haven't met that North yet, but I want to meet him."
Hal North, hired as interim city attorney in December, leaned toward his microphone: "Ma'am, I sure don't want any trouble."
Guinn was born Aug. 10, 1921, the same year as East Ridge. She grew up on Bennett Road, attended Central High and dropped out during the Depression. For 21 years, she worked in school cafeterias, doing whatever needed to be done but mostly making desserts -- brownies, pies, upside down cakes. She has lived the last 60 years on Orlando Avenue.
Guinn loves council meetings, but she hasn't attended for months. She fell awhile back, and in her purse she carried a picture of herself at the hospital, a purple bruise ringing her left eye.
Roseanne Kaylor, 78, drove Guinn to the meeting so she could weigh in on the ordinance. Kaylor's late sister used to be good friends with Guinn, and now Kaylor sees after her.
About 10 minutes later, Lambert announced that the public hearing was closed. The council would now vote.
"You better be on the right side, boys; I tell you," Guinn yelled from the back.
"We're getting there," Lambert responded.
"There's a fine for threatening," Guinn said, "but I guess I can pay."
Then the council voted to approve, 5-0. By law, the ordinance must be read again, and approved again, at the council's meeting today.
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6476.