East Ridge votes not to let former officials keep phones

East Ridge votes not to let former officials keep phones

February 28th, 2013 by Tyler Jett in Local - Breaking News

East Ridge Mayor Brent Lambert

Photo by Alyson Wright/Times Free Press.

The East Ridge City Council voted in November to keep their city-issued electronics whenever they leave office down the road. Earlier this week, a legal adviser from the state government told them they weren't allowed to do that. So on Thursday night, they backed off.

The council voted unanimously at its latest meeting to rescind their previous resolution. Back then, on Nov. 8, the council members voted after former city attorney John Anderson told them that the state's Municipal Technical Advisory Service said they were allowed to keep the iPhones and iPads the city gave them, that such equipment was a perk of the job.

But in a letter to Mayor Brent Lambert, Greg Cothron wrote Wednesday that the East Ridge Charter does not allow for such perks. Cothron is an assistant general counsel for the state's comptroller of the treasury.

The City Council fired Anderson in December and replaced him with interim City Attorney Hal North.

"MTAS legal staff further advised me that at no time did they indicate to the former city attorney that giving the city purchased electronic equipment to an elected official upon leaving office would be legal," Cothron wrote.

Lambert said Thursday that he had been told otherwise by MTAS, but he didn't have anything in writing at the meeting. He said the City Council members should be able to keep their phones because, after four years in office, the phones have dropped in value so much that there's no sense in trying to sell them. You won't get any money.

On Thursday, he suggested that the city give council members a stipend to buy their own phones and other electronic equipment.

"This was something that we talked about before," he said. "It's actually what MTAS preferred us to do."

In his letter, Cothron wrote that council members should not be allowed to keep electronics because it doesn't help the city in any way, isn't expressly allowed under the charter and could create a conflict of interest. For example, if the council voted on equipment that they would get to keep after leaving office, some council members may push for the most expensive gadgets rather than the most sensible ones. After all, they wouldn't pay for it, at least not all of it. Taxpayers would.

In addition to Lambert, council members Denny Manning and Larry Sewell also voted in November to pass the resolution. Vice Mayor Jim Bethune voted against it, and council member Marc Gravitt was not in office at the time.