East Ridge to pay mayor's legal bills

East Ridge to pay mayor's legal bills

November 13th, 2009 by Adam Crisp in News

Six months after a judge shot down a group's ouster suit against East Ridge Mayor Mike Steele, the City Council has decided to pay for the legal bills incurred in his representation.

Eleven residents sought to boot Mr. Steele from office on grounds that he usurped his powers as mayor in violation of the city charter. It took a three-day trial to sort out the matter, and Mr. Steele said he incurred nearly $22,000 in legal bills.

In the end, Criminal Court Judge Don Poole decided the case was without merit. Judge Poole first ruled the plaintiffs were responsible for paying the mayor's costs, but on appeal ordered the group to pay about a third of those bills.

That left Mr. Steele with about $17,000 in costs. He said the reimbursement made sense because ordering him to pay the costs would discourage future leaders from stepping forward.

"Why would anyone run for public office," Mr. Steele said. "At some point, the city has to say they will reimburse these costs if a small citizens group like this comes forward and brings an ouster."

Vice Mayor Tom Card and Councilmen Larry Sewell and Brent Lambert voted to repay the mayor. Councilman Denny Manning objected and decided to abstain. Mr. Steele also did not vote.

In other business, it was announced East Ridge will host two Little League World Series tournaments this summer.

Those events will have a nearly $3.5 million economic impact, said Kevin Wright, commissioner of baseball and softball at Camp Jordan. A similar world series brought 49 teams last year and had a $1 million impact.

This tournament will have more than 100 teams, Mr. Wright said. That news came with standing ovation by the council and those attending the meeting.

East Ridge councilmen also voted to acquire a new $396,000 fire-rescue engine.

Emergency services Chief Eddie Phillips said the purchase was necessary because the city's 17-year-old fleet of emergency vehicles is aging. He said the city currently sends its largest fire engine first to most emergency calls, which is decreasing the life of that apparatus. This new vehicle is smaller and contains both fire suppression and medical capabilities. No current East Ridge vehicle has both those components.

The vehicle will be purchased on a lease-purchase agreement and payments will be made over 10 years, Mr. Phillips said.