Cleveland, Bradley seek common ground

Cleveland, Bradley seek common ground

April 20th, 2011 by Randall Higgins in News

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Bradley County Commission and Cleveland City Council members agreed Tuesday they don't want to be facing each other from opposing sides of a courtroom Thursday morning.

Whether a Chancery Court hearing on distribution of a portion of disputed sales tax revenue is to be avoided could depend on what happens in a special City Council meeting this morning.

Ten of the 14 county commissioners and four of the seven City Council members spent 21/2 hours Tuesday evening seeking common ground. Since it was a nonofficial meeting, they could not take votes, even straw polls.

But Councilman Richard Banks said he will propose the city ask Chancellor Jerri Bryant to "continue" the city's countersuit against the county for 60 days while the two sides negotiate. If that proposal is approved, then County Commission Chairman Louie Alford will phone county lawyers and request they drop the county's lawsuit against the city.

"Generally, people walk out of the courtroom with neither party satisfied," said Banks, an attorney.

If last-minute brakes can be applied to the legal process, then Banks proposes the city and county include the dispute on each of their agendas through June 20, when they get a recommendation on whether to merge fire departments.

If a merger is accepted, then the disputed $720,000 now being held by the county trustee can be used to build a needed fire station on Westland Drive, he said. If there is no merger, then the city and county can decide on jointly funded capital projects to benefit all residents.

"It's putting off the inevitable," said Commissioner Adam Lowe.

The City Council is divided on the question, he said.

Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland vetoed a similar resolution last week, Lowe noted. Rowland could veto the new resolution, he said. City Council members at the Tuesday meeting said the five needed veto override votes on the council are not there.

Councilman Avery Johnson said he could not in good conscious approve any changes to what already was promised to city voters. In the city referendum, he said, voters were told if they approved the half-cent sales tax increase the money would only go for city capital projects, including schools and paving.

If the lawsuit and counter suit are suspended, Banks said, they could be renewed if negotiations do not work out.

If negotiations happen, there were plenty of suggestions Tuesday on where to go next. Among them, Commissioner Mark Hall suggested a one-fourth split between city and county schools and city and county government for capital projects. That, he said, would stay true to the city's sales tax campaign pledge.