Tim Gobble has to go

Tim Gobble has to go

February 2nd, 2013 in Opinion Free Press

East Ridge City Manager Tim Gobble.

Photo by Miranda Harple

The East Ridge City Council has decided to address the contract of embattled City Manager Tim Gobble at its meeting Thursday - and for good reason. Gobble's conduct and performance have been under scrutiny for months.

The laundry list of Gobble's errors in judgment and alleged wrongdoing, outlined in previous news reports, is shocking: hiring a teenage family friend to perform a job that requires a degree and years of experience, misusing thousands of dollars in city funds, inappropriately attacking critics on the city's Facebook page and tainting a court case involving his daughter.

Last fall, when Gobble decided to hire a communications director for the city, the requirements for the position originally included a bachelor's degree and full-time experience. Applications poured in. More than 70 candidates -- many of whom had master's degrees and years of experience -- applied for the post.

Rather than hiring one of these qualified applicants, Gobble chose to hire his part-time assistant, a 19-year-old church friend named Chris Clabough, as the city's communications manager.

Gobble claims that he was allowed to elevate Clabough to fill the post, even though he was not qualified for the position, because it was a promotion rather than an outside hire. The city code, however, makes it clear that waiving job requirements to fill a position with an internal candidate is only allowed if the candidate is already a full-time city employee. Clabough was not.

In order to hire Clabough properly, Gobble should have reposted the position without the education and work experience requirement -- something that was never done. As a result, more than 70 people who were qualified were not considered for the job, and someone who is underqualified for the position is now making $35,000 a year as East Ridge's communications director.

When residents began to realize that the hiring process surrounding Clabaugh -- whom Gobble referred to as his "Jedi Knight" in an email obtained through state open records laws -- might not conform with requirements in the city code, the city code mysteriously vanished from the Internet. It was only reposted to the state website that serves as an online repository for city codes when residents began to question whether Gobble had orchestrated the document's removal to prevent people from realizing that Clabough's hiring violated the code.

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In addition to Gobble's questionable hiring practices, there are clear indications in public records that he plays fast and loose with tax dollars.

The line item related to maintenance for the city's community center building was budgeted for $4,000 this fiscal year. As of December, only six months into the fiscal year, Gobble had allowed $26,474 in spending toward the facility -- 662 percent more than was budgeted for the entire year.

Expenditures at the former McBrien Elementary School, which the city owns, were targeted at $5,000 during the entire 2012-13 fiscal year. Thanks to an expensive decision to install a gym for city workers, which Gobble championed, $10,297 of taxpayers' money has already been spent at McBrien, records show.

A review of credit card receipts and bank statements tied to city-managed accounts indicated that Gobble often dines out on the taxpayers' dime. Despite the fact that Gobble pulls in $125,000 a year and the average East Ridge resident earns $22,105 annually, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, it is common for Gobble to make taxpayers pick up his lunch tab.

In fact, in a span of 104 business days last year, Gobble gobbled down more than 45 meals purchased using a city credit card.

City records indicate that Gobble, Deputy City Manager and Public Safety Director Chief Eddie Phillips and Marvin "Stump" Martin, the head of the city's Parks and Recreation Department, frequently eat together and pay for each other's meals using their city-issued credit cards. By trading off who picked up the bill, and writing "official business" on the receipts they submitted to the city's accountants, the three men apparently thought no one would realize how frequently they eat out at taxpayers' expense.

On the receipts, Gobble claims that because business is discussed at the lunches, expensing the meals is legitimate. It remains unclear why the men can't simply discuss city business in their offices at no additional cost to taxpayers.

In one instance, when it seemed Gobble used his card for a legitimate dining purpose -- while attending a conference in Knoxville -- he left a $10 tip on a $25.42 lunch check. While the waiter must've appreciated the generosity, the taxpayers who actually paid for the 40 percent tip likely would not.

Gobble frequently makes East Ridge residents subsidize his sweet tooth, as well. Gobble claims that his numerous taxpayer-funded trips to Baskin-Robbins are justifiable business expenses -- as was the purchase of a bag of Sour Patch Kids and a Coke.

Under the not-so-watchful eye of Gobble, other East Ridge employees used city credit cards for questionable expenditures, as well. Outrageous examples include an $82 pair of jeans from The Buckle in Hamilton Place mall, as well as $3,374 worth of workout equipment and $1,006 for plasma TVs for the city's employees-only gym.

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There is a series of other situations that East Ridge City Council members should take into consideration when deciding whether to give Gobble the boot.

For example, the city code requires the city manager to become a resident of East Ridge within 90 days of beginning the position. Now, nearly two full years after being hired, Bradley County property tax records show that Gobble and his family still live in Cleveland. In an attempt to satisfy the law, he apparently rents an apartment in East Ridge and counts that as his residence while still commuting to Cleveland nearly every day, according to people close to the situation.

Additionally, a judge ruled in November 2012 that Gobble "overstepped his bounds" when he suspended several court clerks for allegedly failing to tell his daughter about scheduled changes in a Sept. 3 court case concerning an incident in which she was allegedly robbed. The attorneys for the defendant argued that Gobble's actions tainted the case by interfering with the court's neutrality.

As it turns out, a clerk had, in fact, notified Gobble's daughter of the scheduling change by leaving a message on her answering machine, according to a Times Free Press report.

Many of the details of the situation between Gobble and the court clerks made its way to the city's Facebook page. That's because, until recently, Gobble managed to turn the official East Ridge Facebook page into his personal vanity page where he defended his questionable actions, attacked his critics and posted pictures of himself working out in the expensive gym he helped to build with tax dollars.

Tim Gobble's inability to follow the rules and his apparent disregard for taxpayers' money leave the East Ridge City Council with only one option when it meets Thursday: present him with a well-earned pink slip and show him to the door.