The board at its January meeting, left to right, City Administrator Gene Vess, Commissioner Ronnie Lancaster, Vice Mayor Paul Don King, Commissioner Samantha Rector, Commissioner Jimmy Haley, and City Attorney Billy Gouger.

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Flooding shows communication an issue among South Pittsburg, Tenn., city leaders

SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. — Flooding in the downtown and Richard City areas of South Pittsburg has been a growing problem for 20 years, but during the South Pittsburg City Commission's January meeting, a discussion of the situation revealed a lack of communication among city leaders.

City Administrator Gene Vess said two items were in dire need of board consideration — flooding on 19th Street and a couple of proposals from Stantec, an engineering firm in Chattanooga, to study the citywide flooding problem.

The 19th Street situation is a "major project" that the city "needs to start working on," Vess told the board.

Vess said it is a more immediate problem than other flooding issues in the town, and he estimates a fix would cost around $200,000.

The town is expecting to get $200,000 in grant funding for the project by March, but that means South Pittsburg can't start working on the problem until the grant money arrives.

When the discussion moved to the proposals from Stantec to study flood mitigation around the Haley's Cove Branch and the Poplar Spring Branch, which run off South Pittsburg Mountain, board members said they didn't know anything about them.

Mayor Virgil Holder was absent from the meeting due to a medical issue.

Vess said the proposals were "something we've got to sign pretty quick" even though Holder was the only one who knew the deadline.

Vess apologized to Vice Mayor Paul Don King for not readily knowing more specific details about the Stantec proposals, but said city officials have had the proposals, which would total $87,000, since "sometime in December."

"And this is the first we [the board] have heard of them," Commissioner Samantha Rector said.

"The mayor's been working on this mostly, and he don't tell us much about what's going on here," King said. "So, we [the other board members] are really just under the bus. The right hand don't know what the left hand is doing."

King apologized to those in attendance for the lack of preparation and said he found out he'd be presiding over the January meeting five days ahead of time.

City leaders would "hopefully get on the same track" soon, he said.

Likewise, City Attorney Billy Gouger said he had not seen the proposed Stantec contracts until the board's meeting and had not had time to examine their specifics.

Commissioner Jimmy Haley moved to table decisions on both the 19th Street project and the Stantec proposals until board members and Gouger have time to "go over the particulars."

"We [the board] have been kept in the dark," Haley said. "This is the first we've heard about it, and there's no call for that."

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at