JASPER, Tenn. — It has been an unusual three months for the Jasper Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
When Alderman Jason Turner replaced long-time board member Leon Rash in December, it signaled a fundamental shift in the board's inner workings.
Votes on several issues over the last three months have ended 3-2 with Alderman Josh Jennings, Alderman Paul West and Turner voting together against Mayor Paul Evans and Alderman Paul "Mac" Bumpus.
On Jan. 13, the night before the board's regular monthly meeting, Evans said he got a call from Turner requesting a meeting along with Jennings at city hall.
The meeting was to discuss an agenda item for the next day's meeting, he said.
Reading from a prepared statement at the board's February meeting, Evans said when he got to city hall that night, Jennings, Turner and West were waiting for him.
"I told the three aldermen that I did not feel comfortable meeting because it could be perceived as a violation of the open meetings law," he said.
Bumpus, the only remaining board member, wasn't told about the meeting.
Evans said he found out later that it would've been a violation of the Tennessee Open Meetings law.
City Attorney Mark Raines advised Evans that if he stayed at the gathering, he needed to record everything that was said.
"When I informed the aldermen of what the city attorney advised me and what I was going to do [record the meeting], Alderman Jennings immediately said, 'No, we are not recording,'" Evans said. "'We'll do it in the [regular] meeting.'"
He said Jennings told him the group was "just trying to save me some embarrassment" before that regular meeting.
However, the confrontation continued.
"It was their excuse to get me there, so the three of them could try to attack my character and try to intimidate me," Evans said.
He said Jennings was angry and told him he sat in an "ivory tower" making $40,000 per year and "for what?"
"Listen, I work for that $40,000 a year," Evans told Jennings directly. "Believe me, and it's not an ivory tower. I work for this town. I work for the citizens of Jasper, and I'm out on projects, checking streets, ditches and everything else I am called about and anything that needs to be done."
Jennings didn't deny Evans's account, and said that he was upset and wanted to bring up the issues privately.
"I felt like you overstepped your boundaries," Jennings told Evans.
He said Evans has "overstepped" his authority on other projects, too.
"All of those things are things I wanted to bring up to you privately," Jennings said. "Not during a public meeting because if I were mayor I would want somebody to do that for me."
Turner and West did not comment.
Evans said he couldn't understand why the three board members seem to be working against him.
"It's only going to hurt the town — not me," he said. "I haven't done anything wrong, men. I know that I haven't done anything illegal, immoral or unethical, and I truly make every decision with the town's best interest at heart."
Jennings said Evans has "worked hard" as Jasper's mayor for the last six years, and that he doesn't believe Evans has "stolen a nickel" from the town.
"I have said that time and time again," Jennings said. "I don't believe a word of that from anybody."
"In two years, you'll have your chance to beat me," Evans told Jennings.
Jennings said he didn't want to be Jasper's mayor.
"I know that's where all this comes from, but I have no desire whatsoever," he said. "I promise you that."
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org