South Pittsburg mayor resigns, says commissioners 'thwarted' his efforts to improve city

South Pittsburg mayor resigns, says commissioners 'thwarted' his efforts to improve city

June 19th, 2019 by Ryan Lewis in Local Regional News

This story was updated Wednesday, June 19, 2019, at 8:12 p.m. with more information.

Virgil Holder

Virgil Holder

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. — Mayor Virgil Holder has resigned from office, effective immediately.

In a nearly three-page letter addressed to the South Pittsburg City Commission and the town's citizens, Holder blames City Administrator Gene Vess, a majority of the board, and a "select few" for the "demise of our great city."

Holder said he has been shut out of the city government, and that he has been "taught" over recent months that "improvements cannot be made with the presence of certain powers that exist within the city."

He said his moves to make improvements to South Pittsburg have been "thwarted" by a group of commissioners that have already "discussed, agreed or have been instructed" on what would be done.

Among his many accusations, Holder said meetings were held with Vess, commissioners and police department employees, while excluding him.

When he asked Vess why he wasn't invited, Holder said Vess told him, "I knew you would not agree, so I felt you did not need to know."

Holder said Vess then told him to get out of his office because Vess "had his three votes" and didn't need to tell the mayor anything.

Vess works at the pleasure of the board, and can be removed from his position at any time by a majority vote.

Holder said he has been left out of many policy discussions since November 2017, and that Vess has made illegal purchases by not following state bid requirements and without board approval.

Also, Holder said Vess has been pushing to raise city garbage fees, even though South Pittsburg already has the highest property tax rate in Marion County by nearly double at 99 cents per $100 of assessed value, and that Vess diverted city money to a non-city organization without authorization.

"So, in my opinion, the best thing I can do is make what I believe to be the right decision," Holder said in the letter. "It is for this reason I will be resigning my office as Mayor of the City of South Pittsburg, Tennessee, effective immediately."

Vess said he hasn't read the letter and has only heard "bits and pieces" of what other people told him.

"We wish him [Holder] the best for what his future is," Vess said. "We're going to open up city hall tomorrow, and it will be business as usual."

He said he wasn't sure about what illegal actions Holder referred to in the letter.

"Everything has been above board," Vess said. "I don't have anything negative to say. I'm still trying to do the best I can for South Pittsburg. Maybe [Holder] didn't agree with what we're doing, and how we're doing it.

He said he never withheld information from Holder.

"I'm not hiding anything from anybody," Vess said. "There's a five member board. I report to all five members, not one. [Holder] may have had a little trouble understanding that."

Vice Mayor Samantha Rector will take over as mayor, according to the city charter.

She will remain in that position for the 18 months remaining on Holder's term, and the board will have to appoint someone to fill her previous position as commissioner.

The board will have to approve a new vice mayor, too.

"I ran for office two and a half years ago as a commissioner to try to make good decisions for South Pittsburg," Rector said in a statement. "Yes, the board has been divided for most of those two and a half years. I did not always agree with the mayor, but I did try to work with him."

She said resigning was Holder's decision to make.

"I hope to move forward as the mayor in the next year and a half, and work together with the rest of the board of commissioners to do good things for our city."

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com.