Marijuana is an interesting subject and has been fascinating to watch evolve in regards to public opinion. Currently, 67% of the US population approve of making recreational marijuana legal while 32% oppose. The percentage of people who believe it should be legal for medical reasons are 92% compared to 8% opposed. HERE is the link to Pew Research center’s long term polling. This polling breaks the data down into things like age and party affiliation. HERE is another poll from Gallup showing very similar results. This chart shows Pew’s trend lines going back to 1969:
I am writing this post because I am curious how some of you feel about our city’s marijuana policy. Currently, our city charter says possession of less than an ounce can result in up to $1,000 fine and 60 days in jail. I have copied the code section regarding Marijuana in green and our code section dealing with penalties in orange/blue. I know that $1,000 and 2 months in jail would have a significant impact on most people I know. The question is if this is too much of a punishment, not enough, or just right.
Sec. 46-1. – Use of marijuana. (link)
(b) Jurisdiction of municipal court.
(1)Where a person is charged with the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana within the corporate limits of the city, the municipal court has jurisdiction, pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 36-32-6 to try and dispose of such cases.
(d)Penalties. Unless another penalty is expressly provided by law, every person convicted of a violation of this section shall be punished as provided in section 1-11; however, the total length of sentence for imprisonment and total length of public service work shall not exceed one year.
Sec. 1-11. – General penalty, continuing violations. (link)
(a)Whenever in this Code or in any ordinance of the city any act is prohibited or is made or declared to be unlawful or an offense, or whenever in this Code or any ordinance the doing of any act is required and the failure to do such act is declared to be unlawful, and no specific penalty is provided; and unless otherwise provided by state law, the violation of any such provision of this Code or any such ordinance shall be punished by a fine not to exceed $1,000.00 and imprisonment in the city prison or in the county jail and work and labor on the streets or public works of the city, whether within or without the corporate limits, not exceeding 60 days, or both a fine and sentence of imprisonment and labor; and all sentences may be in the alternative and fines may be imposed with the alternative of sentence to imprisonment and labor if the fines are not paid. Each day any violation of this Code or of any ordinance shall continue shall constitute a separate offense.
Anytime I write something like this, I feel like I need to include a disclaimer. Recently, one of our councilmen put an item on our agenda about requiring drug testing for our elected officials. Apparently, there are legal issues involved with putting that into our charter, but nothing is stopping elected officials from doing that voluntarily. I went the day after it was on our agenda and took one just like any other city employee. I have no problem continuing to do that while I hold this position. I know that some will try to label anyone who even brings this up for discussion as a pot head, and it would be nice to have a meaningful conversation without innuendo or false accusations.
While our community is more conservative and Republican than most areas of the country, 55% of Republicans support complete legalization and a full 88% of Republicans support legalization for medical purposes. That makes me wonder if our current policy still reflects our citizens’ views on proper punishment for low level marijuana cases. This post is not to argue for or against marijuana legalization. It is meant to inquire about public sentiment regarding penalties laid out in our city charter for these crimes.
This election season has been…..interesting. I have spent the last 4 years in office going out of my way to involve people in their local government and ensure the council was informed about where our electorate stands on a number of issues. While I don’t bring every single issue before our citizens on social media, I want to ensure some of the more momentous issues that could affect our lives the most are subjected to a public discourse. I am sure that is what carried me through the election and ensured a solid majority in a race that was unnecessarily messy at times. I want to talk about the election specifically and what my perspective is on how it all went down.
Obviously, the most noise was made by Paul Lee. He made several ridiculous claims that I was a drug convict and that I was stealing money from our city’s flag fund. One city voter recorded the conversation they had with Paul while he was campaigning, and he was telling people that I took money from the flag fund to buy my campaign t-shirts. I had more than one person tell me this, but the recording made it apparent he was, in fact, telling this to people. It would have been nice for Paul to have addressed that with me personally, but I believe his goal was to do as much damage as possible to my reputation than to find true answers. I also believe he was manipulated into believing some of these things by people within the city’s power structure.
Paul showed me anonymous letters he had received in which he was being told to pull open records requests with very specific dates and subjects in which only someone intimately involved with city business would have access. One of his requests was a specific date about a t-shirt/powder purchase in the year my event got rained out. Obviously this was an attempt to capture a narrow view of my efforts to raise money for the flag fund, and responding by providing the complete picture of those funds was the best way to bat away those claims. There were other open records requests that I would liken to finding a needle in a haystack. It was apparent that someone “in the know” was pushing him to find anything he could to use against me. I believe I know who originated those letters. It’s not hard to identify who at city hall has repeatedly tried to make me look as bad as possible. I also do not believe they were trying to help Paul win. The intent was to damage me to the point that Tony could win. For the record, I truly believe that Tony had nothing to do with any of this. He’s always been a stand up guy, and I have an even greater appreciation for him after this election.
Overall, I am excited about the new council and our opportunity to make some great things happen for our city. Even though there are some lingering personal/political issues, I think that the experience we currently have along with some new perspectives will serve our city well in representing our diverse population. I am happy to have Sara serving another term. She has been a steady hand the last four years. She has great expertise at the state level and builds relationships in a way that will benefit our city for the next four years. While we have been on different sides of some issues, I appreciate her professionalism. I feel like I have learned some things from her about handling tough interactions on contentious issues. Rhonda will bring a new perspective, and I’m looking forward to hearing her ideas and input on the direction of our city. She has shown a real fire to represent the people of this community. I’m thankful to have a new voice and fresh perspective, and I think the city made a great choice in bringing her on board to be a councilwoman. Jake also worked his tail off to win a seat this election, and I’m so happy for him. He campaigned on some things that I’m looking forward to implementing in the next year…specifically a dog park. We have the space to make that happen, and I’m excited to hear his thoughts on how bring it to fruition. I truly believe it can be one of the best cost to benefit ratio projects we can bring to the city. Also, I have the feeling that there is now a majority on the council committed to making that happen. He also has great expertise in many things the city deals with on a day to day basis. Jake has always been straightforward and honest. Having a straight shooter on any board makes the work and relationships much easier to manage.
My concerns moving forward are almost all political in nature. The city is in great financial position, and we have set a course that is sustainable and pro-growth with an exceptional plan to ensure our city is something we can all be proud of. I go out of my way to work with all the elected officials in my area and limit my disagreements to policy, but I will not shy away from calling out bad behavior. Specifically, the attempts to label fellow board members as unethical during our council meetings needs to stop. Disagreements on policy do not equal being unethical. It has happened repeatedly, and I will continue to publicly call out personal attacks for what they are. They are attempts to intimidate and punish people for having a viewpoint they do not agree with. I do believe the climate will markedly change with the new members voted in during this election cycle. Thank you again for the honor of serving a second term as the mayor of Ringgold. Please always feel free to contact me about anything you have a question or concern about.
I am excited for the opportunity to serve you and ensure your local government remains open and accessible for the next four years. Please consider making a $20 donation at THIS LINK to support my effort.
Admittedly, I am taking the bait and responding to yet another passive aggressive HIT by my fellow councilman. Many of the points in his written article are exactly things he has said in council meetings in trying to critique my role as mayor. Normally I try and stay above the fray and only call out council members when they unjustly accuse myself or other council members of ethics violations, but it is election season. I want to address the implications directly with unemotional facts and speak about both the hypocrisy, and the type of people I am hoping for on our council.
We need a mayor willing to speak directly to the public about what is happening at city hall through knocking on their door, public forums, and yes…even social media. We need council people that don’t pull political stunts like trying to take away Joe Barger’s office space in the last two months of his 40 year term as mayor. I hope voters in the city ask Joe what he thinks about the mayor’s race and Randall using his name in the column. What Ringgold needs in a council person is someone willing to stand up and say, “It’s wrong to sneak in a charter change that moves power from the elected body, and by extension the voters, to an appointed official in the city” as opposed to attacking the mayor who exposes it. A council person needs to be able to have policy disagreements without attacking the character of their fellow board members through false allegations of ethics violations as done by Randall.
The council is going through what I believe to be necessary growing pains in a political environment that demands transparency. The resulting increase in scrutiny on myself and the council by talking publicly about what we are doing is good for local democracy. Personally, I welcome that scrutiny and resulting public discourse that hones my ability to better represent the City of Ringgold. While that view is shared by some on the council, others have tried to undermine my access to information and restrict what is known by our electorate. As candidates run for office this election cycle, I encourage you to ask them about these issues and where they stand in regards to an open public discourse with their elected officials. Ask who has sat down with the owner of Farm to Fork to figure out policy changes that could bring in more successful restaurants like his, as opposed to actively hindering that development’s progress in the council meetings. Talk to the local business owners about who on the council actually spends money in their stores and supports their endeavors. Showing up for a ribbon cutting is nice and gets your face in the paper, but using them for your shopping and dining says so much more.
There is an important election this November. I hope that you not only listen to what our candidates have to say, but also actively seek out their views on important issues that will affect our city for years to come. Be diligent and exercise your right to make a difference by voting.
Here is our map of existing sidewalks (in black) and proposed sidewalks for the future (in red). Currently we are focused on getting the sidewalk along Boynton Drive coming into Alabama Highway. This has required many easements and engineering to scale the incline and get over the spillway at the bottom of the hill. For safety, this is the most needed sidewalk in our community right now. The amount of people walking into town from the multi family units along that corridor is substantial, and they are in need of a safer way to make that trek.
Click the link for a view that you can zoom in and out.
Sidewalk existing and proposed Master Plan 2019 (1)
There has been a lot made about social media during my four years on the council and three as mayor. When I first went to a council meeting, it was because I was upset about an ordinance that was passed specifically for my neighborhood without people in the neighborhood knowing. When I asked why that was the case, I was told that I should have attended the meeting. It was a fair enough answer, but I thought I could make a contribution to the community if I were on the council. Since getting on the council, and especially since becoming mayor, I have consistently tried to inform our residents about what is happening in local government before we make those decisions. For the most part, reactions have been overwhelmingly positive from residents throughout the city. Our constituents are plugged into what is happening in their local government more than most cities, and I receive consistent positive feedback from an overwhelming majority of people. Informing our citizens about what the council is doing ahead of time and throughout these processes has given our residents and businesses an opportunity to have a greater voice in our local government. There have been countless times I have posted an agenda or blog post on Facebook and consequently received helpful feedback that has directly impacted city policy.
In the past, there may have been occasional news articles about something going on during our council meetings, but for most of our council’s history, city business has been conducted in relative anonymity. Most of our meetings are not very exciting, and people generally don’t attend. When I started posting agendas, city updates, and causes I am working toward, there was a new scrutiny placed on what we were doing at city hall. To say there have been growing pains would be an understatement. I have heard more than once that city business does not belong on social media, and if people want to have a voice they should attend meetings. The turmoil on the council stemming from differences on how social media should be used has been one of the hardest things to deal with in my time as Mayor.
There is a line in our city code of ordinances that deals with chairing our meetings. It reads, “The chairman shall be impartial and conduct the meetings in a fair manner.” When I started informing a large amount of people about what is happening at city hall and advocating for specific changes, push back came in the form of trying to silence me. The argument was made by our two most senior council members that I should not be allowed to voice my opinion during council meetings or on social media because of the clause referenced above. Those attempts failed when I did not relent and we received legal opinions that would not support taking away my voice, but the divide on our council has been very present. I truly believe every one of our council loves the city and want what is best for our residents. I see it all the time in their service both on the council, and volunteering for various events. This one issue has been particularly polarizing within our city government and weighed on me throughout my term as mayor. Because I strongly believe in informing everyone about what we are doing and attaining feedback from residents, I have settled on continuing utilizing social media tools while learning from mistakes I make.
Speaking of mistakes… The downside of being so open and transparent is there is a greater amount of scrutiny on all of us at city hall. The mistakes I personally make are extremely public and open to an enormous amount of scrutiny. It’s sometimes a heavy price to pay. Recently, when I tried to do what I thought was the right thing with the 1890’s Days accounting, it made the problem blow up in a way that I did not anticipate. Some of the concerns that had been brought up to me about using social media were proven to be justified, and that was an incredibly hard learning experience. Learning from my mistakes is essential in using social media an a way that benefits Ringgold and brings honor to the office of mayor. The added attention has also been felt by other members of my board who have had to cope with a constituency that is much more informed and consequently more opinionated on a variety of issues. I have undoubtedly made my job and the job of my council harder by involving a large amount of people in the process of government. Having said all of that, the good exponentially outweighs the bad. I truly feel I have been able to tap into the expertise throughout the community and bring those thoughts and ideas to the table during our council meetings.
I am always available through messenger or through the phone at 423-653-7446 if you would like to talk about this issue or any other.
Our day to day operations of the city are carried out by a large group of city workers, and the city council has appointed our city manager to oversee that work. Many people believe that I manage our city employees, but the job of the Mayor and council (as outlined by our charter) is to set policy. The city manager (Dan) is tasked with carrying out that policy. In the 7 years I have been part of the city governing authority, we have put forth countless proposals, policy changes, and expectations for Dan to accomplish. Each and every time, he has ensured the job got done.
I am writing this because I have been accused by a fellow councilman of wanting to fire our city manager. That claim has been circulated and gotten back to me numerous times. I believe that this claim is the reason our charter was changed requiring 5 instead of 3 votes to remove the city manager. Some took my opposition to that charter change as evidence I wanted to move in that direction. While I spoke out against giving the city manager more authority than a voting majority of the elected body, it was not because I didn’t have faith in Dan to perform his duties. In fact, I only have evidence to the contrary. I cannot point to one specific time he has not come through regarding a directive from the council or even a request from me personally.
Of course, we have had disagreements along the way. That will continue to happen. I don’t believe I will be mistaken for anyone’s blank check. I also don’t want a false narrative perpetuated that I’m lobbying to get a new city manager. Issues that I have with Dan or any other city employee are handled in house in a respectful manner. If anyone has an issue with the direction of the city, that should be directed toward our elected body who is in charge of policy and appointing the city manager. Each and every thing we do in local government is set out through votes on the council. I always listen to, consider, and even sometimes agree with criticisms we receive about employees or city work. A mayor should be seen as someone citizens can go to, in confidence, with concerns. Hearing out those issues and respecting opinions isn’t always followed by agreement on how to proceed.
Navigating small town politics has been the hardest part of this job. People you have never met are ready to believe the most wonderful or awful things they hear about you. There are people equally ready to celebrate your successes and slam you for your mistakes. I do like to address and put to rest untruths as they come up, but even that can be a mine field. If you would like to talk to me about this issue or any other city business, please feel free to call me at 423-653-7446. There is no need to assume.