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. Some took my opposition to a charter change (requiring 5 votes instead of a 3 vote majority to remove the city manager) 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.
We’ve had a busy start to the year in the city of Ringgold. The item we’ve discussed on the council that excites me most is our beautification plans for downtown and building on what we’ve already accomplished on our main square along Nashville Street. A recently completed site plan for our entire downtown region has been delivered to the council, and we are currently in the process of contacting property owners to move that plan forward. The data gathering process that many of our citizens contributed to through online and public forums has come to fruition in a goal oriented long term plan that we are just now prioritizing. I look forward to sharing that vision as the city, along with our partners, begin to make it a reality.
Also, GEFA has awarded the City a $25,000 grant which should be close to 50% of the cost to install solar panels and converters at the city shop. I am very hopeful that this initial investment in solar panels will lead to more movement in that direction as we move forward. We will be closely analyzing these numbers to see how a more aggressive approach to solar energy might look. Our biggest consumer of energy at the city level is our water treatment plant and pump stations. Incorporating those sites into a long term plan could not only give the city more financial security in the future, but also more energy independence right now. My concern is the volatility and upward trajectory we have seen in energy prices.
In February, the council attended a work session in which we spent 3 days assessing our current position, planning the future, and working through personal differences on our board. I always enjoy getting into the numbers associated with our operations and examining fiscal trends. We have a great opportunity to keep our taxes low and maintain economic growth into the foreseeable future. I continue to have concerns about the personal relationships on the council, but we did have a constructive conversation about mayor/council/staff roles and keeping politics out of council meetings. Personally, it would be nice to not report on personal attacks, but that will take those things coming to an end. Coming out of our group discussion, I did have renewed hope that policy and procedural disagreements will not result in personal attacks moving forward.
We recently had a joint meeting between the local Catoosa County governments in which we decided to make a county wide economic development plan. The focus of this meeting was to narrow our goal set for future meetings and bring specific action items and information to the table for our next work session. We have made plans to continue these sessions quarterly. Everyone in the room seemed to appreciate how much we could potentially do with a united front, in a variety of areas, as opposed to working independently.
The two open council seats currently held by Randall Franks and Jake Haynes are a big deal for the future of the city of Ringgold. Rhonda Swaney and Kelly Bomar are challenging for those two seats. When you vote, you get to vote for two people you would prefer represent you in our local city government. Sharing some of my tougher experiences over the past two years as Ringgold mayor may help some of you in the decision you have to make. Hopefully it inspires you to get out and vote.
Since I first came onto the council, my main goal has been to keep residents informed about what is happening at city hall and to get valuable input from as many people as I can to make the best decisions for our city. I have taken my job as your voice at city hall seriously, and held nothing back about what is happening in regards to projects, policy decisions, public notices, and politics. To say this has rocked the boat would be an understatement. While I go out of my way not to personally attack anyone….ever….that has certainly not been the case in return.
I have been wrongly accused, in an open council meeting, of breaking the sunshine laws. It was said by another council member in our local newspaper that I am not included in some of the council discussions because of my “propensity to use social media.” In another open council meeting, Randall Franks called for getting rid of me. His exact words were, “This mayoral anchor will drag our residents, businesses, and all of us under, and I think we should throw it overboard.” This was in response to rightfully informing the public that their authority over local government had been diminished by a charter change moving authority away from your elected body to an appointed official (all without our knowledge or consent despite state law requirements that we are told ahead of time). I was told before I made this public that it would be the end of my political career and the attacks would be relentless….. Despite all these hits, I will not punch back. What I will do is tell you that it is happening.
Policy disagreements and dissent should always be welcome. I find great joy in exploring the nuances and ramifications of meaningful policy decisions we regularly have on the council. All our council members want what is best for the city, but demonizing dissenting views and making personal attacks is an unacceptable way to try to achieve that end. Undoubtedly, I will be accused of rocking the boat and sowing discord after posting this. Not posting would be nice, but as long as there’s good, bad, and ugly….you’re going to hear about it.
I look forward to working with whoever wins next week.
Vote at city hall 7 am to 7 pm on November 7th. Set a reminder.
Economic development in the city is happening in various places, and I wanted to mention a few. Dunkin Donuts is in the midst of constructing a plant on Industrial Court that will bring about 70 jobs to the city and distribute to about 60 stores throughout the area. Hamilton Medical is constructing a facility next to the Zaxby’s down Alabama Highway to help fill in that development. Kresh development is currently constructing a new building next to the Ringgold vet’s office that will either be another restaurant or possibly a retail establishment. Center for Sports Medicine on Battlefield Parkway across from the Rock Fitness is about to begin their structure and Larry Armour is working to fill the remaining development with various businesses. Mountain View CDJ has been clearing their spot on Alabama Highway for their new dealership, and construction will begin there soon. Daniel Silvers, on Bookout Road, is working to build a plumbing and retail space that will also be office and warehouse. Spring Hill Suites, beside the existing Marriot and new Farm to Fork building, has begun their dirt/storm water work and will be under construction soon.
Our nature trail and creek have some new features you will be seeing in the near future. The first part has already started in dealing with some standing water that has been problematic across the new concrete extension beyond our water plant. Also, engineering has started to connect that concrete extension from the water plant with more concrete all the way to the wooden walkway on the existing part of our trail toward the ball fields. This engineering includes better parking at the water plant with new asphalt. We will be moving the fence back toward the water plant to make room for this improved access to our nature trail. Also, we are actively constructing concrete steps along the bank that will work as a pull around for our kayakers at the pipe that goes across the creek behind Bluff View subdivision. This portage will be a welcome addition for people who put in at our canoe launch at the ball fields and get out behind Ringgold High School at our exit the school board and city have made available there.
Bridge work is slated to begin very soon on Alabama Highway over the interstate and creek. Those bridges will be raised 5-6 feet and be more pedestrian friendly. Also, the widening will begin at Hazel Drive (just beyond the Zaxby’s and college) and move back toward the interstate. I’ll keep you as updated as I am on that project as it moves along.
There is currently a petition making the rounds through the city to allow the city of Ringgold to issue business licences to potential package distilled spirits stores. Once the petition is complete, there will be a citywide vote to determine if the community allows such establishments in the city. The city council will have an item on our next agenda (Aug. 14th) regarding how to regulate those stores in case it passes. We can determine how many stores, where they can be located, and the zoning/size requirements. Having 3 exits along the interstate, I can’t imagine we would allow any more than 3 such stores into the city, but that will be discussed, researched, and decided by the city council in a way that is responsible for our city. As always, we would certainly welcome input from our community as to how to make this potential transition work for all of us.
The city has multiple economic growth opportunities we are both helping in, and working toward. Commercial, restaurant, industrial, and manufacturing are on the table throughout the community. Our local economy is vibrant. We are getting more and more zoning cases regarding future businesses and hearing about potential new sites regularly.
Recently, the city has annexed portions of US Highways that have made our city slightly more sprawling. Your council has successfully implemented a long term plan to grow the economic base while maintaining our historic neighborhoods and businesses. There have been growing pains making the budget work from year to year as we’ve grown, but utilizing these growth corridors will mean more opportunity for our workforce and stability for local government.
We have never worked from a deficit since I have been on the council (6 years), and a nest egg has been present with significant increases through the years. Our yearly money (just under 10 million dollars in total taxes) is accounted for in the budget and working for you in the community. Adding to our reserve has become more and more challenging. Lately, the toughest decisions we have made were largely balancing acts between investing in growth or holding the entirety of that safety net. Economic development opportunities only come around so often, and being in position to take advantage has been helpful in moving us forward. I have served with a diverse group of council people who have made consistent majority decisions that have been economically sound every year. Seeing economic stimulus backing up our territorial expansion is very exciting for everyone. The future is bright.
I’d like to start by addressing the opiate treatment facility coming to the old city electric building that’s fairly close to our downtown. The exact location is .31 miles after you go under the railroad underpass going toward Tiger Creek Elementary leaving downtown Ringgold. We have been working with our state delegation in Atlanta over the past couple of years to give us more tools to have a say in whether or not these types of facilities can move into our city. Those efforts have paid off in bringing about a moratorium that is currently in place state wide for one year. We will continue to work with our state legislature to make sure they use this time to give local municipalities the tools they need in order to have greater say in how we choose to grow our communities. Unfortunately, this facility’s application came in before that took effect. We had no legal authority to even review their applications before the state issued their operating license. They very well may be opening in the near future, but we are diligently verifying they have met all the parameters necessary for this type of facility. We have also been reviewing information brought to us by concerned citizens and addressing their concerns in every way we can. The love people within our community have for Ringgold has shown through beautifully during this process.
The city (through our DDA) has purchased Benton Coal property that constitutes most of the block between our downtown business district (where Caffeine Addicts and Home Plate are located) and city hall. We are excited about the opportunity to bring more business to this area through developing parking and business pads around that block. We’ve already removed two old buildings that were eye sores in that area, and the future looks bright for the rest of the property. This is a significant growth area for local business owners who will live and work here much like many of the businesses that currently make up our downtown business district. The property the city has brought under it’s control is outlined in yellow in the picture below. The red area signifies the buildings we have removed.
For those who put their kayaks/canoes in at our new canoe launch at the soccer fields (behind Ringgold City Pool) we now have an “out” behind Ringgold High School. If you drive down Sparks Street passed the Ringgold High School ROTC building and to the corner of that road by the softball field, there is a gravel pull off to the right that goes behind the school. At the end of that road there is a place where a car can be parked to pick up kayakers at the end of about a 2 hour trip from where they put in at or current canoe launch. There are beautiful boulders that extend out into the creek and create a natural ramp for people to take their canoes/kayaks out. The city is very grateful to the Superintendent and school board for their support and partnership in allowing us to use this area. Here is a picture of the creek route: