There have been so many questions regarding our Chief of Police resigning, and I want to answer some of those questions here. One of the biggest questions has been about our police department’s budget, so I will begin there. When I was elected mayor in 2015, the police department‘s budget was at $734,395. It has steadily gone up over the past 5 years to $1,096,450 in 2020. Needs of the police department have been a regular topic during my time on the council, and the chief has consistently lobbied to make the department the best it can be. We have increased that budget steadily, and it is our biggest line item of all our departments. Having said that, there are still needs for our police department and other departments. We have been committed to keeping our tax rate steady for a number of years. Walking the line between keeping our tax rate low and effectively funding all of our departments has been one of the hardest tasks as an elected official.
While I have been aware of our chief’s frustration for some time, it has recently escalated to what happened Monday night. There were other issues brought up during the resignation that are easier to address than funding, and I believe the council should take action on those items as soon as possible. Our hiring procedures can be adjusted to give our next police chief more options when trying to hire officers. We should also involve our next police chief in council discussions far more than we have in the past. The feeling of not being heard was palpable during Dan’s remarks, and it would be extremely productive to hear from all of our department heads on a more regular basis. I also believe that encouraging a dialogue between the mayor and staff would help diminish the disconnect between city staff and policy makers.
Obviously, there are more issues at play than budgetary concerns. In every profession and in every life, there are relationship factors that come into play when trying to make any business or government entity work. As a council, we are actively working to get all the facts and work as a team to avoid similar situations in the future. I will be less public about personnel issues that arise as part of those endeavors, but I also want to be clear that some hard conversations are necessary and inevitable after what transpired at our last meeting. We are addressing, and getting to the bottom of various issues and rumors that have been circulating over the past two days. Our city employees should expect our council and mayor to handle personnel issues in executive session. Our city employees and our citizens should also expect obvious issues to be addressed meaningfully. Ringgold can be assured that we are working to make our city the best it can be. No one on our council is the type to put our head in the sand and ignore situations that almost literally slap us in the face.
The construction along Alabama Highway is progressing ahead of schedule, and we’re looking forward to having a nice highway with sidewalks running along both sides. That work will largely be finished by the end of the year. I’m also looking forward to working with our playground committee toward an inclusive playground by our city pool that can accommodate children and parents with disabilities. We have a lot of work to do on the front end of that project, but we have the plans in hand and a motivated set of individuals working to raise funds to make it happen. I would also like the city to partner with our Downtown Development Authority and local businesses to decorate our downtown district with lights for Christmas in 2020. I was encouraged to check out the City of Chickamauga’s light display in their downtown this year, and it was very well done. It would also be great to have some sort of Christmas tree lighting ceremony and to involve as many residents, businesses, and government organizations as possible. Lighting up city hall and the courthouse would be a great event that could bring many people into our downtown district for the event and throughout the holiday season.
I’m currently going through our charter and trying to find improvements we can make in order to better serve and represent the people that elect us into office. If you would like to look through our charter and find specific things you think could be tweaked, the link is HERE. I’d specifically be interested in hearing from business owners and developers about how we can attract, maintain, and encourage current and future developments that can enrich all of our lives.
A big point that has been coming up over and over again through the elections season and beyond is dealing with people speeding through residential areas. It is impossible to simultaneously patrol all these areas that are having constant issues, but something needs to be done in order for our residents to feel safe. I’m going to bring it to the council, our city manager, and our police chief to find effective ways to try and protect our city’s children from the constant danger that only a few are causing. Because we try to run a lean government in order to keep taxes low, there are simply not enough officers to watch every neighborhood and city street. We increased our budget for our police department again this year. I swore in another officer recently to bring our force up to fully staffed, but the problem is so prevalent that patrols alone are not enough. This is one of the biggest challenges I think we should be aggressively trying to tackle in the coming year.
Having a year in which there are no city elections will be nice. Political posturing and score keeping is generally kept to a minimum in those years. We can focus on providing efficient services that you expect, and support a robust and growing city.
Thank you for another term as your Mayor. As always, feel free to contact me at 423-653-7446 or by e-mail at email@example.com
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 is 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)