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Tough Times

This pandemic will hurt us economically.  Find a way to support our local businesses.  I’m not going to try and list the ways you can do that, but be diligent in working toward community sustainability by finding creative ways to help as many of our businesses stay open as possible.  I’m going to be doing some local shopping tomorrow at the front end of this self-imposed quarantine to try and do my part.  The situation is going to be getting considerably worse before it gets better.  I am fortunate to be in a situation that affects me less than our local entrepreneurs, and I’m going to try and ensure I don’t enjoy that alone.  We are all in this together.  I encourage some of our local businesses to comment on this post to show ways you are working to reach your customers.  If any of my local business friends need help in setting up things like Google Meet to reach their customers, then I would love to help you.  I can see local businesses, like yoga studios, meeting online.  It actually seems like a pretty cool concept.  My family will join in.  Share those types of opportunities and get with me to increase exposure.

I still see posts in which people are downplaying the current situation.  I encourage you to look up social media posts coming out of affected countries and see what those people are saying about the virus.  It is bad.  Older and at-risk people are dying at a much higher rate, and their capacity to deal with the outbreak at current infrastructure levels is becoming catastrophic.  People in critical conditions are unable to get the care they need which causes more deaths.  They do not understand the resistance we are expressing to preventative measures.  My sincere hope is that a few months from now, those same people are still saying we overreacted because we effectively stemmed the outbreak.

The CDC’s recommendation to close schools for 8 weeks has put our populace on notice that the measures to effectively deal with this outbreak are substantial.  At this point, there have been no announcements to go that route, but the prospect of extended closures is very real.  In three weeks, the number of cases, deaths, and hospitalizations will have undoubtedly increased.  I’m so proud of our school system for mobilizing to increase access to food and partnering with RTC for access to the internet.   RTC continues to be a valuable partner in so many ways, and I’m thankful for their commitment to our community.

Your local governments, along with our businesses and residents, are continually working to mitigate the spread of the virus, sustain services, and help those in need.  Our people have the heart to serve and this will be another example of how we overcome challenges together.

Sincerely,

Mayor Millwood

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Dealing with Corona

I felt it coming, but it was still a shock when our schools announced a two-week closure (three weeks with spring break).  My classroom is moving online.  Tomorrow, all of us will begin the process of filling our Google Classrooms with instruction, practice, and interactive tools to supplement the time missing from the classroom.  Teacher in-service promises to be busy with a different kind of teaching in mind.  Many of us are excited about this challenge and looking forward to giving our students great options for digital learning.  My wife and I have already spoken about teaching each other’s kids by creating instructional videos.  This will be fun.  Plans are being put into place for students without the internet and in our free/reduced lunch programs.  All those details haven’t been fully worked out, but they are ongoing with love for our students in mind.  Our SCHOOL WEBSITE will have relevant information as we work toward having something in place beginning Monday, March 16th.

I am also looking forward to having a little more time to help from a City of Ringgold perspective.  Ensuring our emergency personnel are supported has moved to the top of our priority list.  We are also thinking about things from a long term economic perspective.  I have high hopes in that regard, but a cautious outlook would be wise.  Our council will be discussing how to best prepare by analyzing potential revenue changes and addressing our budget accordingly. Projects such as additional sidewalks, dog parks, and capital improvements may need to be delayed while monitor the situation as it unfolds.

Personally, I will be doing my best to be available to you and our city personnel as much as possible.  My phone number is 423-653-7446.  Addressing your concerns and questions about city or school issues will be my main focus throughout this process.  I am thankful for our school superintendent and staff, experienced city/county leaders, and especially our parents who are suddenly shouldering a much different challenge.  The goal is social distancing, so let’s slow this virus down together…..by not getting together.  Stay safe Ringgold.

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Endorsing Colton Moore

I am endorsing Colton Moore over Jeff Mullis for our area’s 53rd state senate seat.  He is unafraid to stand up to the current power structure and will continue to fight for what is right.  As a state representative, he worked for educators to eliminate the discipline aspect in our state’s CCRPI scores in order to allow our schools to effectively deal with bad behavior.  The fact that he understands what is hurting our morale in the schools is so refreshing, and I hope my fellow teachers take note that he gets to the root of problems to enact change.

Representative Moore also tried to pass constitutional carry for our state and has consistently stood up or our 1st amendment rights as well.  During Colton’s term as a state representative, his frustrations at being blocked and talked down to by Jeff Mullis lead him to tackle the problem directly and run for that seat.  I admire his tenacity and ability to go right to the source of the problem and launch a public challenge to make a difference.

When I won the mayoral election as an outsider, politics in Ringgold had been poisoned by cronyism and getting things done was about who you knew and how well you fell in line with the power structure.  Having a public opinion that spoke directly to the voters was heavily frowned upon and attacked as causing division among elected officials.  Specifically, one thing caused a great amount of turmoil on my council.  When our charter was changed by senator Mullis without the council or public being given an opportunity to discuss, it became even more apparent that backroom deals are alive and well within my city.

One of my councilmen absolutely ripped me during an open meeting and argued that I was potentially costing our city millions of dollars.  My fellow councilman eloquently spoke about how I was endangering our “most favored nation” status.  What he was saying, without actually saying it, was that our city would be punished because I was speaking out against a piece of legislation at our state capitol slipped in by our current state senator.  I also received an intimidating text message from Mullis telling me, “I would change direction if I were you” and accusing me of dirty politics.  He consequently chose to fund Paul Lee’s candidacy in the city of Ringgold, and some of the dirtiest politics came about as a result of that funding.  I encourage you to ask Jeff Mullis what his justification is for supporting Paul Lee’s attempt to lead your city.

This is the main reason I am endorsing Colton: He checks his ego at the door and focuses on what’s right for the voters.  Insisting on a public conversation about difficult topics and not demonizing, threatening, or marginalizing opposition should be the order of the day. It is time to start building a positive political environment in our district.

At some point, politicians can become more enamored with themselves, other politicians, Political Action Committees, and big donors as opposed to the people who elect them.  Two of the senator’s recent bills come from this mindset.  One was called the “Casey Cagle Bill”.  It was an attempt to limit people’s rights to record their own conversations as they see fit.  This session, he introduced a bill nicknamed the “liar” bill which would limit citizen’s rights to address their legislature.  If you are deemed as lying to the legislature, it strips your right to address the legislature for the rest of the session.  A second offense would result in a lifetime ban.  The legislators aren’t held to that same standard,  but it’s now law that you are.  Also, the wild amount of money Senator Mullis brings in from PACs like payday and title lenders and Insurance Companies also leaves me wondering if he is looking out for the best interest of voters or the insurance companies and loan shark businesses contributing to him.

I am speaking from my own experience, and I can relate to Colton’s experience he has had at the state capitol.  Having an opinion contrary to one of the area’s political “higher-ups” should be something he listens to and embraces.  The feeling in the county is that you cannot publicly disagree with our state senator or he will come after you politically and use the state purse strings or his campaign war chest to punish you.  He has systematically worked to fill local elections with candidates who are loyal to him.

I truly believe Colton is not that kind of politician.  I have had personal conversations with him, and I’m sold on his commitment to do the right thing.  It was no easy decision to walk away from his state representative seat in order to continue his fight more effectively, but the best among us run toward the problems.  Please mark April 27th on your phone or calendar as the beginning of early voting and bring a breath of fresh air to our local politics by casting your ballot for Colton Moore.

https://coltonmoore.com/

Colton’s Facebook Page

Colton_Chase_Moore

 

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Ringgold Police Department

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.

 

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Ringgold 2020

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 mayormillwood@cityofringgoldga.gov

 

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Marijuana and City Policy

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:

polling

 

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.

 

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Elections, Politics, and Local Government

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. 

mayormillwood@cityofringgoldga.gov

423-653-7446. 

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