published Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

150 hear East Ridge city council hopefuls

  • photo
    East Ridge City Attorney John Anderson
    Photo by Laura-Chase McGehee

East Ridge's city manager and city attorney came under fire in East Ridge's City Council candidate forum Monday.

Seven people are running for the two seats available on the City Council: newcomer Patricia Cassidy, driven into politics over concern about her granddaughter's future in the city; John Clemmer, who did not attend the forum; Marc Gravitt, who reached third place in the 2010 council race; incumbent Councilman Denny Manning; youth recreation league coach and business owner Stephen King Jr.; Mimi Lowrey, a vocal council meetinggoer for two decades making her first run at office; and Ann Pruett, a retired librarian for the city, who said Monday that her deceased husband, former longtime Mayor Fred Pruett, had been her "coach" in city matters.

Candidates fielded questions from the roughly 150 residents crowded in the gym at Spring Creek Elementary School. Times Free Press reporter Chris Carroll moderated the forum, which was sponsored by the East Ridge Education Council.

The performance of City Manager Tim Gobble and City Attorney John Anderson emerged as hot topics at numerous points in the forum as candidates were asked how they would cut spending and what they would change about the current council.

Several said Gobble -- who attended the forum -- spent too much time on the city's Facebook page, and that he was spending too much on items like city furniture and a $50,000 workout facility for city employees.

"I don't feel that we have a public servant any longer," Lowrey said. "I would like to see him spend more time being a supervisor and getting to know the departments than some of the things he does."

The candidates also criticized Gobble's proposal to make the court clerk an elected position after a controversy erupted over his discipline of the clerks who he said mishandled a case in which his daughter was the victim.

Anderson's legal fees also drew the spotlight, as audience members applauded when candidates said he was overpaid.

"He's making $160,000 a year. For a part-time job," Gravitt said. "I don't have a problem with his job performance. But let's do a contract and stick to it. Don't keep on feeding the cow."

Pruett was the only candidate to refrain from criticizing Gobble and Anderson. She said that after working under 12 city managers, she'd give Gobble an "8 or 9" on a scale of 1 to 10. As for Anderson, she said his job involved more than the average city attorney.

"Every ordinance in East Ridge has been changed and amended," she said. "If the poor man has to do all that, he has a lot on his plate."

Economic development

A revisited theme throughout the night was trying to foster economic development and "bringing East Ridge back," as candidates decried the sprawl of pawn shops, check cash stores and newly built fireworks stores they said hurt East Ridge's image.

"When I moved to the the city of East Ridge, to me it had a hometown feeling. And it's losing that to me," Cassidy said. "I'm tired of sitting around and watching something deteriorate. I want to make it better."

A lack of recreation options for youths is opening doors for gang activity, several candidates said.

"It's already here," King said of the gang problem. "I say we give the kids an alternative. I decided when I first got into gang ministry I'd be more help in the ballfields than in the streets. Preventative measures."

Incumbent Councilman Denny Manning said many of East Ridge's problems would be solved if people "straightened up their acts" and "got their hands dirty."

"We need a change in East Ridge. We need to go forward," the two-term councilman said. "More people loving each other and having compassion for each other."

Early voting for the Nov. 6 election begins Wednesday.

Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at kharrison@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.

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