published Friday, August 9th, 2013

East Ridge moves to revamp public safety

East Ridge City Councilman Marc Gravitt announced plans Thursday night to reorganize the city’s government.

Gravitt said he believes East Ridge should eliminate the position of public safety director and split those duties between the city’s police and fire chiefs. Also, he wants to create a city treasurer position.

The City Council does not yet know how much money such changes would cost — or, perhaps save — East Ridge taxpayers. The council will need to vote on any shifts in the government structure twice, potentially beginning at the next council meeting in two weeks.

Eddie Phillips served as the city’s public safety director until he retired on Aug. 2, and no one has filled his position. The city created a public safety director to serve as a middleman between the city manager and four departments: police, fire, animal services and codes enforcement.

Under Gravitt’s proposal, the police chief and fire chief will report directly to the city manager. The heads of the animal services and codes enforcement departments will report to either the police chief, fire chief or both. The council will discuss details Aug. 22.

In addition to these shifts, Gravitt said he would like to create new job requirements for the heads of the police and fire departments. He said both chiefs should have at least 15 years of full-time experience.

Mayor Brent Lambert disagrees.

“I don’t want to eliminate someone with 10 years or 11 years, or 12 or 13,” Lambert said Thursday night. “If it’s the best —”

“I just don’t think,” Gravitt said, jumping in, “In my opinion, someone with 10 years’ experience has been around the block, for a lack of a better term — or have enough experience to be chief.”

Following its council meeting, the city leaders interviewed their three candidates for the city manager position. Those candidates are: Hamilton County Judicial Commissioner Larry Ables; Hattiesburg, Miss., Director of Federal and State Programs Andrew Allard; and Fairview, Tenn., City Manager Andrew Hyatt.

Minutes adjusted: The City Council approved the minutes from its previous meeting on Thursday night, but not before making a quick adjustment.

The last meeting — on July 25 — was the final one for Eddie Phillips, who worked for the city for about 20 years. At the beginning of that meeting, Phillips submitted into the minutes a goodbye letter.

But there was a problem, Gravitt and Vice Mayor Jim Bethune said. As part of the letter, Phillips listed several accomplishments. But Gravitt and Bethune said they checked those out, and some weren’t true.

For example, Phillips said the East Ridge Police Department became one of the first departments accepted into the state accreditation program. In fact, Bethune and Gravitt said, the police department is not accredited.

“If we vote to approve, Gravitt said, “we are putting our stamp of approval on the accuracy of everything in this letter.”

The council voted 4-0 to approve the minutes with a note saying they could not verify the accuracy of Phillips’ letter.

Contact Tyler Jett at tjett@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476.

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