The following represents an unofficial account of the significant items discussed and/or voted upon during the January 11, 2016 City Council Regular Meeting. The complete agenda packet is found here and a video of the meeting can be viewed here. Draft meeting minutes will be posted on the city website in the February 2016 Regular Meeting Agenda packet.
Prior to the meeting, I notified the city manager and the mayor that I would be stepping out of the room during the invocation. This was not an act of protest, but simply a choice to not participate in something that I believed might assail my beliefs. While I may not support the content of the participant’s statements (I’ve yet to hear them), I do support their right to participate in the process just as much as any other religious representative.
As many before me have customarily done, I honored a citizen request to submit a proclamation (Sanctity of Human Life Sunday) for council’s consideration during out meeting. The full text of the proclamation can be read here.
Smith and Hensley opposed adding it to the agenda. By a vote of 4-3 (Smith, Hensley and Callison voting Nay), it was added. Arguments against it included the late notice for adding it to the agenda and a claim that it was controversial. I pointed out that I requested its inclusion five days prior to our meeting while others have routinely approved proclamations with little to no notice on the day of. Our rules also state that “Proclamations…are ceremonial in nature and not considered an official endorsement by the City of Oak Ridge.” The content of the proclamation takes no specific position other than to state that human life is valuable and since we annually award proclamations celebrating trees, this vote would speak to whether or not we value the life of a tree more so than that of our fellow man. The proclamation passed 6-1 with Smith voting nay.
VI. SPECIAL REPORTS
- Realty Link/Ray Evans mall update
- Transmittal of Report on Debt – fulfills state reporting requirement; refunding of some high school bonds saved $6.6Million of which $390K was principal and shaved 6 years off the life of the bonds; current debt summary is found here.
- City Manager’s Annual Evaluation – Committee Chair Charlie Hensley; Hensley motioned to approve an evaluation rating of “meets expectations” and provide a 2% raise. Motion passed 6-1 with Baughn voting no.
The reasons for my vote and commentary to the city manager in his evaluation include many problems that I’ve attempted to address with him privately (to no avail) multiple times over the last three years and include everything from employee morale, accountability, transparency, treatment of citizens and small businesses and management of city finances.
Overall impact on our residents is my top priority and it has been detrimental since Watson took the helm five years ago. Our total debt has increased by $4.3M1 (we’ve actually issued an additional $31.4M but payments and refunding have reduced our total balance), our total revenues are down ($2M)2, and our citizens are paying twice as much for water and sewer since Watson arrived. **Note my calculations have been updated based on new information recently released. Links provided below:
- Summary of Outstanding Debt as of December 2015 shows that aggregate debt is up to $166.6M verses $162.3M in 2011.
- Page I-39 of the 2011 Budget shows total revenues at $173M and Page I-6 of the 2016 Budget shows total revenues at $171M.
a. Resolution authorizing an agreement with various consultants for engineering services for the electric department for $90,000. Motion passed unanimously.
b. Resolution approving purchase of replacement pumps for the wastewater treatment plant from ABBA Pump Parts and Services for $40,679 and Nedrow and Associates for $39,700. Motion passed unanimously
c. Resolution approving agreement with Lamar Dunn (LDA) to develop a post remediation plan for $65,000 and an agreement for additional services related to the sewer rehab project for $362,500. Motion passed unanimously
Prior to our meeting I had no intention of supporting this motion because we’ve given Lamar Dunn far too many contracts without any competitive bid process (upwards of $20 million over the last few decades as best as I can tell) and because of their role leading up to the EPA mandate (In the 90’s, the city contracted ($$) with LDA to help us avoid the EPA mandate. In 2013, we rewarded them another no- bid contract of $1.4 million to address the EPA issues they failed to help us avoid.)
However, a new development occurred which prevented us from using the State Revolving Fund loan for the $362,500 work. The resolution was amended so that we could apply the loan towards an unpaid balance of $898K for the EQ basins we built. I supported this because a term of the loan allows for 10% repayment forgiveness, thus a savings to the city and the local taxpayer.
d. Resolution waiving the competitive bid process and amending the contract with Waste Connections extending it by 5 years . Motion deferred, a unanimous vote is required to waive the competitive bid process.
The current contract does not expire until 2021. This motion would have locked us in until 2026. By waiving the competitive bid process we would essentially be giving away over $28 million of taxpayer money (10 years x $2.8M annual contract + annual increases) while denying other companies the opportunity to bid. Neither staff nor the company provided sufficient evidence of any financial advantage to our ratepayers in foregoing the bid process. The item will be discussed further in a future work session.
e. Resolution accepting the report of the joint city/schools preschool planning committee. Motion passed 6-1 with Baughn voting “Nay.”
Though acceptance of this report would not obligate council to future action, the city manager made it clear that he intends to pursue steps towards funding the building of a new preschool.
This report places great emphasis on the education of our economically disadvantaged children. However, despite being one of the most expensive school systems in the state for decades, an unacceptable percentage of our students are performing below grade level. Surely the best and highest use of $7.5M is found in the classroom and not another capital project. To alleviate the proclaimed problem at hand, we can do like so many other Head Start programs do across the country and either move them into the elementary schools or local churches.
Per the most recent State of TN report card:
- 43% general population performing below grade level in math
- 44% general population performing below grade level in reading
- 58% economically disadvantaged population performing below grade level in math
- 58.5% economically disadvantaged population performing below grade level in reading
- 65% African American population performing below grade level in math
- 67% African American population performing below grade level in reading
f. Resolution amending resolution 6-57-2015 regarding heavy equipment rentals for public works to add additional funding for a new amount of $110,000. Motion passed unanimously.