Long Time City Official Burnace Vandergriff Resigns Citing Harassment as the Reason

August 23, 2007
Dwayne Page

After eighteen years as City Recorder and Secretary-Treasurer for the City of Smithville, Burnace Vandergriff is calling it quits.

Vandergriff says he is tired of dealing with what he calls the "harassment" of a few people who frequent city hall on a regular basis, disrupting the work of city employees with their almost constant demand for city records as well as a majority of the city aldermen, who seem to cater to them.

Mayor Taft Hendrixson read Vandergriff's letter to the Aldermen Monday night. In it, Vandergriff states that "I would like to thank the people who have allowed me to do my job and have had the confidence in me to allow me to work for this city for the past 18 years. I have enjoyed my service and I will miss most aspects of my job. I appreciate the encouragement, and vote of confidence from the current Mayor Taft Hendrixson. Until now, the Board of Aldermen have also been very supportive of my efforts and accomplishments and I would like to thank Mr. Aaron Meeks, Mr. Steve White, Mr. W.J. White, Mr. Paul Young, and all other previous members of this council. I have enjoyed working for you all."

"Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for the majority of the current Board. Without knowing anything about the day to day operations of the city government, they have chosen to listen to three or four disgruntled citizens who are doing nothing but breaking this city down as if we are ignorant and uneducated. When I started work here, this city could barely afford to pave any of its streets, and we were in terrible need of new equipment. We now have a surplus of funds, new police cars, new garbage truck, and fairly new equipment at the shed. I cannot and will not be a part of this evil and vindictive agenda, but I will stay long enough to prove that I, as City Recorder, have done nothing wrong."

Also in his letter of resignation, Vandergriff stated that " I have worked hard in this position and have been called upon during all hours of the day, night, and weekends to help with water leaks, water line breaks, sweeping the streets after the Jamboree, and plowing the streets after a big snow. I have been responsible for making sure this city is financially stable and that we have operated within our yearly budget for the last eighteen years. I was also instrumental in helping the city to receive the Small City Progress Award presented by the Tennessee Municipal League in 2003. This award was not achieved by back door deals or good ole boy tactics. This award was achieved by hard work, financial planning, and a highly competent staff. This award is proof that Smithville has progressed to a model of efficiency"

Vandergriff added that " Unfortunately, all of this does not meet the so-called standards of a very small handful of citizens who grew up here, went off and have come back to imply that, all of a sudden, things are not being done right. The continuous harassment from these people have prevented me and other long time employees from doing our jobs as required and expected by this City. I have always taken pride in everything I have ever done. I came to work for this city with a good name, and I will leave with a good name. I refuse to stay in a position where the continuous harassment, newspaper articles, speak outs, and radio propaganda tarnish my name and reputation and prohibit me from doing my job."

Vandergriff states that "The audit of the city has begun and I will stay on the job until auditor John Poole has signed off on it, to prove I have done nothing wrong. Mr. Pool has advised me this should happen sometime between September 4th and September 14th."

After Mayor Hendrixson read Vandergriff's resignation letter, several people spoke out in support of him including Alderman Steve White, Alderman and former Mayor Cecil Burger, former Alderman W.J. (Dub) White, city employee Jimmy Taylor, former city attorney's Bratten "Butch" Cook and Sarah Cripps, and former Alderman and local businessman Cordell Walker.

Cripps spoke highly of Vandergriff and admonished the mayor and aldermen not to follow the dictates of a few. "Although you may not have agreed with every decision he made, he gave the best years of his life to public service and his honesty and his integrity are beyond repute. They are beyond question. You all have allowed our tax dollars to be frittered away with harassing, intimidating, disparaging tactics of a few. In other cities, a job like Mr. Vandergriff has pays $70,000 to $80,000 a year. He has qualified individuals over other departments. That has never been the case in this city. He has never been given the credit he deserves for the hours he has put in. His cell phone is never turned off. I or any other person was always able to reach him with a concern."

Vandergriff, during the meeting gave credit to his predecessors, namely former Mayor Waniford Cantrell and former city attorney Bratten Cook for setting the city on the right financial path in 1982.

Cook, in speaking out in support of Vandergriff, reminisced about how far the city has come since those days. "Mayor Cantrell was elected in 1982 and he named me city attorney, which began a sixteen year period of me being city attorney. One of the first things we had to do was go to the old First Central Bank to borrow the money to catch an overdraft to pay the payroll that week. The Farmers Home Administration was about to foreclose on us because a payment had not been paid in a couple of years and from that meager beginning, today the city has six million dollars and has had no tax increase since before 1982. That does not come from anything except good management. Burnace is a friend of mine and has been for many years and I'm proud to call him a friend. That letter of resignation is just that. I didn't hear ya'll accept it. This man needs to stay right where he's at for the betterment of this city."

Walker says Vandergriff has been overworked for years and should have had some help. "I listen to people complain about Mr. Vandergriff and I've always defended him as I defend him today. I think he's done a fantastic job for this city. I know he's done a lot of hard work. When a man has to eat his lunch in his truck, he is overloaded. Ladies and gentlemen, get this man some help if he will stay. He's needed help for a long time. There may be times when Mr. Vandergriff has been ill with people, but as a business person I know, when you're overloaded, you have a tendency to be ill with people that you would ordinarily not be ill with. Mr. Vandergriff, If there is anything I can do for you, let me know and I thank you for the service that you have given to this city."

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