The Smithville Aldermen apparently will not opt out of a new state law giving gun carry permit holders the right to possess a firearm in parks..
The new state law, recently adopted by the Tennessee General Assembly, is meant to let handgun permit holders carry their weapons into every park in the state. But in a compromise to ensure passage of the law, legislators included a provision that gives local governments the power to ban guns in some or all of their parks by passing a new ordinance.
Now, many local governments in Tennessee are moving to do just that before the state law goes into effect September 1st.
Mayor Taft Hendrixson brought the issue up during Monday night's city council meeting at the request of Director of Schools Mark Willoughby who apparently has some concerns, since teachers often take school students on trips to the city's parks. "I got a call today from the Director of Schools. The new law that has gone into effect allows guns in bars, restaurants, and other places. There is a number of cities and towns that are opting out to keep those (guns) out of city parks. I don't think the people that carry gun permits have ever given any problems. The best I can find out, probably not a one in the State of Tennessee has ever given any problems. But I was asked by the Director of Schools. I think his concern is a lot of the teachers, at certain times of the year, take the children over there for picnics or whatever at the parks. He just asked if I would bring this up before the board and get their feeling on whether we want to opt out of the law and do a resolution not approving guns in the parks, all of our city parks. I guess we're talking about the Smith Road, Airport, and Greenbrook Parks, the Joe L. Evins Ballfield. All of our public parks would come under this."
Alderman Shawn Jacobs said he didn't see a need to issue a ban. "My feeling is most of these people, all the people that have gun permits have undergone background checks, their fingerprints are on file, they have all taken a certain minimum number of hours of training and they're certainly more equipped or attuned to carry guns than most of the general public and as we've discussed I don't think there has ever been a problem with anybody that's carried a gun permit because they've passed the backgrounds. I would hate to see us do that personally. I think we're restricting more and more civil liberties all the time and the reason the legislature passed that was to try to lessen the confusion, I think, about where you can or can't carry a gun. I personally would hate to see us do that. That's just my opinion. This is always something we could revisit at a later time if there were problems."
The board took no action.
Mayor Hendrixson reported to the aldermen that the city will receive a $500,000 community development block grant from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development to assist in funding the proposed renovation of the water treatment plant, thanks to federal stimulus money coming to the state. "If you'll recall in 2008 we submitted a CDBG block grant for $500,000 to help with the water plant. We didn't make the cut. We were one or two below the cut off."
" I'll read you this letter I received today (from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development). Dear Mayor Hendrixson, I am pleased to inform you that Governor Bredesen has approved your 2008 CDBG Recovery Funds application."
"This is some of the stimulus money that has gone back and picked up (unfunded grant applications). We have got that grant. I executed the contracts today and sent them back today. This is definitely good news. It will help on our water system reconditioning we're doing on the plant."
In other business Monday night, the city board, at the request of Alderman Steve White, voted to give members of the Smithville Volunteer Fire Department with at least of ten years of service as of November 30th, an extra $500 in addition to their regular compensation for fire calls, as payment in lieu of vacation. Mayor Hendrixson says about twelve firefighters would qualify for the extra pay which would cost the city about $6,000.
The city board also approved Alderman Steve White's request to schedule a city employee picnic for September or October at Greenbrook Park and to make it an annual event, in a show of appreciation to the city employees.
In other business, Mayor Hendrixson appointed Alderman Steven White as Vice Mayor. The aldermen voted unanimously to approve the appointment.
Dustin Bain, a water plant trainee since May 4th, who has been earning $10.01 per hour, was hired by the board as a permanent employee now that he has completed his probationary period. His pay will increase to $10.66 per hour.
Alderman Aaron Meeks said he had done some checking with Don Darden of the Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS) about the role the aldermen play as commissioners over their departments, or in his case, police commissioner. Meeks says there appears to be some confusion on that issue. "I want to take a couple of minutes to clear up a question that has arisen. I'll draw everybody's attention to Title I of the city codes, Title I-102 which says "Each department to be under an alderman. Each department shall be under the immediate supervision of an alderman who shall be designated by the board to supervise that department."
"Webster's definition of ‘immediate' in that situation is ‘direct'.
"The confusion came from an email from Don Darden on August 18th, 2008 to Hunter (Hendrixson). It stated that ‘the police chief and not the police commissioner nor the mayor is in charge of day to day operations of the department', meaning the police department."
"I immediately contacted Don Darden and he got back in touch with me. I asked him does that mean that the mayor and the police commissioner have no authority in the police department? He said absolutely not. The mayor, the police commissioner cannot, on a day to day basis, supervise the officers. We can't make up schedules, but we certainly can direct the department head as to what we expect of the department and what we want accomplished by the department. I just want to clarify that."
"I have been in touch with Chief Jennings and I plan to spend more time in the department and find out how it's operating and what needs to be done to improve. There's plenty of room for improvement. We have some very good officers back there. We have some other officers that I'm questionable on. But I don't know until I have sufficient time to investigate and find out what is going on. I certainly want to keep the board apprized and I will keep the public apprized as to what is going on. This is for the public's edification as well as this board's."
The aldermen adopted on first reading proposed ordinance # 422 to rezone the property of Richard D. Atnip and Repsie C. Johnson at Bright Hill Road from R-3 High Density Residential to B-2 General Business. Second and final reading action will be scheduled following a public hearing at the next meeting on Monday, August 3rd at 7:00 p.m. at city hall.
Alderman Jacobs asked if the department heads could report once a month to the council. That, he says, is the practice in Murfreesboro, Alexandria, and other towns. "Since I'm new that would be very helpful to me for them to come in and briefly tell the council what is going on, how are they doing budget wise, and if there's any equipment they need."
Alderman Meeks asked if those reports could be made in writing and possibly sent to the aldermen with the agendas "then we have something to refer back to."
Alderman Jacobs was agreeable with Meeks' suggestion. "I'm not trying to create any extra work for anybody but it could benefit them (department heads) as well as us (aldermen) to be informed about what's going on in all the departments. It might be an efficient form of communication and keep things from dropping through the cracks."
Mayor Hendrixson said he would include the reports with the agenda.