The Nelson City Council meeting erupted during its regular meeting this month, due to recent personnel disputes over its new city manger position.
Early in the meeting, Council Member Edith Portillo made a motion to accept the second reading of the ordinance elevating City Clerk Brandy Edwards to city manager. The controversial ordinance adds city manger duties to Edwards existing city clerk responsibilities, granting her authority to make certain day-to-day decisions for the operations of the city in the absence of council. Following Portillo’s motion, Council Member Jackie Jarrett motioned to table the ordinance to allow more time for the citizens to review the details of the ordinance. Portillo, though, said citizens have had two months to review it and ask questions, noting that two citizens have approached with questions regarding the new position. During the October meeting, however, several residents publicly criticized the move. Jarrett also said council should wait until the new mayor is elected before it makes any decision about the position, arguing that council would have to account for the new mayor and city manager position as part of the new city government. Council Member Duane Cronic, though, said waiting for the election of the new mayor would cause suspicions of malfeasance on the part of council in the eyes of the community. Specifically, Cronic said that the public may think that if council had passed the city manager decision after the mayor was elected it would seem like council was taking authority away from the mayor in spite of the mayor. On Tuesday, Mike Haviland was elected Mayor of Nelson. Later in the meeting, the issue blew up into a series of public disputes.
During the public comments part of the meeting, Former Council Candidate Tammi Loggins recommended the board implement a policy regarding comments made on social media by council members. The reason, she said, was due to recent comments made by council member Jackie Jarrett about City Clerk/City Manager Brandy Edwards. Other citizens also commented about these comments. After all citizens had made their comments, in an unprecedented move, each council member moved from their places behind the desk to the podium to make public statements.
Taking the podium first, Council Member Duane Cronic condemned Jarrett’s comments made on Facebook about Edwards. Cronic cautioned council members and citizens to find out if statements are true before posting them.
“I’m afraid you’re stirring up sentiment that shouldn’t be stirred up with people,”
“And you’re getting people against the rest of these council members, because of some of these things you’ve said.”
During his turn, Jarrett accused Edwards of gossiping and the other three council members of voting together, which, he said, was why he felt he had to post his comments on the internet. Council Member Jonathan Bishop, however said in his time at the podium that of the 26 motions Jarrett has brought before council, Bishop voted against Jarrett only three times, Mrs. Tipton twice and Mr. Cronic once.
“We have voted with you (Jarrett),”
He went on to list the accomplishments of the council, which included “fixing” the budget by not spending $70,000 dollars more than the city received; replacing county vehicles, and promoting City Clerk Brandy Edwards to the city manger position, which Bishop said will improve city operations.
At end of his talk, Jarrett offered to resign from council, if the others didn’t think he was doing a satisfactory job. New Council Member Edith Portillo also criticized Jarrett, saying he was unfit for his office. Jarrett’s wife also made a comment, saying her husband truly cares about the city and works hard for the council
The incident calls into question the stability of Nelson’s council. One citizen even recommended dissolving the city’s charter. Over the past year, the city has undergone a series of tumultuous events, from David Leister abruptly resigning as mayor last spring to budgetary issues to code enforcement processes. The latest dispute, though, reflects an unraveling of the city’s government.
During the meeting, council also agreed to review regulatory fees for sanitation. Portillo said the current fees stifle competition. Public comments reflected mixed views about the sanitation service. Several citizens also requested street lights, noting the danger of children waiting for school buses in the dark.