Bluff City loses second mayor in less than a week

J. H. Osborne • Mar 9, 2010 at 12:00 AM

BLUFF CITY — Maybe they should shorten the name to Bluff City Board of Aldermen.

For the second time in less than a week, Bluff City has lost a mayor to resignation.

It brings to four the total consecutive mayors who have resigned from the Bluff City Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

Last week, Todd Malone resigned as mayor.

Earlier this week, J.C. Gentry — who until last week had held the title of “vice mayor” — called a special meeting of the BMA for Tuesday night. Included at the end of the agenda: appointment of a mayor.

Gentry gaveled the meeting to order and presided over the board’s consideration of two action items on the agenda — including discussion of a water line project on Graybeal Road.

The BMA voted to shelve that item from their own consideration, sending it instead for review by the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission. At issue is whether or not Bluff City will extend its municipal water service to a proposed 15-lot development on Graybeal Road.

The Graybeal Road development has garnered much attention from some area residents and county officials in recent days after the Sullivan County Highway Department first dug a trench along that road — and then filled it back in with nothing inside.

The Sullivan County Commission’s Executive Committee is scheduled to meet in called session today at 6:30 p.m. to discuss questions and concerns about whether or not the highway department violated any laws or county ethics policy guidelines in connection with work on Graybeal Road.

Questioned by reporters prior to the Bluff City BMA’s called session Tuesday, County Attorney Dan Street said the main focus of his inquiry is whether or not county funds or equipment were used to the benefit of any private property owners.

Street said one potential explanation he’s been told for county workers digging the trench is that the county highway department was just trying to help the city of Bluff City.

Street said under state law that would be permissible — if two requirements were met: the County Commission must have agreed to the project; and there must be an agreement in place for the county to be reimbursed for the work.

In this case, Street said, neither of those two things exists.

“It appears there are some violations of those statutes,” Street said. “How deep it goes and whether or not it was intentional remains to be seen.”

At the Bluff City BMA’s called meeting Tuesday, City Recorder Judy Dulaney said the proposal for a 2-inch water line to that development had never been taken before the Planning and Zoning Commission — and that would be the proper channel.

Dulaney also said the 2-inch line — which had earlier been presented to Bluff City officials as simply “an extension of the city’s current water system” — would not be sufficient to meet county subdivision regulations. Dulaney said she had been told earlier in the day by Sullivan County’s planning office that the Graybeal Road development would have to be treated as a new subdivision, not simply an extension of a water line, and that would require a 6-inch water line and fire hydrants — and that the county has never given a variance on those requirements.

Bluff City’s Planning and Zoning Commission normally would have gone into regular session at 7 p.m. Tuesday — but Gentry’s abrupt resignation during the 6:30 p.m. meeting he’d called, coupled with Malone’s resignation last week, left not enough Planning and Zoning Commission members for a quorum, other members said.

After the BMA voted on the Graybeal Road issue, Gentry moved on to take up the “appointment of a mayor” item listed next on the agenda.

Alderman Robert Miller, however, said Gentry had already assumed the mayor’s seat by calling and presiding over the special meeting under way.

Miller quoted the town’s charter as saying a special meeting may only be called by either the mayor or by three aldermen acting together — and Gentry had called the meeting.

City Attorney Shawn McDaniel, flipping through a copy of the charter as Miller called out page and section numbers, eventually gave the same description of who can call a meeting — but he said that could not be used to trap Gentry into serving as mayor.

“He could resign,” McDaniel said.

Miller said he wasn’t trying to trap Gentry into being mayor, but clearly either Gentry had accepted the mayor’s post and called the meeting — or the meeting was improperly called and should be nullified.

McDaniel agreed it was one or the other.

“With all due respect, sir, if the meeting was inappropriately called, you have some obligation to the board to not allow such a procedure,” Miller said. “There should have been some measure on your part to step in and say ‘If you aren’t the mayor, we can’t do this — we can’t call this meeting if you aren’t the mayor.’”

McDaniel said he understood and then asked Gentry if he was taking the job of mayor and if he wanted to resign.

“I guess so,” Gentry said, followed moments later by “I’m out.”

Gentry pushed his chair back but remained behind the dais for several moments as the four remaining BMA members began to debate who to name as his successor.

Miller nominated Alderman Irene Wells — but no second came, and Wells said she would decline anyway because she believed people elected her to be an alderman, not mayor.

Gentry began to leave the stage, and McDaniel could be heard telling him he was still an alderman.

Miller spoke up and said that was not the case — that Gentry had surrendered his alderman’s seat when he accepted the mayor’s slot.

Miller then made a motion to adjourn the meeting and add the appointment of a mayor to the BMA’s next regular meeting — Thursday night.

That motion gained unanimous approval.

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