CARYVILLE – The Town of Caryville is once again in search for legal counsel after a verbal upheaval broke out at a regular session meeting held November 13.
Last month, in an effort to save the town around $3,000 annually, the town's Attorney J.Jerome (Jerry) Miller presented a new contract that would have the town keep him on a retainer rather than paying on an hourly basis. The council tabled the item for the next meeting in order to give adequate time for review.
However, at the November meeting, Councilman Henry Chambers made another motion to table the matter until the December meeting so that fellow councilman Larry Palmer could be present to vote.
Miller then spoke up and said, “I either have the support of the council or I don’t. Tonight is the night I need to know that.”
Chairman Millard French then asked for a motion to change the contract to reflect Miller's proposal, stating it would save the town considerably.
However, the council was silent.
French then made the motion to accept Miller’s proposal to be kept on retainer. Upon asking for a second to the motion, the council remained silent. The motion died due to lack of a second.
It was then that Miller aired his sentiments about lacking support from the council.
“I have been concerned about the support of this council and tonight is evident that I do not have that,” Miller said. “I will be giving you my notice of termination tonight. In accordance with the contract, it will terminate December 31.”
French replied, “I hate that, I hate you said that.”
“We have come a long way in the condition of this town since I came here,” said Miller. “This is hard enough, you have to have appointed officials who support you unanimously, and that doesn’t exist. I am very pleased to get out of your way.”
French asked for public input on the matter.
Nearby resident Elizabeth Baxley felt the council was wrong for not supporting the attorney.
“I don’t live in the city, but I believe y’all are doing wrong,” she said.
“You sure don’t,” snapped Councilwoman Becky Pate.
French asked Miller if he would be willing to stay on.
Miller replied, “I do not have the support of this council - that is evident. Y’all are not in step with each other as well. My not participating might clear some of the air, I’m not sure.”
Another resident, who also runs the town’s flea market, Paron Beeco, also said the decision not to support the attorney's proposal was the wrong one.
“I think it's wrong,” said Beeco. “We went through this before with Mrs. Spears and we didn’t have an attorney for a whole year. We like to got ourselves in a world of trouble.”
Should the Town fail to acquire another attorney, Miller said he would not be willing to remain in the position without support of the council.
Miller served the town for two years after former attorney Lyndia Spears resigned from the position.
"You have to understand that you are a council form of government and what that involves and that is not even apparent," he said. "There is not an understanding by the council members as to what their role is.”
A motion to advertise for a new attorney was approved by the council.
Confusion and angst emerged in other discussions. The annual audit came into question during the meeting after a letter from the State Auditor Generals Office.
The town is required to have a third-party accountant in preparation for the audit. Some confusion came about with the clerk and chairman misunderstanding that the state was going to help with the preparation; however, they would learn that a private accountant would need to be hired.
French believes the task is nearly impossible, because “anytime you call an accountant and say Caryville, you immediately hear a click,” he said.
Clerk Suzanne Floyd advised she had found someone that would do the preparation for about $6,000. Still under the impression that the state was going to do it, Pate said "that wouldn’t cost us anything."
French replied, “What you don’t understand is that we still haven’t paid for the last one 8 or 9 years ago.” The town is currently making payments to Carr, Riggs and Ingram to bring the account current.
Knowing your role
Another matter concerning Town Clerk Suzanne Floyd was brought before the council by Pate.
“If we see something out there that is supposed to be done, we aren’t supposed to do nothing,” said Pate. “We are supposed to come tell Suzanne. I don’t like that. I don’t know what y’all think about it, but I think we ought to have a say in this town too.”
Just two months ago, the council voted to have Floyd oversee the town’s only worker Ronald Harcus and to deliver his daily tasks worksheet. Should a council member see something that needs to be done they were to tell Floyd in order for her to have Harcus handle it. At the time of the vote, the flow of organization to Floyd was a means of streamlining tasks.
However, now, council members appear to be back-tracking their decision on her role.
“Suzanne is our secretary,” said Chambers. “If me or Becky see something out there that needs to be done or is wrong, transfer it over to her to follow up on it because she works for us. I don’t feel like we know anything about what happens in this town.”
Chambers and Pate raised questions regarding hours when town hall is open and the importance of Floyd attending meetings at FDOT, and the Emergency Operations Center was brought up by Chambers
“What does that benefit the town by going to that kind of meeting,” asked Chambers.
The town has a history of being outside of the Sunshine Laws and therefore being investigated by that state for financial matters and ethics violations. Because of those reasons, French explained the need for the town to comply with state laws.
“It keeps us abreast of what the state is doing,” said French. “You see in the past, the town was just isolated from the state. The state just turned its back on the town because of the way it was being run. To keep the state on our side we have to comply.”
The discussion of the clerk's role was tossed around from council member to council member. Chambers and Pate felt her role had been expanded too much; French defended the council's original decision.
“Anything that you want done, just notify the clerk,” said French.
“No, I am not,” said Pate.
“That is how we get it done,” said French, later adding, “We will do what the majority wants to do. It's democratic; the majority rules.”
“Well I'm not a democrat, I'm a republican,” said Pate.
Miller provided some clarification on the process of decision-making for town councils.
“Local actions decided by a majority vote on by the council when there is a quorum present, controls,” Miller said.
“You have just as much say as the other four,” added French. “May not seem like it, but you do.”
In other business, Henry Chambers and Bill Pate were sworn in once again for their seats on the council. The two will serve four year terms. The remaining council members, Becky Pate, Millard French and Larry Palmer had their terms extended by one year due to the recent changes in the town’s charter regarding term limits. The next election will be held in 2020.
Caryville Town Council will meet again in regular session at 6 p.m. on December 11.