​Monteagle Council Grapples with Purchasing Protocol

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the Jan. 31 meeting of the Monteagle Town Council, two recent infrastructure expenses prompted heated discussion about the proper protocol for the two instances in question: purchase of a used dump truck for use by the Utility Department, cost $17,000; and installing additional lighting at the temporary fire hall, cost $8,000.
Vice Mayor Jessica Blalock questioned the way the dump truck purchase was handled. “In the future I won’t do votes over the phone, and I won’t sign checks for the Town of Monteagle.” Blalock recently attended training with the Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS) agency of the University of Tennessee. According to MTAS, both of these actions were illegal, Blalock insisted.
On the advice of city accountant Mark Allen with Allen, McGee and Associates, City Recorder Debbie Taylor contacted Blalock and the other aldermen asking their preference regarding the Utility Department’s request to purchase a used dump truck, quoting prices on two vehicles. Blalock later signed a check for purchase of a truck.
Explaining his advice to Taylor to contact the aldermen, Allen said in emergency situations “the mayor had authority to act” and the council was permitted to discuss the issue “over the phone.”
Utility Department manager John Condra said not having a dump truck constituted an emergency in the event of a water main break.
Blalock countered, “MTAS said a dump truck is not an emergency.” Blalock suggested the council should have held a special called meeting.
Allen pointed out that public notice should be given for special called meetings, which would result in a time delay. Allen cited the MTAS definition of an emergency as “putting life or property in danger. It’s the mayor’s call based on discussion with department heads. What I suggested Taylor do was to get the alderman informed. A vote wasn’t required.”
In a letter to Mayor Sampley following the meeting, city attorney Harvey Cameron concurred, “The decision is entirely up to you whether an emergency exists. In fact, there was no necessity for Debbie to call any of the aldermen.”
The additional lighting in the temporary fire hall was authorized by Fire Chief Mike Holmes. A contractor doing repairs on the restroom facilities had stressed the need for more lighting.
Alderman Kenneth Gipson questioned Holmes about the $8,000 expense.
“The lights cost a lot more than we thought they would,” conceded Holmes, who failed to get three quotes for the project as required by Monteagle city code when the estimated cost exceeds $1,500.
“Shouldn’t the council have voted on authorizing the lighting expense?” Gipson asked.
“The fire department makes decisions on how to spend its budget just like the police and other departments,” Sampley said.
In other business, Holmes requested declaring engine number three surplus and listing it for sale on govdeals, a government surplus auction website. The 1981 model engine had pump and tank leaks, Holmes said. He estimated the sale value at $8,000-$15,000.
The council approved declaring the engine surplus along with an out-of-service police car and two out-of-service utility department vehicles.
The council also approved Holmes’ request to apply for a firefighters grant for up to $30,000 to purchase a new engine. If the grant is received, the city would be required to contribute 5 percent in matching funds. Holmes described the federal grant program as highly competitive. “Last year we made it to the final round.”
Codes enforcement officer Earle Geary advised the council of the need to upgrade from the 2009 building codes manual to the 2012 manual. Law required the building codes a municipality operated under be within seven years of the most recent publication. “The state operates under 2012 codes,” Geary said. He estimated the cost of new manuals at $600. The council approved authorizing attorney Cameron to draft the necessary ordinance, which must be approved on two consecutive readings.
Sampley provided an overview of bids for asbestos removal in the portion of the Monteagle Annex undergoing demolition.
“The structure has 950 square feet of popcorn ceiling,” Sampley said. “The glue attaching the tile needs to be removed.”
The council approved retaining the low bidder Infinity Group for the job, cost $6,938.
The council meets next on Feb. 26.