A rift has grown in Loudon as elected officials are at odds over the legality of a March 18 city council meeting.
During the meeting, officials voted to go into executive session to discuss with an attorney action that could be taken about the conduct of City Manager Ty Ross and other city employees in regard to feral cats at the former Hutch Manufacturing property.
One resident in attendance, Chris McGreevey, reached out with concerns to the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury’s Office of Open Records Counsel.
“It seemed like a premeditated plan,” McGreevey said.
A response from Lee Pope, open records counsel, said there could have been a violation of the state’s open meetings act, which requires meetings to be open to the public.
“A narrow exception to this general rule does allow a governing body to hold a closed-door executive session with legal counsel to receive information about pending controversies that may result in litigation, such as adverse action taken against a city employee,” Pope wrote. “... However, a governing body may not make decisions or discuss or deliberate toward making a decision during such an executive session.”
Councilman Tim Brewster rejected the opinion because he believes it lacked key details. Brewster said he called Pope, who agreed that all information was not provided by McGreevey.
However, Loudon Mayor Jeff Harris reached out to the Office of Open Records Counsel and also received the opinion that the meeting was in violation of the act.
“His opinion of it is … there was a violation based on what information he has,” Harris said. “I guess we’re right now looking to coordinate a special called meeting to reverse all that because it was not legal to do it and any decisions that come out of that executive session are null and void. So we’re looking to correct that but we’ve got to go through the proper procedure and make the public aware of the meeting.
“That’s been coordinated right now,” he added. “We’re taking care of that and we’re going through things the proper way, through the proper channels and covering every legal piece that we’re supposed to. It’s all under review and we went through the proper channels to see if it was a violation. We’ve done everything by the book and they have issued their opinions about it.”
Brewster believes Harris is trying to work against council and does not believe the meeting was portrayed properly.
“Jeff Harris did not get who he wanted on city council and he’s mad about it,” Brewster said. “He’s really not working with the city council on any issues.”
While not going into specifics about what was discussed behind closed doors, Brewster said council only asked questions of the attorney and did not talk to one another.
As to the lack of discussion after the executive session, Brewster said he believed the public needed no further information since members of the community provided so much during public comment.
Brewster dismissed the idea council had discussed bringing in the outside attorney before the meeting, saying only Tammi Bivens knew he would be there.
Harris does not believe that is the case, and neither do some members of the public.
“I would like a fair and honest and transparent government,” McGreevey said. “I don’t know what all the underpinnings are to their approach, but I’ve heard a lot of rumors. They don’t look good if they’re all true. … The council members seem like they’re out for their own needs instead of the city’s.”
McGreevey would have accepted the decision to open the investigation or suspend Ross had discussion taken place in public and proper justification given, she said.
Harris has concerns there is a violation of public trust.
“I think there will be a level of mistrust by the citizens, by the voting public,” Harris said. “I think they expected better than that, but it was a clear violation in my mind. I was totally unaware of anything that was going on and it all seemed to kind of be coordinated and kind of planned out. I think that is going to create a level of mistrust with the voting public.”
Brewster dismissed the concerns as coming from a small group who are friends with Ross.
“That’s the same group of people who live in Tennessee National who are Ty Ross’ neighbors and they’re looking for excuses,” Brewster said. “They’re crying wolf when there’s nothing to cry about.”
Brewster said the scope of the investigation would include a “possible criminal aspect,” which he said council learned of after the meeting. He denied discussing those details with other council members.