Greenback’s new mayor Dewayne Birchfield has taken office, but the transition of leadership is far from settled.
Birchfield beat Tom Peeler, who held the office for 44 years, in November election. Birchfield had hoped to take office at Greenback’s November council meeting, which was canceled by Peeler.
The cancellation led to a rift between the current and former mayor over the transition of power.
Peeler, in a letter to the editor published in the Dec. 19 edition of the News-Herald, noted the Loudon County Election Commission had not certified results prior to the Nov. 13 meeting. Birchfield also noted in a previous interview that past practice in Greenback had been for newly elected officials to be sworn in during a January meeting.
Birchfield was sworn into office Nov. 20 by Loudon County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw.
While Peeler vacated the office Dec. 27 and handed over the reins to Birchfield, there are still some challenges ahead in completing the transition.
Polly Evans, who was re-elected as an alderman in November, resigned her position Dec. 3. A copy of Evans’ letter of resignation, provided to the News-Herald, is dated Nov. 30 and is addressed to Peeler and Birchfield.
“It has been my honor to have served with you on the council,” Evans wrote in the letter. “God Bless the City of Greenback.”
Evans did not provide a reason for her resignation.
The position of city recorder has been vacated by Norma Peeler, Tom Peeler’s wife, and city attorney James Scott has also resigned.
“I’ll have to make a recommendation to the city council for that to be filled, but the person that I pick they have the right to vote it down,” Birchfield said.
According to the city’s charter, the position of recorder is an appointment made by the board of aldermen. However, the mayor does have the authority to make temporary appointments “of any officer or department head as those terms are defined ... except that of alderman, arising from the absence, sickness or disability of any such officer or department head, and shall report such appoint to the board at its next regular meeting.”
The board can reject the mayor’s appointments and make their own temporary appointments to the position during a regular meeting.
Deborah Bowman is serving in the temporary role of recorder for the city.
“She owned a couple of companies and she’s done audits for companies in different states and stuff,” Birchfield said. “She’s pretty well up on these audits and stuff. She’s up on her bookkeeping. She’s wrote checks. She’s done taxes.”
Jeannie Patty, who filled in on occasion in recent years, has expressed interest in the position, Robin Blankenship, who recently won re-election as an alderman, said. Blankenship is a daughter of the Peelers.
“She knows the job well and I would love to see her fill it on a permanent basis,” Blankenship said via text message.
Alderman can only be filled by the board and is the responsibility of the vice mayor, according to the charter.
“By affirmative vote of a majority of the remaining members, the board shall fill a vacancy in the office of alderman for the unexpired term,” the charter states regarding the duties of vice mayor.
Any portion of an alderman’s term that extends beyond the next municipal election would be filled by voters during the next election, according to the charter.
Blankenship believes the position should remain vacant until the next election since it is not required to be filled.
“Let whoever gets that position qualify and be elected by the citizens as we were,” she said.
The mayor can make recommendations for either position to be considered by the board of aldermen, but it will be at least February until any of those positions are officially filled. Birchfield canceled the first meeting of the year, which was scheduled for Jan. 8.
Blankenship said she was never notified of the meeting being canceled and only heard about it through a friend who saw a post on Facebook.
“I am an incumbent and re-elected alderman and the new mayor has yet to even address me,” she said.
The meeting was canceled to sort out the standing of various city ordinances, Birchfield said.
“We’re just trying to figure out all this legal stuff,” he said. “There’s just a lot of stuff that wasn’t taken care of. I want to figure out where we’re at going forward.”
Birchfield is working with attorney Melanie Davis, who also works for the city of Maryville, and the University of Tennessee’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service to sort through years of city ordinances to work out which ones are valid. There is fear that improperly notifying the public may nullify some past votes.
Failing to publish passed ordinances could also have an impact on their validity.
According to the city’s charter, ordinances that have been passed must also be published “after its final passage in a newspaper of general circulation in the municipality. No ordinance shall take effect until the ordinance or its caption is published.”
Birchfield said he wants to sort out the standing of ordinances currently on the books by the end of the month in hopes of meeting as scheduled beginning in February.