The Greenville Town Hall was filled to capacity during its regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, June 12. Due to Mayor Calvin Malone's absences being the subject of one of the meeting's agenda items, he passed the gavel and officiating duties to Vice Mayor Brandi Seabrooks.
The meeting was called to order and the citizen's participation portion of the evening immediately followed. Theresa Harville spoke on behalf of Greenville's neighborhood watch and requested that the Town Council consider designating funds to employ extra law enforcement presence, provided by the Madison County Sheriff's Office. This increased coverage would be in the form of a dedicated Deputy with the sole purpose of protecting the citizens of Greenville. Dr. Patricia Hinton joined Harville at the podium and added that the chances of getting a Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant, which was discussed at the May Town Council meeting, was relatively low and unaffordable. Council Member Joi Collins made a motion to amend the agenda to allow for discussion of the neighborhood watch's proposal. Council Member Barbara Dansey seconded the motion, adding that the council should strike item number eight from the agenda, which was a discussion of the COPS grant application. The issue was added to the end of the agenda as item number 11.
Several other citizens addressed the council, including Brittni Brown, who urged the council to rise above internal squabbling and concentrate on the betterment of Greenville. Lula Fead wanted to know to whom running water issues should be reported, and Billy Tolar requested that water service be restored to the town cemetery.
A recurring topic of contention among the council has been absences and their effect on member's eligibility to serve. Town Attorney Clay Schnitker presented his findings concerning the matter, stating that in his legal opinion, according to the Town Charter and the number of accrued absences, Council Member Kovacherich Arnold's seat became vacant on Oct. 17, 2016. Schnitker reported that Mayor Malone missed enough meetings to warrant his seat being vacated, but because he was re-elected in March, 2017, his seat is currently valid. Schnitker added that, in his opinion, on any occasion that a council member participated via telephone, they should not be considered to have been absent. Schnitker informed the council that, outside of his opinion, the only way to have absolute certainty as to what the law says on the matter is to file some type of court action, where a Circuit Judge would determine the outcome. He added such route would cost the town a lot of money and take a long time to accomplish. The existing members of the council have the authority to appoint a new member to Arnold's seat, including Arnold himself. In a convoluted defense of his absences, Arnold claimed that the Town Clerk has the authority to excuse absences. Town Clerk Kimberly Reams attempted to refute Arnold's statement, saying she does not have such authority. Her rebuttal resulted in an impromptu hammering of the gavel by Vice Mayor Seabrooks. Arnold remained seated at the table throughout the duration of the meeting but did not vote on any agenda items. Mayor Malone later told Greene Publishing, Inc. “Officially, he (Arnold) is still on the council, I would think. He chose not to vote, and I question that myself.”
Per the meeting agenda, outgoing Town Manager Jim McCroskey submitted a proposed budget and millage rate. He stated that the Town has received no applications for town manager, and passing a proposed budget would give them a draft from which to work. Greenville's current rate is 9.04 mils. McCroskey proposed raising the rate to the allowable maximum of 10 mils. He elaborated, saying by looking at the maximum tax revenue available to the Town, they can make cuts later, should they decide to lower the millage rate. McCroskey said the budget would be tight, but balanced. The proposed budget included a three percent increase in pay for town employees and funds for additional law enforcement.
Vice Mayor Seabrooks responded to McCroskey's presentation saying, “We'll have to make some cuts somewhere.” She then questioned the proposed salaries and administrative costs for the Clerk's Office.
Town Clerk Reams replied “If you're asking about the clerk's salaries, that is two people's salaries.” Vice Mayor Seabrooks initiated a line of questioning toward Reams, which appeared to catch her and the entire room off-guard, beginning with “Okay, and can you please explain the duties of the clerk and the deputy clerk for me please.”
Clearly frustrated with the unscheduled questioning, Reams replied “Good Lord, I didn't realize I had to have a litany of what I do tonight.” Reams outlined several of her duties, some of which Vice Mayor Seabrooks seemed unfamiliar with, such as the Truth in Millage (TRIM) report.
Vice Mayor Seabrooks asked Reams “Okay, and that's all that you do?” Reams said that was all she could think of at the time, and Vice Mayor Seabrooks responded “Well, I'm just asking a question. What about the deputy clerk?”
Reams responded “We both do whatever it takes to operate this office and get the job done.”
“I'm just trying to see what you do so we can match what we're paying you, what it is that you do, what your duties are,” answered Vice Mayor Seabrooks.
“Well I matched my duties to what the council asked me when I was hired,” replied Reams.
The tone and language of Vice Mayor Seabrooks questions resulted in an email to the Town Manager's office the following day from Dr. Hinton. In her email she described the encounter as harassment, writing that “last night's deliberate targeting of the city clerk reflected a new low in council-city employee relations.” The email stated the verbal attacks from council members against city employees and others “is unprofessional, uncivil, and smacks of discrimination.”
The proposed budget and millage rate were approved by a unanimous vote of the council.
During the meeting, both City Manager McCroskey and Town Attorney Schnitker officially submitted their resignations. Town Manager McCroskey had previously informed the council of his intended resignation, but had not done so in a regularly scheduled town meeting. Schnitker stated that “I have enjoyed being your Town Attorney... I don't enjoy the issue of the absences; it makes me uncomfortable when the Town Council members don't get along amongst themselves. I'm not comfortable with that, and that is the reason for me offering you my resignation. I enjoy representing a harmonious group... I don't enjoy when there's strife.” The council thanked both gentlemen for their service to the Town of Greenville. During the Department Reports section of the meeting, Grants Consultant Jim Parrish informed the council that his current grant project will be his last, making him the third individual associated with the council to announce an intended departure.
A special session meeting was held on Monday, June 19, for the purpose of filling Arnold's vacant seat and defining the excusal process for council member absences. Little was accomplished at the meeting, which turned into a two-hour-long argument between two sets of council members: Mayor Malone and Vice Mayor Seabrooks, who stated that Arnold is technically still on the council, pending a council vote to vacate his seat, and Council Members Joi Collins and Barbara Dansey, who cited the town charter automatically vacated the seat, thus requiring no vote. Mayor Malone and Arnold accused some members of the council of letting outside personal issues influence their vote and said Arnold's position on the council was protected by due process. The matter was given some closure when Vice Mayor Seabrooks brought forth a motion to fill Arnold's vacant seat. The motion was seconded by Mayor Malone and a council vote ended in a two – two stalemate. When asked about the vote's implications on the council seat, Mayor Malone stated “We just officially made it vacant.”
Straying from the special session's agenda, the council engaged in conversations with various citizens in attendance. Mayor Malone stated that there is personal vindictiveness within the council that needs to go away. “I need to know what's going on,” he asked aloud.
JC Fead, Greenville resident and prior town employee, spoke up, saying “Mr. Malone, I think that's the question everybody needs to wanna find out... what is the problem? What has Mrs. Reams done wrong? When she came into this office, she got a lot of things straightened out that were screwed up by the council members. She's been doing good for the town of Greenville.”
Council Member Dansey offered a motion to advertise the vacant council seat and solicit for interested individuals. After the motion was seconded by Council Member Collins, the vote resulted in a two – two tie. Continued disagreements eventually led to a motion to adjourn the meeting, which was the only matter on which all members of the council could agree.