Looks like the new mayor of Greenback is going to have to learn in a few days more about state and local rules of governance than his predecessor did in 44 years.
Dwayne Birchfield defeated longtime Mayor Tom Peeler by a 62 percent to 38 percent margin in the Nov. 6 election.
The election was bitter, at least by Greenback standards, with an attempt on social media by Peeler family members to incite a boycott of a popular local business. The owner had signed a petition for Birchfield and said she would have signed Peeler’s petition, too — if he only had asked.
The new mayor learned that Greenback Alderwoman Polly Evans and City Attorney James Scott resigned their respective posts on Thursday, the same day Peeler left office. Along with the mayor, the entire one-woman staff of the city also has left office, as Peeler’s wife, Norma vacated her positions as city recorder, director of human resources and treasurer.
The resignations of Evans and Scott come in the midst of a Tennessee Comptroller inquiry into potential public meeting, ordinance publishing and public record requests violations by the city. Peeler’s public responses have ranged from defiance to contradiction to silence.
Public notices filed with The Daily Times and The News-Herald of Lenoir City — or rather the sporadic notices — suggest the city of Greenback has failed to comply with state law and the city charter regarding meeting notices for years.
The irony is that the Peelers are accused by Birchfield and other Greenback residents of stalling the transition of mayors after the election by canceling public meetings.
The ultimate irony is that 44 years ago, the same length of Peeler’s terms in office, another government’s top official made comments apropos to today.
“My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.” Those words constitute perhaps the best-known quote of President Gerald Ford. The year was 1974. He was addressing the nation 30 minutes after the assistant to the president had handed President Richard Nixon’s letter of resignation to the secretary of state, and after Ford had been sworn in by the chief justice of the Supreme Court.
The same question that loomed over the nation 44 years ago faces Greenback, on a much-smaller scale, on the cusp of a new year: Now what?
Birchfield says he’ll have to determine through the city’s charter the proper procedure for appointing a new city attorney and alderman to be approved by the new aldermen, who will take their oaths of office at the Jan. 8 board meeting.
With all the controversy, a pertinent question is yet to be answered. When did then-Mayor Peeler quit taking the responsibilities of the office seriously? For how long has the mayor’s office in the Greenback Community Center been more akin to a family clubhouse than a seat of public trust?
It’s apparently been years since the city adhered to public notice laws as required by the Tennessee Open Meetings Act. With citizens pressing the issue, state officials are investigating. But the comptroller has no enforcement powers. That’s up to the legal system. Courts could decide whether years of Greenback ordinances are null and void. Would that be a nightmare for litigants or just a dream scenario for lawyers?
Immediately after his “nightmare” reference, Ford added some words not so well remembered but just as relevant today. “Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule.”
That’s the dream we live by — and try to govern by.