Clarksville, TN – There was tension in the air at a special called meeting of the Clarksville-Montgomery County Regional Planning Commission today, as commissioners voted to hire attorneys to investigate a grievance filed by an employee of the commission against a member of the planning commission, Mabel Larson.
In a unanimous vote, commissioners agreed with the executive committee’s recommendation to hire a Nashville law firm to get to the bottom of a situation that has become a political “hot potato” and has, according to Montgomery County Mayor Carolyn Bowers, ” been blown way out of proportion.”
For more on the grievance see: Clarksville Montgomery County Regional Planning Commission to hold meeting over grievance
Chairman Mike Harrison opened the 2:30 meeting with an explanation into why the meeting had been called, and asked if any of the commissioners present, had any questions or comments. Commissioners Mark Kelly, who sits for Clarksville Mayor Kim McMillan, Robert Nichols, Bryce Powers, and Russel Adkins who were in attendance, made no comment at first.
Clarksville City Attorney Lance Baker then approached the commissioners with an explanation of why it was necessary for an outside law firm to investigate the claims, saying, “This investigation needs to be transparent and both the county attorney and myself have a conflict in this matter.”
Harrison said he felt that there was nothing the Planning Commission would ultimately be able to do about the grievance, and felt it would be a waste of taxpayer dollars to spend the 4-5 thousand dollars on an investigation that would ultimately lead to nowhere.
Harrison said he felt that there was nothing the Planning Commission would ultimately be able to do about the grievance, and felt it would be a waste of taxpayer dollars to spend the 4-5 thousand dollars on an investigation that would ultimately lead to nowhere. Commissioner Mark Kelly then asked who could remove a commissioner and why.
According to Tennessee Code Annotated, there appear to be two ways to remove a Planning Commission member, one is by the Commissioner of the Tennessee Economic and Community Development and second would be failure for the Planning Commissioner to not complete the mandatory four hours of education as required by state law.
According to public records, Ms Larson has not completed the four hours required training, and did not attend a retreat last year designed to get all members qualified with the state requirements.
Ms Larson did not attend today’s meeting.
Harrison then stated that they would hear comments from some of the employees of the Regional Planning Commission and that set off a some anxious moments between the two mayors, who were opposed to any comments being made publicly by any of the employees. City attorney Lance Baker reminded the commissioners that any comments made by employees publicly,would “taint” any investigation into the matter, and should not happen.
None of the employees were allowed to address the commissioners, and they had “no comment” to reporters afterwards.
Clarksville Online asked both mayors McMillan and Bowers, along with Montgomery County attorney Austin Peay IV why they did not provide the commissioners with recommendations today of a law firm to handle the investigation as they stated they would at last weeks executive committee meeting. They said that Mr Peay was in Florida on a “personal” matter and was not able to meet with the city attorney to formulate the recommendations.
Another special called meeting will have to be called for that.
According to their notarized statements about the incident in question, there’s a common occurrence of Mabel Larson calling the employees on a regular basis telling them how they should vote on zoning cases, and when asking about one case, “why do we have to jump through so many hoops?” According to Ruth Russel’s account, “Mabel Larson told me that she thought John Spainhoward wrote the email, and that it could have only come from this office.”
Clarksville Online has learned that just moments after today’s meeting adjourned, an interesting phone call came into the Planning Commission office from the Montgomery County Accounts and Budgets office asking for a list of all salaries paid to Regional Planning Commission employees.
Chairman Mike Harrison said that they have already submitted their budget to the county, with the ten percent reduction requested by the Mayor, and thought the timing of the phone call was “curious.”
The phone call has reportedly upset several employees who now feel that someone is looking to cut salaries, or make further cuts to their department or possible jobs. Employee salaries are public record and a phone call to get them would be unnecessary, especially from someone from a county department.
Harrison said the Planning Director sets the salaries of the employees, but the city and county both fund the department, and can have an adverse affect on their budget. Harrison said he was very concerned over the phone call, and feels that this situation has gotten extremely political and he’s not happy at how the employees have been treated during this time.
The work environment has been extremely tense since this incident occurred and interim director Audrea Smithson said “We’re all just supporting each other and doing our jobs the best we can. We’re very busy, and that’s good, and we just want to continue to do our jobs without all of this attention.”