ELIZABETHTON — The first meeting of the new Elizabethton City Council was the start of several major changes in the city and the finish of a career for the city manager.
There were no changes at the top of city government. Curt Alexander was unanimously elected by the council to another term as mayor. He has served as mayor since 2006. William Carter was elected mayor pro tem.
The council also responded to the results of the November city election’s referendum by starting the process to establish liquor stores in the city. It approved on second reading an ordinance that allows liquor stores. Most of the details were already worked out in a workshop session last month. There was one change from the consensus of the workshop.
The ordinance considered by the council Thursday called for the city to permit one liquor store for every 4,500 in population. That would mean the city would allow three liquor stores. During the workshop, the suggested population per store had been 3,500, which would have allowed the city to permit four stores. There was only one person who spoke during the public hearing. He asked that the council consider allowing the free marketplace to work.
When it was time to vote, councilman Richard Tester moved that the ordinance be adopted as written, meaning the limit would be one store for every 4,500 residents, for a total of three stores.
Tester’s motion was approved by a 4-3 vote, with Alexander, Carter and Cable joining Tester in voting for the more restrictive number.
Applications to operate a liquor store must be turned in to City Hall between Dec. 26 and the end of business Jan. 18. Copies of the applications will be forwarded to council members and a decision on who will receive the certificates of compliance will be issued Jan. 31. That is just the first step in the process of opening a liquor store. The prospective owner must then go through the state procedures.
The most emotional moments of the meeting came when the council and city staff said farewell to Fred Edens, who has served as city manager for nearly five years.
Edens, a career Army officer who had two tours of combat in Vietnam, had previously retired from the military and then began a career in state and local government
The council presented Edens with a plaque for his service. He also received a plaque and thanks from the employees of the Street and Sanitation Department. The department’s director, Danny Hilbert, told the audience that he became Edens first appointment as city manager and he was grateful for the trust Edens had placed in him. Hilbert said the plaque the department gave to Edens came from all the employees of the department.
Employees of other departments also showed their appreciation of Edens by attending the council meeting. City employees, except for department heads, rarely attend council meetings, but many were in attendance Thursday and gave him a standing ovation when he accepted the plaques.
““From our father in heaven all blessings come. It has been a blessing to me to have been appointed city manager,” Edens told the audience. “It has been very challenging, very rewarding.” He went on to tell the Council “the employees of this city are a tremendous asset.”
He concluded his farewell by saying “it is the citizens I worked for and supported. Merry Christmas and God bless everyone.”
Toward the end of the meeting, Alsup returned to the fact that it was Edens’ last meeting with them. She recalled that when he was first appointed he told the Council “my word is my bond.”
“I have to commend him on that. His word has been that for five years. ... I will miss him dearly,” Alsup said.
“I think those sentiments are echoed by the entire council, Mr. Edens,” Alexander said.
The council unanimously elected Finance Director Jerome Kitchens to serve as interim city manager after Edens departs. He will assume his additional duties at the time he usually starts preparing the city budget for the next fiscal year. City Attorney Roger Day, who previously served as interim city manager on two occasions, said he would be available whenever Kitchens needed.
Edens will continue to reside in the city and told the council he would also be willing to help Kitchens. “I will be glad to help the city any way I can,” Edens said.
In other matters, the council also approved an exclusive franchise to the Carter County Rescue Squad to operate a ground ambulance service and rescue services for a term of four years. The measure was requested by the squad to give them a more secure position with which to secure loans for a restructuring plan that is intended to make the squad independent of county funding.