Bluff City Mayor Irene Wells sounded exasperated Monday.
She not only was upset about the handling, or mishandling, of the city’s speed cameras on U.S. Highway 11E, but also about what she feels is a purposeful exclusion of her opinions and abilities as mayor.
Interim City Manager, City Recorder and Finance Officer Judy A. Dulaney shut down the camera aimed at the southbound lanes last week after it was brought to her attention that the city had been violating state law since July 1. For more than two months after legislation was enacted, the city failed to move two posted 45 mph signs on the southbound lanes of U.S. Highway 11E at least one mile away from the devices.
The Press measured the distance at three-tenths of a mile; Acting Police Chief Greg DePew got the same result. But as the concerns mounted over legal liabilities, Wells remained in the dark.
“They tell me nothing — I’m not included in their little network,” Wells said about Dulaney and the Board of Aldermen. “I’m a person on the outside looking in. I just find out things like this when I read the newspaper or watch the news.”
Article VI, Sec. 1 of the city charter states that “The Town Manager, town attorney and town judge shall serve at the pleasure of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.”
“They took my office and my desk, and apparently they don’t want me around,” Wells said. “And no one’s even asked my opinion on the speed camera and signs. The sign distance was going to be a problem, but former City Manager Don Weaver had introduced a resolution to take care of it.”
Wells, who was a sitting alderwoman, was appointed mayor at a special called meeting on June 28 by two of the city’s five alderman.
Article III, Sec. 5 of the city charter states, “The Board of Mayor and Aldermen shall by ordinance fix the time and place at which the regular meetings of the board shall be held,” and, “Whenever, in the opinion of the Mayor or three (3) Aldermen, the welfare of the town demands it, the Mayor shall call special meetings of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.”
Weaver became Bluff City’s first-ever city manager on November 12, 2009.
“I handed in my resignation on June 30,” Weaver said. “The next day, the aldermen called a meeting, turned down my resignation and fired me instead. But the mayor was not involved in calling that meeting. I drew up a resolution toward the end of my tenure to move the speed limit signs to the proper distance. As far as I was concerned, I didn’t want to see us get into any trouble. If we’d just moved them then, we wouldn’t be in any trouble.”
State legislation that went into effect on July 1 does not permit traffic enforcement cameras to be placed on public roads and highways unless the reduced speed of 10 mph or more is posted within this parameter. In this case, the speed on the southbound lanes on 11E leading to the cameras is reduced from 55 mph to 45 mph, but the 45 mph sign is posted only three-tenths of a mile from the cameras.
When the Press asked Dulaney last week why the city hadn’t taken the opportunity to make the changes when the law went into effect on July 1, she cited various reasons, including a change in leadership and personnel as well as immediate concerns over speeding and wrecks near a local flea market.
Dulaney did not return phone calls Monday.
“It’s just dysfunctional over there,” Weaver said. “A blind man can see that.”