Unicoi mayor responds to candidates' criticisms

Sue Guinn Legg • Oct 25, 2018 at 11:04 PM

UNICOI — Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch said a series of personal criticisms included in an alderman candidate’s answers to a survey published last week in Johnson City Press are false and misleading.

In an interview with the Press on Monday, Lynch contradicted several statements made by Alderwoman Kathy Bullen regarding his actions as mayor.

Lynch adamantly denied Bullen’s statement that he instructed town employees not to speak to her or to Alderman Roger Cooper and, in a public meeting, instructed her and Cooper not to speak to town employees, saying both statements “are just not true.”

“They speak to employees and vice versa, all the time. Everybody talks. They talk to them in the office, in meetings and even after meetings on the phone and other places after hours … That’s hogwash. Everybody knows they talk to the staff members and the staff talks to them.”

On Bullen’s statement that the biggest issue facing the town is “failed leadership,” Lynch cited his record of service in the mayor’s office and projects implemented by a succession of different configurations of Board of Mayor and Aldermen, including the current board.

“I’ve served 14 years. It’s a position that requires a lot of time and work but I’m glad to serve. I love the town. I have a progressive vision for the future of the town and that is to be a progressive and pleasant place to live while we maintain our rural integrity and character.

He denied bullying Bullen as she referenced in her statement, “If elected I will continue to work hard to find the information I need to make the best decisions I can regarding town business. The obstacles will challenge me but the bullying I experience will not stop me.”

Asked if he has bullied Bullen, Lynch said he has not and that he does “not believe that has been the observation of a lot other people.”

“I gaveled her out of order. It is in our charter to go by the Robert’s Rules of Order. I am trying to make sure we go by the Robert’s Rules of Order ... When you get in there you are supposed to ask the chairman for the floor. Kathy interrupts. We have given her a copy of the Robert’s Rules of Order and she still does that.”

On Cooper’s statement that “Lack of transparency is probably the biggest issue in the town,” Lynch said, “Information is public. They can get that and anyone can get that.”

“They fill out a request form and (the town recorder) or usually (the assistant to the town recorder) finds that for them. It may take more than 24 hours, but there is a limit of so many days to provide that, by law. We’ve always been transparent in this town. This thing on information not being public is simply not true.”

On Cooper’s reference to a bill presented to the state legislature earlier this year that would have closed all information on business incubation clients using the town’s Mountain Harvest Kitchen, Lynch said he did not draft the bill as it was originally presented and was satisfied with an amendment that limited the scope of the bill to trade secrets.

“It was never the intent to keep anything other than recipes, marketing plans and other things that the people who use the kitchen don’t want out there from being public. I wasn’t concerned with the wording that they chose. I wasn’t concerned when the Freedom of Information League came in and they reworded it. I just wanted to make sure people who come to use the kitchen feel they are protected.”

On Cooper’s statement that “town resolutions are written in a manner that hides the real purpose for the resolution,” Lynch said Cooper’s reference is to a resolution that applied to one town employee who was impacted by a mistake made by a previous town recorder but included all employees impacted by the error in its language. “We all knew what that was about. I call that nitpicking,” he said.

Lynch also took issue with Cooper’s statement that “Another big issue is wasteful spending of town money on non-essential projects that benefit few town citizens.” He said town projects serve people of many different interests are developed and implemented in keeping with long and short term strategic plans that are regularly reviewed and updated by the board.

“People here are interested in a lot of different things, art, history, hiking, sports. So we have a soccer field. We have a walking trail. We have a hiking and biking trail. We have a cabin that we are trying to make a museum that also has a lot of musical gatherings. These are all services to our citizens and the different interests people have.”

We have one-year, five-year and ten-year plans that we go back and go over and update, regularly, with the Tennessee Municipal Advisory Service director that has us do that. A succession of boards have voted on these projects, including the kitchen, which has gone through three different boards. It’s different people on all these boards that have voted for these projects. It’s not just the mayor.”

Lynch cited the succession of boards that have implemented various town projects again in his response to Bullen’s statements that, “The power and control enjoyed by the BMA has been upset by the election of two aldermen not in the ‘good ole boy network’” and that “prior to this, the mayor had run rampant over the citizens of this town spending their money however he wanted.”

Commenting further, he said, “For the past two years, the membership of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen has brought conflict and disruptive behavior on the part of two aldermen. That makes it difficult for the board and the staff to work productively toward our goals. In the process, they are undermining the work of the town on projects that have come down through several boards. Different boards have voted on all these projects, including the kitchen, which has been through three boards.

“I feel Alderman Cooper in particular makes tremendous demands on the staff to dig up information that he uses to attack town projects. To a certain point this is reasonable. But the excessive pressure is stressful to the staff and leads to staff turnover. The staff needs to be allowed to do the jobs they were hired to do. All this stirring up hurts morale. We’ve got two aldermen behind that and we’ve got two aldermen who undermine the town’s future by constant attacks.”

On Bullen’s call for a change of the “strong mayor” configuration of town government, Lynch said Unicoi’s past experience with a weak mayor format politicized every issue and made it difficult for the town to move forward. “That’s why we changed it. With a weak mayor, your town recorder has five bosses to answer to and everything becomes political,” he said.