The best treatment for bullying is a kick in the butt.
I have to applaud the Bradley County Commission for its recent exhibition of courage standing up to the bullies on the Cleveland City Council. For as long as I have lived in Bradley county, Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland and a hodge-podge of good-ol-boy wannabes and closet socialists have run roughshod over a weak and ineffective county commission. Using intimidation, a stream of crafty tactics, some well placed "city folk" on the commission and county boards, the Captains of Cleveland have ensnared county residents to fund their schemes and be subservient to their wishes. But now it seem some commissioners value their dignity above the condescending approval of those that feel superior to county people, and have decided to retaliate with a break in county / city cooperation.
For anyone who has attended one of the Cleveland City Council regular meetings it will not come as a surprise to learn of their arrogance toward the county commission. They have a long history of lack of respect and portraying commission members as stupid hicks, not worthy of serious consideration. And for years, commissioners have fallen for this masquerade of the self proclaimed powerful. And a masquerade it is. The Cleveland City Council has been relying on county commission funding to support their shaky financial management while at the same time keeping the upper hand politically. If they meet resistance, they have learned to manipulate the media and intimidate the commission with power moves that seem to leave the county defenseless.
In other communities in which this editor has lived, legislative power descends from federal to state, from state to county, from county to city. Federal and state laws almost always support county over city. Cities have little autonomous power without the backing of the county in which they reside, but the Captains of Cleveland have duped generations of successive commissions into believing otherwise. They have led previous commissions like sheep into believing they call the shots and they hold the power.
Some may remember when the Cleveland City Council enacted a wheel tax, later being forced to quietly rescind it because only a county can petition for a wheel tax. The Cleveland City Council were lucky county commissioners didn't demand they reimburse city motorist for the illegal tax they had been collecting. The City Council escaped paying the price for their overzealous actions and commissioners kept quiet.
City leaders have little power without the goodwill of the county commission endorsing their projects. Cleveland is obliged to work with the county but the county can work effectively without including the city in the decision making process. There may be a state mandated division of tax dollars but that is about as far as cooperation is legislated to go. In Bradley county, the commission has even allowed city input in the form of a binding agreement which when ratified divided tax money for the benefit of the city. Because now it is not so lucrative for them, they want out. With the Captains of Cleveland, it is not about cooperation, it is all about them.
A few years back the Bradley County Commission asked Cleveland Utilities to help a group of county residents who had contaminated wells and needed water hookup. Cleveland Utilities refused citing lack of money but were able to continue work on Cleveland projects. Then commissioner, the late Naomi Kuykendall, did research to discover the county commission, at their option, had the power to take over control of Cleveland Utilities. It is one of those little used powers a county has the option to evoke, but the commission at the time took no action. Can you imagine what Cleveland would have done had the circumstances been reversed?
I don't believe County Mayor D. Gary Davis is without courage. He has proven himself a worthy adversary to many in the past, but I firmly disagree with his handling of the no cooperation stand the county commission has taken. Davis must have a short memory. He has been the victim of disrespect by the Cleveland City Council and should be supporting commissioners in their quest for respectful recognition. But he prefers to cooperate and bow down instead. The one strength city councilors have is unity of purpose and to get what they want they stand together. Davis needs to side with commissioners and go nose to nose with the city council. He needs to cease negotiations on the fire contract until the commission gets the respect they deserve. Not a token apology but the Captains of Cleveland groveling for forgiveness. Cleveland will become financially dysfunctional if the county withdraws the $1.8 million fire contract but it will not effect the county unduly. In fact, it will return self esteem by putting the city in its place. It can and will happen if the commission unite to demand it. If canceling the fire contract doesn't get their attention try canceling the airport project, the county has the power to do that too. Ask the state.
4th District Bradley County Commissioner Howard Thompson, has a standing joke with fellow members not to support Cleveland, which sounds petty to the casual observer, but Thompson, a 15 year veteran commissioner knows first hand how intransigent and manipulative the city council can be to ensure cooperation goes only in one direction. Hats off to Thompson for standing his ground. Davis could learn something from him.
Cleveland's leaders seem to be countering the no cooperation resolution by insisting the commission meet with them to extend the growth area around city limits. State legislation known as the Tiny Towns Law, was enacted to curb unchecked urban sprawl by cities looking to expand their tax base. Tennessee counties were tired of being ransacked by greedy cities. It required counties and cities to cooperatively agree on sensible growth areas. It was not meant for a city to grab the whole county. In Bradley County, as usual, the committee giving recommendations for these areas was stacked in favor of the city with the result Cleveland grabbed a good portion of the county without opposition from commissioners. Now, 8 or 9 years later Cleveland wants to grab the rest of the county, presumably, in part, to send a message to commissioners to toe the line. It will prove a clever move for the city to gain control if the county commission falls for it. But, if their courage remains with them and they reshape the advisory board to reflect a more county friendly membership, then revisit existing boundaries to bring them into line with what the Tiny Towns Law was meant to achieve, it could backfire on the city council without the county actually cooperating with them. Many county residents would thank them for it and the Cleveland City Council would learn a healthy lesson in humility. Davis and the county commission would then regain their dignity.
That's what I think. What do you think?