Jellico’s political landscape has limited host of players

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By Susan Sharp

   The political circle can be a small one. However, it seems in Jellico that circle is growing smaller and more exclusive by the day.

Don’t believe me? Just ask the former board members of the Jellico Electric and Water System, Terry Basista and Mike Betherum.

In less than a year Mayor Les Stiers and his band of merry aldermen dismantled the electric and water system board installing themselves in its place and terminated the services of Basista, the board’s attorney, and Betherum, the utilities general manager.

Along the way, the board, acting on behalf of the utility systems, reinstated its pay for overseeing the utilities and gave itself a $50 raise. However, before this act could become official the board of mayor and aldermen had to approve it. Anyone getting dizzy yet?

I believe Stiers and company dismantled the electric and water system thinking if they were in charge, they could control the electric rates. This dream was soon burst when Betherum and Basista told them of mandatory rate increase TVA was instituting. I wonder if these two men could hear the axe beginning to fall as they shared this news.

Calling a spade a spade, I don’t think it is a coincidence that when Basista advised the board that firing Betherum could spell trouble he was let go.

Terminating Basista set in motion a series of questionable decisions.

When they let him go, they had to replace him. Of course, at the time Stiers said Basista could not serve the utility board and the town. However, the board then turned around and hired Steve Hurst, who is also the town attorney for Jacksboro meaning he now serves two boards.

After this, the board terminated Betherum. A man who was seemingly running an aging system in a relatively effective manner. Stiers said Betherum wasn’t entitled to a contract thus he was terminated.

In his place, they have two men acting as interim managers.

Along the way, Stiers has made comments about the board being elected members who can be voted out if the public isn’t happy with them.

The utility company serves around 4,700 customers, most of which live in Kentucky. The election commission says Jellico has just over 1,400 registered voters.

So, if the utility customers, who are not living in the town of Jellico and voting, are unhappy with the current board, what recourse do they have?

I can assure you those customers won’t have the option putting the board out and running the utility themselves.