Jellico mayor and vice mayor battle it out

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By Charlotte Underwood

The sparks flew between Mayor Forster Baird and Vice Mayor Mike Johnson at Jellico’s special called meeting on Thursday night.

The meeting was held to once again, discuss the temporary establishment of a city court system.

Jellico has been without a court system since 2007, when Circuit Court Judge John McAfee suspended the court system. The case was later appealed by then Judge Don Moses.

On Jan. 26, the appellate court ruled Jellico had in fact established a court system illegally, as all courts must be established through the state law making bodies. Jellico officials had believed establishing a court system had been within their rights as stated in the town charter.

Johnson has been a firm supporter of temporarily enacting a court system in an attempt to avoid the loss of money and man hours within the police force caused by officers traveling to the county court house in Jacksboro.

However, town attorney Terry Basista and TML Attorney John Roach both recommended against such a temporary enactment. They said it would appear presumptuous to the appellate court.

Since the appellate ruling, the Jellico Board of Mayor and Aldermen has been advised to wait 60 days until the appeal period is over, before taking any steps towards trying to re-establish a court system.

While Johnson acknowledged the need to wait, he said he felt they could at least start the process.

“I’m not asking for us to hold court tomorrow. I’m just asking that we begin the process of establishing a city court,” Johnson said.

He stated he has had this issue on the agenda before and that other council members, namely Darrell Byrge and Alvin Evans had asked him to put in on there again.

“Ya’ll can do whatever you want, but I’m advising you not to do it, but if you do, you’ll suffer the consequences,” said Baird firmly.

“I just think we’re opening ourselves up to litigation,” said Board member Mike Smith. He said he agreed with the attorneys that temporarily enacting a court system would appear presumptuous if done before the appeal process was over.

Johnson asked the mayor how many council members he had talked to about this issue before the meeting on Thursday night.

“I talked to at least all of them at one time or another,” answered Baird.

“That’s a direct violation of the sunshine law,” said Johnson angrily.

“Not if I’m not deliberating anything,” Baird replied defensively.

“I know I told you I would vote for it, but I think this situation has shed some light on it and I’m not saying I lied to you, but maybe we should wait the remaining 57-days until the appeal process is over,” said Evans.

Byrge agreed he felt they should wait the time out as well, since it wasn’t that long.

Johnson tried to withdraw his motion, but legally that can’t be done, so all members voted no on the motion to temporarily establish a court system until the appeal process is over.

The dissention did not end there. Johnson brought up another problem he had with the mayor.

“We voted and agreed several months ago to put money back in the drug fund in four quarterly installments, yet the mayor voided the last check out,” Johnson said hotly.

A total of $9,440 had been repaid to the drug fund, with a remaining $9,440 to be paid.

“The reason I did that is because you couldn’t verify what we owed you (drug fund),” replied Baird, alleging that there was a discrepancy in the amount that was supposed to be repaid to the drug fund.

“The money is not the issue,” Johnson said angrily. “I wouldn’t have had a problem with it had he come and said we were having financial problems. The issue of this matter is when we vote on something down here and you come behind our backs and tell us we cant; you’re going behind us and telling Linda not to do it,” Johnson declared.

“If you were in my place, with the financials in the shape they are in, what would you do?” Baird asked.

“You’re sitting here playing with the funds like it’s your own personal cookie jar,” Johnson replied.

“I’m not playing with it, it’s not mine to play with,” Baird responded. He stated the payments would be made and the money would be paid to the drug fund.

The mayor dropped a bombshell of his own when he addressed the final business on the agenda, appointing commissioners.

He re-appointed John Davenport to the power board, Darrell Byrge to recreation and tourism, Mike Smith to the planning commission and Alvin Evans to streets and sanitation. The controversial change came when he removed Johnson as police commissioner and replaced him with Elsie Crawford, who had previously been on the finance board. Johnson was instead named to the finance commission.

Johnson demanded the mayor prove his right to make such appointments.

Taking out the town charter, Baird read the passage aloud which stated in the absence of a city administrator, the mayor holds the right to make such appointments.

“Since we don’t have a city administrator, it falls to me and that’s the way it is,” Baird said pointedly.

“I’ll tell you what, since I am over finance, everything’s going to be audited down here and without the interference of the mayor,” Johnson declared.