Bob Scott makes motion to be included in censure.
During last week's Board of Aldermen meeting, Franklin's Town Board voted in a 5-1 vote to censure Mayor Joe Collins for issuing a personal letter of apology to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for the town's actions regarding spraying herbicide on the mound.
The town sprayed herbicide on the mound’s grass earlier this year with intentions of replanting it with an eco-grass that would require less maintenance, but the use of a poisonous chemical on a sacred mound site offended the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The tribe went before Franklin's Town Board and asked for an apology, but were informed the board would not issue them one.
Censure, not be confused with censor, means to express severe disapproval of someone or something, typically in a formal statement.
On a motion made by Vice-Mayor Verlin Curtis, Mayor Collins was reprimanded in the form of a public censure, for issuing the tribe an apology on a town letterhead, after the aldermen voted in a previous meeting to not apologize for the actions that resulted in the grass on the sacred mound being killed.
Curtis’ motion, which he read from a previously prepared statement, read:
“After closing the town board meeting on June 4, Mayor Collins passed out a copy of a letter of apology to Chief Hicks on town stationary identifying himself as the mayor of the town of Franklin and signed as mayor. This was done without approval of the Board of Aldermen and a total disregard of the previous decision made by the board on May 7. As a result of his actions, the media has used this and other articles to refer to board members as uncaring and exercising poor judgment. Right or wrong, decisions of this nature are the responsibility of the Board of Aldermen and not the office of the mayor. I submit these actions of the mayor were a gross abuse of assumed powers, and I motion that Mayor Collins be censured for his actions.”
Collins who responded by saying he had an idea that the censure was going to occur, said he understood and respected the board's reasoning in the censure but would not apologize to the board for his decision to issue a personal apology for the town’s maintenance that resulted in the grass on the mound being destroyed, “I’m proud of what I did. I was well within my bounds and I would do it again,” said Collins. “My letter read very carefully that it was from me as the mayor personally; it’s how I felt and I was not going to send out a letter to the Chief of the Cherokee Nation on my legal letter head or a blank piece of stationary. Obviously, we are at times where issues are tough and sensitivities are high, but there will be no apologies.”
Before further discussion could occur or vote be made, Alderman Bob Scott requested that the aldermen censure him as well because of a previous visit he made to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians to personally apologize. “I don't want to be left out of that. I want to be included in your censure because I went to see the chief. What has been done to the mound is inexcusable.”
The board ignored Scott's amendment to Curtis' motion and Scott was not censured along with the Mayor.
“I was disappointed that my revised motion in the censure made by Vice-Mayor Curtis against the mayor to include me in the censure failed,” said Scott in a statement following the meeting. “I would have been honored to be censured by the Town Board over the mound situation. It would have been the high point of my political career to be censured by those five.”
Scott was the only member of the board that came to the Mayor's defense and said, “Just because you’re an elected official doesn’t mean that you can’t have a personal opinion or do what you think is ethically correct.”
Going off script from his prepared statement, Curtis told Collins that as the mayor, Collins' decision to apologize gave the public the appearance of disunity among the board.
Collins said that it was his hope that the residents of Franklin would want their elected officials to have differing opinions and hope that they would be encouraged to voice their opposition in a respectful and calm manner for the betterment of the town's citizens.
Scott raised the question to his fellow board members about whether they’d violated state open meeting laws. Without much discussion amongst the board, Scott was the only member of the board that voted against Curtis' motion, making it appear as if they had come to a consensus ahead of time about the censure, which was done outside a public meeting, violated the law.
“I did this on my own,” Curtis assured Scott. “I think it causes disunity in the board when the board votes not to send an apology and then an apology comes.”
Despite Curtis' statement, nearly a dozen Franklin residents were in the audience because they had prior knowledge that the censure would be taking place, indications that Curtis' motion was discussed prior to the meeting.
Additionally, in Curtis' motion to censure the mayor, he cited a decision that was made in the May 7 board meeting, a meeting from which Curtis was absent.
To avoid further argument, Collins urged the board to move to the next agenda item. “A censure is meaningless in the legal sense,” said Collins. “They don't have authority to reprimand, censure or impeach me or anything, so to speak. But it is an expression and I understand that. My role as mayor I take very seriously. I have a voice as mayor that sometimes is different ... We need to be building bridges and not walls with our neighbors.”
According to the town's attorney John Henning Jr., Collins was in fact acting within the bounds of his responsibility as mayor. Henning explained that the board previously voted that the Town Board would not issue an apology regarding the mound and in that motion, nothing was decided regarding the mayor personally. As an elected official on behalf of the Town of Franklin, Henning explained that the mayor had the authority and the legal right to justify issuing an apology to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.