For several years, the Maury County Chapter of SOCM has been fighting for accountable and transparent government in Mt. Pleasant. The chapter first got involved after a botched water lagoon project (which current Mayor Bob Shackelford helped approve) put the city several million dollars in debt. As a result of this financial mismanagement, residents were forced to pay staggeringly high utility rates. SOCM quickly joined with countless other community members in pushing back against this injustice, believing that everyday working families should not have to pay for the mistakes of a few. After a long period of public outcry, the City Commission eventually lowered rates by $20. However, Mt. Pleasant soon confronted a whole new set of challenges.
Since their election late last year, the new City Commission leadership has engaged in a number of unprofessional, unethical, and possibly illegal actions. Led by Mayor Bob Shackelford, the new Commission majority began targeting City Manager Michelle Williams. They alleged, among other things, that Williams was misusing city funds. These allegations were never substantiated with hard evidence, yet they continued trying to force Williams out of her position. She filed an EEOC (Equal Opportunity Employment Commission) lawsuit against the city alleging sexual/workplace harassment. Yet Michelle Williams was ultimately fired in July at a highly polarized City Commission meeting.
Shortly after Williams’ termination, City Attorney Tom Hardin resigned (his salary had already been slashed by the Commission, in what many considered to be an act of retaliation for his criticism of some Commissioners’ actions). The Commission then appointed Mark Henderson as Interim City Manager. The circumstances around Henderson’s speedy appointment aroused suspicions of possible ‘Sunshine’ violations (so-called Sunshine laws are in place to ensure that important government decisions are made in public, with full transparency). Concerns have also been raised regarding Mark Henderson’s record as a practicing attorney, such as his multiple censures and suspensions by a state licensing authority (see graphic).
Mr. Henderson has also fired the Assistant Police Chief (and abolished the position itself, in violation of the city’s charter) and now other city employees are putting in their resignations. Mt. Pleasant is rapidly losing many of the women and men who keep the town running. Many city employees feel afraid to speak their minds, even privately, for fear of retaliation. An atmosphere of fear and distrust is now hanging over the city. Mayor Shackelford and his allies George Vestal and Mike Davis have also attempted to cut Mt. Pleasant’s contribution to the Community Development Corporation (CDC), sparking concerns about how this may negatively impact future economic growth (attracting new businesses, etc.).
For these reasons, Maury SOCM launched a petition calling for the resignation of Mayor Shackelford, Vice Mayor Vestal, and Commissioner Davis. The petition reads:
“The residents of Mt. Pleasant have for too long put up with an unresponsive and unaccountable City Commission. Over the past few years, we the residents have had to pay for the $6 million debt caused by the city’s botched water lagoon project – through a back-door tax on our utility bills. Time and again, the hard working people of Mt. Pleasant have had to pay for the mistakes of the few. And most recently, Mayor Shackelford and his allies have shamefully attacked other city officials. As a result of this behavior, our city has suffered economic damage and media embarrassment. We believe that we need a fresh start in order to move our city forward. We are therefore calling for new City Commission leadership.
We, the undersigned, call for the resignation of Mayor Bob Shackelford, Vice Mayor George Vestal, and Commissioner Mike Davis – and for immediate special elections to fill their seats.”
The Maury Chapter of SOCM meets the second Monday of every month at 6:30pm at St. James Church (306 Bluegrass Avenue).