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Officials react to Elam letter
Nov 22, 2005 12:00 am
November 16, 2005
A six-page letter read by Mt. Juliet Mayor Linda Elam at Monday's City Commission meeting grabbed the attention of other city and county officials, but not necessarily for the reasons she intended.
Elam's letter, addressed to Wilson County Mayor Robert Dedman and laying out her argument for continued county-provided fire protection for Mt. Juliet, was signed only by Elam but was written on City of Mt. Juliet letterhead.
A few officials took issue with that Tuesday, emphatically stating Elam was not speaking for the entire city, nor the entire Mt. Juliet Commission.
"First of all, my reaction to the mayor's letter is not support," District 1 City Commissioner Ray Justice said. "We never voted for her to write that letter. We never voted for her to send that letter."
Dedman did not actually see the letter until Tuesday afternoon, but even before laying eyes on it, the county mayor said he was upset at the manner in which Elam expressed her comments.
"I am a little disappointed that she didn't contact me first," Dedman said. "If she had a problem, I wish she would have come to me with it."
In addition, the letter exposed a rift between members of the Mt. Juliet City Commission over how to best address the fire protection issue that has consumed Mt. Juliet and county officials lately.
Elam wrote of past instances in which "Wilson County made a policy decision to provide fire and ambulance services to the entire county," according to the letter, to bolster her claim the county should continue to provide the service. The mayor pointed to decisions by the County Commission in 1980 and 1993 to uphold countywide fire protection.
"There is no reason the citizens of Mt. Juliet should be expected to fund their own fire services when the same demands aren't being made of the rest of Wilson County," Elam wrote. "After all, we pay the same property tax rate, and have every reason to expect the same level of service."
District 3 Mt. Juliet Commissioner Ed Hagerty seemed to agree with Elam.
"I guess I would agree with the premise that all Mt. Juliet residents are also Wilson County residents and are already paying property taxes for fire services from (Wilson County Emergency Management) WEMA," he said. "So the next question is, if Mt. Juliet decided to fund its own fire services, would our residents get a rebate on the part of their property taxes that they pay to the county for fire protection?"
But Justice took issue with the historical basis on which Elam made her case.
"Her argument would probably be well-suited if she were in a courtroom," Justice said, apparently referencing Elam's work as an attorney. "But it doesn't work, because what happened in the past is not necessarily what needs to happen in the future."
Justice, who made his own statement about fire protection at Monday's meeting, said the biggest issue is not whether Mt. Juliet is participating in fire services or not, but the fact the city is refusing to discuss it.
"My suggestion is that we sit down and start talking about where we are, where we need to be and then a come up with a five-year plan to get us from point A to point B," Justice said. "Right now we have no plan, and we're not going to come up with one if we keep engaging in verbal combat."
"You can solve anything if you sit down and talk about it," he said. "And that's what needs to happen, because we're all Wilson Countians."
Justice and Dedman said the growth of Mt. Juliet demands forward-looking thinking about how to solve the fire issue.
"We are growing by leaps and bounds in Wilson County," Justice said. "Anybody who knows anything about the situation knows that eventually we need to be able to provide our own fire services. But it needs to happen incrementally; this needs to happen over a period of time. And that's what I want to push for. We need a plan."
Staff Writer Jared Allen can be reached at 444-3592 ext. 15 or by e-mail at email@example.com.