Complaint Filed Last Week Names All Six City Aldermen.
By Sabrina Bates
DRESDEN (July 8) – Controversy among City of Dresden leaders continues this month in response to a board meeting held June 6 when five of the aldermen for the city voted in favor of a resolution censuring Dresden Mayor Jeff Washburn and asked for his resignation. Washburn responded by filing a complaint in Weakley County Chancery Court, dated July 8, 2022, for a “permanent restraining order and restoration of rights.” The complaint names Sandra Klutts, Gwin Anderson, Lyndal Dilday, Ralph Cobb, Willie Parker and Kenneth Moore, individually and as the elected Aldermen for the City of Dresden. The suit notes Washburn, who is an attorney, is representing himself. He is seeking the defendants pay his attorney fees and court costs associated with prosecution of the complaint (not to impose the costs upon Dresden taxpayers) and he be awarded “such further relief as allowed by law or in equity.”
In the complaint, the Causes of Action are as follows:
Two counts of Violation of the Tennessee Open Meetings Law (Sunshine Law).
Conspiracy to Deprive the Plaintiff of his Constitutional Right to Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press as set out in the First Amendment … .
Violation of the provisions of the City Charter of the City of Dresden and the separation of powers set out therein and more specifically the powers delegated exclusively unto the Mayor of the City of Dresden.
Violation of the established city policy setting out the Social Media Policy for the City of Dresden, Tennessee, as it applies to the moderators of the social media site for the city and actions taken to deprive the Mayor of his lawful duties set out under the City Charter and the Social Media Policy for the City of Dresden.
Conducting a vote on the resolution of censure read by Alderman Sandra Klutts to the board and voted on in violation of the Dresden City Charter that requires that resolutions to be “in written form before being introduced.”
Washburn alleges the board members discussed and planned outside a regularly-called and publicly announced meeting of the Dresden Board of Mayor and Aldermen cand carried out the reading and voting on a resolution of censure against him, using “fabricated and largely untruthful statements or half-truths deliberately used with the intent to deceive the public and media.”
The resolution in question was presented by Klutts during the June 6, 2022, city board meeting and received a 5-1 vote in favor of the resolution to censure the mayor and ask for his resignation. Moore was the sole alderman to vote against the resolution. Washburn cites in the complaint the resolution was approved without discussion, “which conclusively demonstrated that the aldermen had engaged in unlawful conduct by improperly discussing and deliberating toward a decision outside the scope of a lawfully called meeting of the city board as required by the Tennessee Open Meetings Law.”
Klutts sent on an email to City Recorder Jennifer Branscum at 5:44 p.m. that day, 16 minutes prior to the start of the June 6 meeting, where “Alderman Klutts was late arriving,” the complaint notes.
Washburn also alleges the board members have discussed and planned outside a regularly called and publicly announced meeting of the board of mayor and aldermen a plan of action to change the Dresden City Charter to approve a proposal to allow for the hiring of a city administrator/manager to run the day-to-day affairs of the city and remove such powers from the mayor. He notes in the complaint such a move would increase appropriations to the city budget, causing a property tax rate increase.
The resolution last month requested the mayor not post city information regarding the tornado recovery or other city business on his Facebook page, The Weakley Times. He claims that is a violation of his Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press rights.
During the May 2022 City of Dresden Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting, the city’s official Facebook page came under question after Washburn had responded to comments on the social media outlet under the City of Dresden profile in April calling a local reporter ignorant, stupid and pathetic. The reporter was not the only one on the receiving end of such comments under the profile of “City of Dresden.”
It was also noted at the May board meeting Washburn had blocked several people from the City of Dresden Facebook page. It was requested then by board members that Washburn be removed as an administrator of the Facebook page. Acting on City Attorney Beau Pemberton’s recommendation, the board voted to remove the City’s Facebook page until the board could develop social media standards for the page. In June, the city created a new Facebook page for city business and Washburn is no longer an administrator of the page.
The City of Dresden’s Electronic Media Usage Policy notes in part, “The Mayor or City Recorder will monitor content on each of the Department social media sites to ensure adherence to the Social Media Policy for appropriate use, message and branding consistent with the goals of City of Dresden.
“The Board of Mayor and Aldermen and the City Recorder have an overriding interest and expectation in deciding who may “speak” and what is “spoken” on behalf of City of Dresden on social media sites.”
Specific usage guidelines are outlined for city employees, noting, “Employees representing the City government via Social Media outlets must conduct themselves at all times as representatives of City of Dresden. Employees that fail to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner shall be subject to the Disciplinary Procedures outlined in the City of Dresden Employee Handbook and the Electronic Media Usage Policy.
“No employee of the City of Dresden shall post or publish any information relative to their employment activities, information received in the course of their employment, or actions taken on any official matter relative to their employment with the City of Dresden and specifically any matter of a confidential or derogatory nature on any social media site or private page within a social media site unless specifically authorized by the Mayor or Board of Mayor and Aldermen or City Recorder to be a spokesperson for the City of Dresden or any department thereof,” the policy further notes.
Washburn claims the aldermen are subjecting the City to defamation damages by allowing foul language, harassment, discrimination, “fighting words,” and posting under a false identity, which does not constitute free speech protection on the social media page.
The mayor requested in the complaint following a hearing of this cause or if default judgement is granted, the Court issue a permanent injunction prohibiting the Defendants from interfering with Plaintiff’s rights and privileges as set out in the Dresden City, Tennessee Code Annotated, the State of Tennessee Constitution and the U.S. Constitution.
The Dresden City Charter, enacted April 8, 1986, sets forth Restrictions on Aldermen, including the following: “That the Aldermen shall act on all matters as a body, and no member shall seek individually to influence the official acts of any officer or employee of the City, or to direct or request the appointment of any person to, or his removal from, any office or position of employment, or to interfere in any way with the performance of duties by any officer of employee.
Nothing herein contained shall prevent the Board from conducting such inquiries into the operation of the City government and the conduct of the City’s affairs as it may deem necessary.”
Further powers of the Board (which is made up of the Mayor and Aldermen) under the City Charter include: “The Board may establish, abolish, merge, or consolidate offices, positions of employment and departments; may provide that the same person shall fill any number of offices and positions of employment; and may transfer or change the functions and duties of offices, positions of employment and departments.”
The resolution from the June 6, 2022, board meeting cited the following as reasons to request the mayor’s resignation.
“Mayor Jeff Washburn hired and spent City funds to retain an architectural firm to produce drawings of a proposed City complex to be situated on property formerly maintained by buildings on the south side of the court square which were damaged in the December 10, 2021 tornado, despite the fact the City had not acquired the properties at that time.” The properties along the south side of the court square did not belong to the City of Dresden and the mayor did not receive any written contracts from the owners before demolition. Washburn had been proposing a new municipal complex be constructed on the properties, although not all were owned by the city. The City has been billed more than $80,000 for the proposed drawings of the complex. Anderson noted in the last couple of board meetings that Washburn made the city targets for lawsuits by not getting written contracts from property owners. Anderson also mentioned in the public meetings, board members were not privy to weekly meetings being conducted with FEMA representatives and the mayor, as well as the mayor and the architectural firm drafting the municipal complex designs.
The resolution also noted Washburn acted in an “unprofessional and unethical manner on the City of Dresden’s official Facebook page as Mayor” by deleting comments, posting negative responses and blocking citizens, which restricts their freedom of speech rights.
The request for Washburn to not post city-related information to his social media news site stems from citizens who claim they have been blocked from that site and cannot see information posted to that page.
Aldermen received a copy of the complaint over the weekend. The July 2022 City Board meeting was planned for Monday evening. Items included on the agenda were discussion of the properties on the court square that were demolished by the city without written consent; the city’s charter and a construction manager for the “City Hall/PD/Fire Project.” Three aldermen attended the meeting, but four were needed for a quorum. See related article highlighting the board meeting on today’s front page.