Cleveland citizens finally unite

The residents of Cleveland have come together with one thing in common – a will to be heard.

The regularly scheduled council meeting that should have been on Tuesday, Oct. 20, was cancelled due to no quorum, and a community meeting was held instead. The group of Retake Cleveland gathered with more than 50 present at the Cleveland Fire station. Among those present, along with news coverage from ABC 33/40, were councilmen Doug Hill and Glenn Puckett.

After what began three weeks ago as an interest in their hometown’s government, Josh Byrd and Jeremy Smith began investigating the legitimacy of some decisions made by the town’s council. The two young men began working alongside Cleveland resident Donna Gillespie and quickly formed the Retake Cleveland movement. What originally piqued their interest was the proposed sale of Cleveland water system, a decision that is still pending. What the council says is a necessity due to mounting debt, others say is a personal agenda against water superintendent Steve Pass.

Pass was not present at Tuesday night’s meeting, although his wife, Anita, and daughter, Brandie, spoke conservatively about pending litigation between the “town we love” and Pass. Since the present council has taken office in January, Pass has had a salary reduction of more than $14,000 as well as a demotion.

Since then, Pass is assumed to have been one of the topics of dozens of “closed door special meetings” of the council and has filed a countersuit asking for his back pay, interest, and an explanation. According to the Merit Board, no reason has ever been given for the actions against Pass. The court date was originally Oct. 22, but was rescheduled because there was no representation for the town of Cleveland. The case was rescheduled for tomorrow, Oct. 29, at the Blount County Courthouse in Oneonta.

Former councilman James Barwick spoke: “We do NOT owe $8 million,” he said, referring to the balance on the water and sewer system. The general consensus is that the balance owed is closer to $4 million, paid over several years; and that this is the amount they are asking from Blount Water Authority to purchase the system. “They said they’d sell the water for $4 million as long as they don’t hire Steve Pass or Michael (Walker),” Barwick continued. These figures have not been confirmed.

Anita Pass, town clerk for more than 16 years, resigned in 2008 following the election. She stated that as of Oct. 31, 2008, the town had a clean audit and approximately $150,000. “This past fiscal year, not one red cent has been paid from general fund into water or sewer,” she said.

Continuing with her frustration, she said, “This council has not done one thing since they’ve been in office to support our local schools.” Just two weeks ago, the council voted not to pay a $750 educational grant to a Cleveland classroom. The grant, named for the late mayor Henry Pass, will be paid personally by Steve and Anita Pass. The crowd also noted that the council chose not to publish congratulations to their 2008 graduating seniors – the only Blount County school not to be so recognized.

The second question catching the attention of Retake Cleveland is: “Who is the mayor?” This question arose in April following the unanimous acceptance by the council of Mayor Larry Longshore’s resignation, only for those minutes to be stricken from record and the mayor’s resignation rescinded. Many townspeople feel this also was done illegally and have consistently asked the council for clarification. Their frustration has now been served in the form of a lawsuit. Former mayor of Cleveland James Sullivan has since filed a claim naming the town of Cleveland and Larry Longshore as defendants, citing Code
of Alabama 1975,
Sections 6-6-220 through 6-6-232, and Rule 57 of the Alabama Rules
of Civil Procedure.

For the first time in six months, councilman Doug Hill spoke. “At the beginning of the (council) meetings, I felt many things included in executive sessions were illegal and some immoral,” he said. “When Larry Longshore resigned, I saw an opportunity,” Hill continued, claiming no further issues could be voted through the council due to no quorum, in his absence.

Councilman Glenn Puckett agreed. “I felt personal agendas were being pursued. Change cannot be brought about until the commission comes together and rise up for the process of change,” he stated. “Continue to be involved. It is your town! This is what being a citizen is all about.”

Byrd and Smith have recently begun circulating a petition of Redress of Grievances, which had over 150 signatures within a three-day period. The petition continues in circulation and to date has over 30 signatures from outside of Alabama proclaiming injustice.

“I know right from wrong,” said Smith, who considers a quote from Cleveland’s attorney, Stan Glasscox,“bone-chilling” – “y’all can do whatever y’all want to. Y’all are the council.” Smith continues, quoting Thomas Jefferson, “The issue today is the same as it has been throughout all history, whether man shall be allowed to govern himself or be ruled by a small elite.”

In closing, someone asked, “What else can we do?”

“I think the wheels of progress are already turning,” said councilman Doug Hill. “There was a time when I didn’t have faith, but now
I have faith that this town can
turn in the right direction.”

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