Controversy is brewing regarding Coffee County Mayor Judd Matheny’s office and five members of the Coffee County Planning commission that Matheny is attempting to remove.
Thunder Radio News has learned that Matheny sent certified mail dated October 26 to five of the seven members on the county planning committee informing them that the are being “removed for cause.”
Steve Cunningham is the chairman of the planning commission and he received one of Matheny’s letters. Cunningham told Thunder Radio News that the five members receiving letters for removal were himself, Carole Willis, Randy Harrell, Dennis Hunt and Paul Elam. The only two members of the commission who did not receive letters were recently appointed members Rodney Duncan and Sammy Anderson, according to Cunningham.
Thunder Radio News has not been able to independently verity who did or did not receive letters.
The letter states:
“Please take notice that a hearing will be held on November 14, 2023 before the full Coffee County Commission for your removal for cause from the Coffee County Planning Commission. This hearing will be held in the main commission meeting room in the Coffee County Administrative Plaza located at 1329 McArthur Street, Manchester. Should you contest your removal, proof will be presented that you are deficient for failing to satisfy the requirements for your continued service of the planning commission. This will include failing to satisfy mandates set forth in Tennessee code annotated 13-3-101 regarding your training and its proper documentation and not providing due diligence and proactive services to Coffee County and its citizens in order to better prepare for our growth in population and job creation. Coffee County appreciates your prior service.”
Matheny’s argument appears to hinge on inadequate training and/or training documentation for members in question.
Cunningham tells Thunder Radio News that all members have attended proper training.
“We have training records where everyone signed the sign in sheet,” Cunningham said. “(County planning commission) and Manchester (Planning). If we aren’t in compliance, then neither is Manchester (planning). We have sign in sheets.
“Sam Edwards is our trainer. He is a land use expert. Just so happens, he authored most of the TCA code,” Cunningham added. “All this stuff is on record in the codes office. We have all the information that is called for. There is no doubt of our training and all that is in evidence. Our trainer is going to be there at the commission meeting Tuesday.”
Thunder Radio News reached out to Matheny for his comment and explanation on this story Friday. He continued to cite improper training documentation.
“No additional comments by me,” Matheny said in a text message.
However, Matheny did offer some explanation.
“I am only sticking to the facts that show the dereliction of duty in improperly documenting planning commission training,” Matheny added. “I have not made a single decision in this process without the explicit advice of Tennessee State Law, the State Attorney General or the Comptroller of the State of Tennessee.
Cunningham and Carole Willis retained attorney Ed Rieder to represent them on Tuesday at the Full Commission meeting. Rieder sent a four-page letter to Matheny and the full commission dated Nov. 8. Thunder Radio News has obtained a copy. The letter states that “Mr. Cunningham and Ms. Willis have attended all annual training programs sponsored by the county and City of Manchester. Training sessions attended by Mr. Cunningham and Ms. Willis meet the statutory requirements set forth in Tennessee Code Annotated 13-3-101. Written documentation of their attendance of all training is and has been on file with the planning commission.”
Cunningham claims that when he explained to County Attorney Ed North that the county’s position was incorrect, he soon received an email and another registered letter from Matheny stating that he was “terminated immediately.” Thunder Radio News has not verified that letter.
“He doesn’t have the authority to do that,” Cunningham said. “Only the full commission can remove a member.”
Commissioner Dennis Hunt sent an email to the full commission on Friday with apparent screenshots of text message correspondence between himself and Matheny. In those screenshots, Matheny appears to suggest that recordings exist that someone suggested the county falsify records. He also accuses “their lawyer” of asking him to do the same thing.
In a message from Matheny to Hunt on September 15th, Matheny says: “I want to go ahead and appoint 3 to planning commission so they can move forward with a quorum and business. They can select a secretary then and one will roll off in early 24 and put you back on. It appears Steve and Carole want to go to court and I welcome it. I have Sam Edwards recording recommending we take illegal action to recreate records. Their lawyer also asked me to do that yesterday and I told him the coverup is always worse than the offense and no one in this county is manufacturing any records. I’m open to suggestions you quietly have of one or two rural members to nominate.”
On Sept. 21 Matheny said to Hunt, verbatim: “we just lay out the info and play Sam’s rewording and the chips will have to fall where they do I know we can’t go into a mega site and all the development around it with a board not in compliance every individual member will be liable if that happens as well as the county and we have to fix that hole. As you know, zoning and zoning resolutions and property issues are the most important and we need to be beyond reproach when challenged.”
On September 25, Hunt appeared to begin to disagree with Matheny’s approach to remove members from the planning commission. In a text message to Matheny, Hunt said: “Studying the specifics has led me to oppose your planning committee shake up. I applaud the desire to bring talent to this group. The method here is flawed. The optics will have negative impact on your administration. My request, take a breath, step back and let this die on the fine.”
Matheny responded by saying another approach could be to dissolve the committee completely and add 1 new person from each district, before adding “I will respect your position but I have to stand by making tough corrections and creating a fully legitimate planning commission.”
Hunt replied and again stated that he believed Matheny’s approach was flawed:
“As I said earlier, flawed! The entity you sited (sic) for contested hearings has zero oversight regarding our County’s planning and zoning,” Hunt said in a text. “Coffee County established itself, by resolution, as a Single County Regional Planning region. Therefore, the Mayor selects and the Legislative Body ratifys (sic) the membership. ONLY the full Legislative Body can remove members. You have almost zero chances of our commission removing anyone there. Dissolve it? Once again the full Body would have to opt out. Once again, zero chances of getting that passed. Let this die.”
In a separate text, Hunt told Matheny: “Everyone received training that currently serves except R. Duncan. Everyone that received the training had their attendance recorded the same way. I made you aware over a year ago that some monumental decisions had been made in the past with members voting that had NEVER had the required training. That, in my mind, is a major issue.”
Matheny’s final text to Hunt on the matter came on November 4.
That final text from Matheny to Hunt reads, verbatim: “This sucks. Just posted on Beechgrove Facebook page. Ef (sic) in process of meeting with all commissioners to advise them there is a six year statute of limitations on all planning commission decisions. I was hoping all the evidence could be handled more discretely. Comptroller and AG are aware of whole situation as I met with them a few weeks ago in full disclosure. They will be down here now that it is a shit show in the public. I have a duty to present all messages and recordings as well as records now. Members of PC are personally liable since it’s on record there are violations of TCA 13-3-01 of deficiencies and lack of training documentation and untrained persons were known to vote at times of major decisions. I DID NOT share anything with the public. I will present everything on the 14th if the hearing goes thru (sic). It has to be because everyone is required by law to have the due process. This text is for informational purposes only and not intended to influence a vote or decision.”
The full commission meeting will be held at the Coffee County Administrative Plaza at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 14. The public is always welcome to those meetings: 1329 McArthur Street in Manchester.
In a later text message Friday night, Matheny told Thunder Radio News: “I’m just going to continue to do what’s right and some may vote to cook the books and recreate training records if they want, which is the advice of one of their attorneys. I won’t allow that to happen in my administration anywhere, much less one of the most important entities involved with shepherding growth. I DO NOT want our county to be like Murfreesboro, which came from a lack of proper planning and preparation.”
SCREENSHOTS BELOW OF TEXT EXCHANGE BETWEEN COMMISSIONER DENNIS HUNT AND JUDD MATHENY PROVIDED BY HUNT TO COMMISSIONERS