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Mayor censured for acting alone in apology to tribe

The Franklin Board of Aldermen censured Mayor Joe Collins this week for making a personal apology to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians after the town sprayed Nikwasi Indian Mound with weed killer.

The town was trying to kill the grass so it could be replanted with a low-growing variety that doesn’t require mowing, but the use of a poisonous chemical on a sacred mound site offended the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The tribe asked for an apology, which Collins offered, despite the majority of the board deciding an apology wasn’t necessary.

The censure also takes Collins to task for opposing the town board’s plan to build an ABC store at the super Walmart site. However the censure, read aloud by Alderman Verlin Curtis, only briefly mentioned the ABC store. The bulk of the reprimand concerned the apology.

The apology was writing on town stationary and signed by Collins as the mayor of Franklin, even though the majority of the board did not support issuing an apology.

“As a result of his actions, the media has used this and other articles to refer to board members as uncaring and exercising poor judgment,” Curtis said, reading from the censure as a town meeting Monday night. “Right or wrong, decisions of this nature are the responsibility of the Board of Aldermen and not the office of the mayor.”

Curtis concluded by labeling the mayor’s actions as “a gross abuse of assumed powers.”

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Four of the five aldermen approved the censure. Alderman Bob Scott opposed it. 

Scott has been a leading critic of the mound spraying and a vocal advocate for issuing an apology. Scott volunteered to be censured, too.

“I don’t want to be left out of that. I want to be included. I want to be censured by this board, too,” Scott said, adding that he’d personally met with Eastern Band representatives to talk about the spraying. “Just because you are a public official doesn’t mean you can’t have a personal opinion and do what you think is right.”

Scott also challenged his fellow board members about whether they’d violated state Open Meeting laws. He said that it appeared they’d come to a consensus ahead of time about the censure, done outside a public meeting.

“I did this on my own,” Curtis responded. “I think it causes disunity in the board when the board votes not to send an apology and then an apology comes.”

For his part, Collins said if the board was waiting for him to apologize to them it wasn’t going to happen.

“I know issues are tough and sensitivities are high,” he said. “But, I’m proud of what I did. It was well within the bounds. It was how I felt.”

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