In an emotionally charged Mt. Juliet Commission meeting Monday night a nominee for District 4 Commissioner Brian Abston’s soon-to-be vacated seat was named, there were fireworks over fireworks and a vote on the proposed property tax hike was deferred.
Abston, who resigned midterm after six and a half years, announced he’s nominated former Wilson County Convention & Visitors Bureau Executive Director Rick Rodriguez to fill his seat.
Abston recently announced his resignation because he is moving out of his district to buy his family’s “dream home” on the lake.
“Most people heard this at the last commission meeting that I am moving out of my district for a lake house,” Abston said. “I’m sad about leaving after six and a half years.”
A visibly upset Abston often had to stop to compose himself as he explained he has served both on the city and planning commissions.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with everyone … they helped me and my constituents. This part is difficult for me. I’ll be seeing you around.”
He said Rodriguez is “an amazing person” who loves Mt. Juliet and volunteers a lot. According to Rodriguez’s resume obtained by The Wilson Post, he was Wilson County’s Visitors Bureau from 2002 to 2012, and he is currently a group sales manager at CAMBRIA Hotel in Nashville. There are nearly a dozen references to his former community commitments to organizations such as United Way of Wilson County and board member of Leadership Wilson.
Rodriguez must receive three of the four commissioners’ votes to be approved for the seat.
“I am deeply honored and humbled to be nominated by the incumbent, Brian Abston, for the vacancy of District 4, City of Mt. Juliet,” Rodriguez said when contacted by The Wilson Post late Monday night. “I have been an active participant, volunteer and citizen of this great city and county for many years and care a great deal about it.”
Rodriguez said that if he is approved, his first priority will be to meet with city staff, legislators, constituents and business leaders.
“The primary goals for me in the first 30 days will be to get caught up to speed on pending city projects, short and long-term goals, and finally the city budget/finances,” he said “In my opinion, communicating and being responsive to the governing body, staff, and citizenry is the best way to begin the process of serving in this role.”
Property tax vote deferred
Commissioners deferred a vote on a proposed property tax increase to June 10.
At a previous meeting Abston had proposed a 59-cent property tax to fund fire service and infrastructure. Thirty-nine cents of that was proposed for fire service alone.
District 1 Commissioner Ray Justice made an amendment to keep the tax at the current rate of 16 cents.
“I stand opposed to the tax and will bring alternatives,” Mt. Juliet Mayor Ed Hagerty said.
He brought up an incident on May 8 when his wife called 911 on behalf of her mother who was in their home.
“The Fire Department of Mt. Juliet did not respond” Hagerty said.
He said Wilson Emergency Management Agency responded. Hagerty said FDMJ is located less than two miles from his house. He said he would devote the next two months trying to find alternative ideas to fund the fire department such as raising the sales tax, impact fee adjustments and reducing spending.
FDMJ Chief Jamie Luffman said it was a possible 911 error.
“It was an error at 911,” he said after the meeting. “The operator thought Hagerty’s property was in the county. He (Hagerty) is the last property in the city limits out Old Lebanon Dirt Road. The call came into Mt. Juliet dispatch but no engine/first response requested by WEMA.”
A second fireworks show
The meeting started with discussion about the annual fireworks display in Mt. Juliet.
After cancelling its $30,000 payment for the longtime fireworks show organized by nursery owner Tom Needham earlier this year, commissioners voted unanimously to sign an agreement with Impact Pyro to hold a July 4 fireworks show. That show will cost the city $15,000 and take place at the Mt. Juliet League ballparks on Lebanon Road.
“I have never seen more fireworks over fireworks, it’s ridiculous,” Justice said. “Originally Mr. Martin (City Manager Kenny Martin) was looking for an alternative. Mr. Needham, rather than talk with Martin, decided to call names. It took him out of the loop.”
Justice said he went to the Board of Directors of the Mt. Juliet League and it agreed to allow the display to take place there.
Justice said there could be parking issues, “But not more than other places.” Commissioners said shutting down the two outside lanes of Lebanon Road for parking could be a possibility during the display. Martin said the display is expected to be seen from the Publix parking lot and as far away as Charlie Daniels Park.
Needham expressed his disappointment over the fact his city sponsored display had been abruptly cancelled after 30 years.
He addressed Martin and said, “I know you love Mt. Juliet.” But he questioned why reasons to cancel the south Mt. Juliet display included traffic issues, nursing homes and livestock.
“I have not seen any cows at Providence lately,” he said.
Needham recently confirmed to The Wilson Post he still plans to sponsor his own display July 4 fireworks show on the south end of Providence Marketplace and has opened a GoFundMe account to help pay for it. As of Tuesday morning, the account has $11,745, with $10,000 of that coming from Needham and his wife.