The City of Brentwood has a new vice mayor with the election of Brentwood Commissioner Nelson Andrews to the role.
Brentwood Mayor Rhea Little was also reelected to the position of mayor during Monday night’s unusually dramatic meeting that also saw the three newly-reelected officials sworn back into office.
Nearly one week after all three incumbent commissioners were reelected to their positions, the commissioners voted among themselves to elect a mayor and vice mayor from the seven commissioners, roles that are largely symbolic in nature.
It was a vote that unseated the now former Vice Mayor Ken Travis, who made his pitch to assume the role of Mayor and then to retain the title of Vice Mayor, both of which he lost.
Commissioners Susannah Macmillan and Mark Gorman voted for Travis while Travis voted for himself, and Commissioners Nelson Andrews, Anne Dunn and Regina Smithson voted for Little and Little voted for himself, which secured Little his continued role as mayor.
Travis spoke of his desire to become Brentwood’s next mayor, and when Little was re-elected he recalled his earlier statements, jokingly saying, “If it works for mayor it ought to work for vice mayor,” to some laughs from the nearly full commission chambers.
Travis was not alone in his efforts with Macmillan and Andrews also throwing their hats in the ring.
Some of the commissioners cited tradition (or an alleged break in tradition based on Monday night’s meeting) in stating who “should” be elected as mayor and vice mayor based on the number of votes accrued in previous elections or the longevity of one's service to the city, something that Commissioner Smithson challenged.
“There is nothing at all in our charter that says we have any conditions on mayor or vice mayor, it is strictly the wish of this commission to vote for whoever they want to at that time,” Smithson said.
Commissioner Gorman voted for Macmillan for vice mayor, while Macmillan also voted for herself. Little, Dunn and Smithson all voted for Andrews, while Andrews also voted for himself, and Travis voted for himself.
The election of Andrews to the role of vice mayor was met by visible disagreement by Commissioners Travis and Gorman who shook their heads at the announcement of the voting results.
During citizens comments, one resident, Gerald Witcher, expressed his dissatisfaction with Monday night’s results.
“I’d like to say that I’m very disappointed with the results this evening in the mayoral and vice mayoral election,” Witcher said. “No disrespect to you Mayor Little, I thought you did a fine job last time, but I believe we have other commissioners who are just as deserving and this should be an honor that’s passed around who I think are very deserving and willing to serve.”
Witcher's comments then turned to Andrews who he was seemingly more than disappointed with.
“He received the fewest votes of anyone up here — barely won,” Witcher said. “And I think Commissioners Macmillan and Travis had hundreds and hundreds more votes indicating their support by the residents, but unfortunately they’re not in the four-group voting block and they’re campaign contributions don’t look like the who's-who of the development community, so the citizens see what’s happening and there will be more discussions about it, but that’s not really why I’m up here.”
Witcher then accused Andrews of deliberately parking vehicles on the grass outside of his business, Andrews Transportation Group, which operates several motor vehicle lots in an alleged effort to not follow the rules, stating that Andrews is in violation of several city codes.
“These codes were designed to keep out roadways clean and safe. They’re not ambiguous and Nelson Andrews is fully aware that they exist,” Witcher said. “As a commissioner he ignored them for his own financial profit motive and other car dealerships in our community have to abide by those regulations just like the rest of our citizens have to abide by our rules and regulations.”
“It is my belief that cars are parked and infringing upon the greenspace specifically to sell more cars,” Witcher added. “So I’d ask this body, is it correct for a commissioner to abuse their position and take advantage of our rules? I think not, and as such, I recommend that Commissioner Andrews — Vice Mayor Andrews — be censured and fined in accordance with section 1.9 of the codes and that he be required to bring his business into compliance with the provisions of section 78.”
“I counted 21 cars parked on the grass right up against the road,” Witcher continued. “And the civil penalty fine, according to our codes, is $50 per occurrence. Skirting our ordinances by commissioner is not a good reflection on this commission and it’s certainly not good for Brentwood.”
Andrews was visibly upset by Witcher’s allegations and chose to respond to his concerns during the commissioner's comments section of the meeting, but not before some commissioners piled onto criticisms of Andrews, while others defended his integrity and character.
Commissioner Macmillan thanked Witcher for voicing his concerns, echoing his call for accountability.
“We do have to hold ourselves as commissioners to a higher standard, not just a standard, but a higher standard, so I think it is important that we represent the city and we need to follow all of the rules of the city — we are the example, so thank you for bringing that up,” Macmillan said.
Commissioner Dunn spoke in defense of Andrews.
“In my many years up here I’ve only had two occasions where someone asked that a commissioner be disciplined, and Gerald, you did it both times,” Dunn said, addressing Witcher directly. “You did it to Rod Freeman, and anybody who knows Rod knows that he’s one of the most honest men to ever walk this Earth, and I don’t know the circumstances of Nelson’s case, but I know Nelson and I find it hard to believe that he would not comply if he had been asked to do so by city ordinances.”
Dunn spoke about her own moral “code” of how she judges commissioners before and after an election.
“I will be perfectly honest, Gerald, the fact that you support certain people, makes me hesitant to vote for them,” Dunn said. “I will be honest, because you and I disagree so powerfully on the way that you conduct your assessment of people, and that’s all I’ve got to say.”
Meanwhile, Travis spoke of his support of Mayor Little, calling his initial vote for himself for mayor as a vote for himself and not a vote against Little.
“Again, I thought I supported you very well, but it does not make sense to me though that you could say that Ray deserves another chance but Kenny doesn’t,” Travis said, calling out Little’s vote for Andrews to take over as vice mayor.
“You’ve asked people to judge us on the job that we’ve done, and I think I’ve done an outstanding job,” Travis continued. “I’m not a guy who stands in front of the room and does this — this is unusual for me — but I’m telling you, it’s not right and the vice mayor should really think about what he did tonight. I'll leave it at that. It doesn’t need to be any more public than that.”
Commissioner Smithson called out the lack of voters in this year’s municipal election, and chose to explain her vote for Little to continue to serve as mayor.
“I’ve been mayor twice, Commissioner Dunn has been mayor twice. Being the mayor is something that in the last year I have to say, you couldn’t have paid me more to do — I would not have done it. It was a very, very difficult year,” Smithson said. “And Mayor Little went to meetings that we’ll never hear about with the governor, with the different county commissioners and everything, and I appreciate the job he did, and I think he kind of got cheated out of some of his mayor-time up here, because it was always on Zoom and everything.”
“He’s an honorable man and everything, and obviously I think he’s done a good job or I wouldn’t have voted for him again,” Smithson said, adding that she also supports Andrews.
She also pushed back against the idea that her voting record could be bought by campaign contributions from developers.
“There’s going to be some changing of the guard because of the nature of this commission, but I have to say that I have confidence in both of them," Smithson said.
Little also spoke in Andrews’ defense, while also calling Witcher’s comments “inappropriate.”
“I’ve seen him [Andrews] serve this community through Rotary, through many activities, through church, through Ravenwood High School, through Brentwood High School," Little said. "Andrews Transportation Group is one of the first places that anyone goes to when they need funds for any kind of project that betters Brentwood, and so I just want to tell you that I’ve observed that for years, and I appreciate Nelson’s contributions to the commission.”
Since questions were publicly raised about Andrews’ business practices in relation to city codes, Brentwood City Manager Kirk Bednar addressed the concerns.
“As you know we had this issue a few years ago before the Vice Mayor [Andrews] was on the commission, we addressed it with him and he removed those cars,” Bednar said. “This time he came to us — I took it as he was coming to us as Nelson Andrews, businessman, not Nelson Andrews, City Commissioner, letting us know that he was starting a multi-million dollar project for extra parking to eliminate the challenges that he has with that parking lot, and asking for a little more flexibility, and I granted him that flexibility.”
“I think it’s taken longer than any of us thought it would,” Bednar continued. “You all can question my judgement in doing that — I work for the seven of you. If you want to address that with me you certainly have the right to, but I felt obligated to clarify that.”
Andrews addressed his critics and apologized for any issues that the extended construction project at his business may have caused citing severe weather patterns throughout the past few months.
“I’d like to extend a sincere apology to Kirk and your staff if any of you felt any sort of undue pressure by me as a commissioner as we did this building process,” Andrews said. “It’s never been my intent at all to use my role as a volunteer, as a board member and as a city commissioner to influence any of the process building.”
“I sincerely hope that the staff understands that it’s our intention to completely follow the rules to the same level and the same courtesy as any business here in Brentwood,” Andrews added.
At the end of the meeting Commissioner Gorman introduced a motion to censure Andrews, which was seconded by Commissioner Macmillan, with Gorman explaining that the censure should both bring Nelson into compliance and force him to pay any applicable fines.
“We put ourselves here and we write ordinances and we govern the residences of Brentwood and for us to say, 'hey, it’s okay, I don’t want to follow the ordinances of Brentwood' — I just took an oath tonight that said I will follow the ordinances of the city of Brentwood,” Gorman said. “So that’s why I made the motion.”
Commissioner Dunn and Mayor Little spoke out against the motion, with Dunn questioning whether Gorman believed that Andrews acted out of malice in not parking his cars where they should be parked.
“Do you think there was malice?” Dunn asked Gorman.
“I appreciate your comments,” Gorman responded to Dunn.
“I certainly won’t be supporting that motion, but you know that already,” Dunn replied.
Little then responded calling the motion, “politics at its worst.”
Little went on to say that Andrews did ask for permission.
"I know there are many examples of that in our city," Little said, adding that the city unusually tries to work with citizens to fix issues.
City Attorney Kristen Corn interjected, detailing that such a complaint would have to be submitted in writing to her at which point it would be investigated.
“This is moot, this is show, this is a show-trial,” Little said, with Smithson also calling Gorman’s motion, as well as Witcher’s comments, “political.”
“Don’t talk to me about censuring somebody, when you’re the one who probably needs to be censured,” Smithson said.
The motion went nowhere with a tied vote after Gorman, Macmillan and Little voted in favor of censuring Andrews, while Little, Smithson and Dunn voted against the move, and Andrews abstained.
According to the city, as of 2:45 p.m. on Tuesday, no one has submitted a formal written ethics complaint against Andrews, who issued a brief statement in a phone call on Tuesday.
“I feel like the motion and the process was completely politically motivated, and I’m quite frankly very disappointed in it,” Andrews said in a phone call on Tuesday.
The Brentwood City Commission is scheduled to meet again on Monday, May 24.