Former town employee seeks council’s help after receiving eviction notice

A former long-time employee of the Town of Pulaski is facing eviction from town property he has lived on for 40 years.

Gary Martin – a 40-year employee of the town – is well-known by many for his years of work in the town’s Parks and Recreation / Facilities Department. He is probably best known for his work keeping up Calfee Park for Appalachian League baseball when the park was owned by the town, and later as an employee of the park.

Tuesday night, Martin approached Pulaski Town Council seeking more than the 30 days granted him in an eviction notice sent to him by the town.

Martin told council he has lived on town property at the old Macgill Village park for over 40 years.

“I received a letter, last week or so to remove from the property my double-wide and I had 30 days to do it, and I’m not able to do that,” Martin told council.

Martin said that when he first moved his double-wide to the park he was told by the town manager at the time and the former recreation director that the spot of land where his double-wide sits now could be surveyed.

“And if I wanted to, later on, I could buy it. You know, when I retired. And that was seven – eight years. I was told that before I retired. So, I’m here to ask if they could survey the spot where I’m living instead of making me move. Been living there for 40 years,” Martin said.

“It’s going to cost me so much to move from a little spot they [the town] don’t even use anyway. I don’t know why they brought it up for me to have to move all at once,” Martin continued, displaying the eviction notice he had received.

“And that’s what I’m here for,” he said. “Asking that ya’ll look over the situation and help me in whatever way you can.”

Councilman Brooks Dawson asked Martin if there had ever been a discussion that Martin’s living on town property would be a permanent situation.

“It was discussed when I was getting ready to switch out trailers from a single-wide to a double-wide. It was discussed like when I retire, you know about 27 or 28 years later, or more. I didn’t think I was going to have to retire,” Martin responded.

Martin said that at one time, the town manager at the time – Shawn Utt – and Dave Hart, former Parks and Facilities chief were having the property surveyed.

“They were going to survey it (town property) in sections at Macgill Village. I guess they got caught up so much in quitting or whatever, and Dave losing his job and everything was going crazy at the time. I never heard anything more until I get this letter in the mail,” Martin told council.

Martin said he’s lived at the Macgill Village spot since 1981.

“Leroy Early [former Public Works Director for the town] brought me all the way from Case Knife and got me in his office and said, “I’ve got a proposition for you. We’ll build you a lot out there at Macgill Village Park. A permanent lot – that’s what he told me. I had no record of it as that was years ago. And I could live there as long as I wanted – being there – a watch. In other words, be there close to the park and keep vandals from tearing it up. A building there got broke into every week until I moved out there. That’s when they had football and their equipment was in there,” Martin recalled.

”Nowhere and at no time did you request anything in writing,” Councilman Jamie Radcliffe asked Martin

“No, not that it was permanent,” Martin responded.

Martin then produced another letter that he said states that when he switched from a single-wide to a double-wide on the property, he got permission from council.

“Reason I asked is our town manager has brought up a very good point,” Ratcliffe told Martin. “A manager does not have the authority to make anything permanent, it has to come before the governing body to be voted on. And I’ve been up here for eight or nine years, and I don’t know that we’ve voted on anything.”

“We were over at the train station when we did this on getting my double-wide, which it probably states in this letter,” Martin responded. The letter was written in 2007.

Martin’s daughter, Amanda, noted they had had to come before council before it voted to allow the new double-wide to be brought in.

Brandon Quesenberry, sales manager at Clayton Homes in Dublin, told council it was Clayton who sold Martin his double-wide in November or December 2007. Quesenberry told council his company has a property owners agreement “signed by somebody over the town.”

He explained that a property owners agreement allows Clayton Homes to set up a mobile home on property the homeowner does not own.

“Somebody has to give permission for that home to be placed on that land,” Quesenberry said.

 

After reading over Martin’s letter, Councilman Michael Reis said, “The way I read it, is that they [town officials] agree that you could occupy the property and curtilage, which is fancy lawyer speak for the land around your house or double-wide in this case, for so long as you are a full-time employee of the Town of Pulaski. And that your tenancy, or your right to be on the property, shall terminate no later than 60 days after you are no longer a full-time employee with the Town of Pulaski. That was your understanding at the time?”

Martin acknowledged that was correct.

“They were okay with you putting the double-wide on there so long as you were employed by the town. And I want to apologize, I don’t know you well, but you’re no longer an employee of the town,” Reis asked.

“No. I retired,” Martin responded. “That’s when the process was in to survey the lot – before I retired. But that never came through.  They kept saying they were doing it. Matter of fact there was a guy at my house one time looking at the land.

“But you never signed anything,” Reis asked.

“They never brought it up to me,” Martin answered.

“This certainly sounds like an unfortunate situation,” said Councilman Brooks Dawson, “Where on your side you had some handshake kind of agreements with folks who apparently may have potentially spoken or could have spoken without necessarily going through the channels to make sure that stuff was handled appropriately. Appreciate you bringing it to us and talking to us about it.”

At that point, Mayor Shannon Collins told Martin, “We’ll discuss and see what we can do.”

“At least give me more than 30 days,” Martin implored.

The discussion continued, however, with Quesenberry approaching council again.

“I know you might not know Mr. Martin, but I think you need to give him time and consideration and see if it is feasible maybe to sell just a parcel of land where he is at, because it’s going to cost him money to have it moved. Or if he were to be able to buy that piece of property I’d rather see that money go in the town’s pocket than I would see it go to some random contractor who’s going to move the home across town to wherever it needs to be moved to.”

On the 30-day time limit, Quesenberry said he has been in the mobile home industry over 17 years and had worked with the town before. He said the permitting process for moving a home to a new location can take up to 13 days alone.

Quesenberry said he hoped Martin and the town could come to an agreement by which Martin could  buy the parcel of land, or if he does have to vacate he be given ample time to be able to handle it in “a gracious way.”

Amanda Martin said her father had worked for the town since 1975.

“Blood, sweat, tears, we all grew up in that home,” she said. “I don’t know how or why it came, like, what were the decisions, why we got the letter to be out in 30 days. But he can buy it if he needs to, he will.  I just don’t feel like it’s fair for somebody that’s been a member of the community – the town – has taken care of the town day and night. When he worked for the town, he was there. Didn’t matter. He would drag us (family) out if he had to. But it is not fair. I don’t think it’s right and, like, that’s our home, you know. It’s not right. And if he does have to move it, you can’t take a home and split it in half and have it moved in 30 days; it just can’t happen.”

“Does anybody know why he got the letter. Why did we get that letter? Why did we get a letter saying we needed to move within 30 days? Like who sent it and why,” Amanda Martin asked.

Interim Town Manager Darlene Burcham responded that she had sent the letter.

Burcham explained she had visited the Macgill property, based upon a complaint that she had received from a citizen and in the process learned for the first time that there was a home occupying the town property.

“Just when you visited you found out there was a home there and it’s been there since 1975,” Amanda Martin exclaimed.

Burcham told Martin she has been in Pulaski for three months and that was the first time she’d been out on the property.

“Once I visited and learned that it was occupied by a former town employee, I began researching the town’s records to determine what type of arrangement  Mr. Martin had with the town to be on that property. I could find nothing. I was told by a number of individuals that Mr. Martin was advised that when he retired, he had to relocate,” Burcham said.

“It also states in the letter that it would be discussed between both parties also,” Amanda Martin responded.

“Ma’am, I have not seen this letter or heard of it until I spoke with Mr. Martin and his son in my office last week after he received the (eviction) letter. He did not mention this, the only thing I knew was that the town had no records. Your father indicated that he understood there was a plan for him to be able to purchase. When I asked what was the purchase price, he said that was never discussed. There were no records that he should have been on the property, in spite of the fact that he had been there for a number of years,” Burcham explained.

Burcham said she felt it was her obligation as town manager to notify Martin.

“I had no records and I believe if you look at my letter to him, it says that I could find no records or evidence that he was officially allowed to be there. Therefore, he had to vacate, and I indicated 30 days. I was asked when he came to my office what happened when the 30 days lapsed and he had not moved, and I told him that we would have to start eviction proceedings at that point. There’s been no discussion of any additional time. He’s not come forward to say, ‘I need 60 days’ or whatever it might be, to move the trailer. Nothing has been discussed.”

“Well that’s why we’re here today,” Amanda Martin responded.

She continued, noting displeasure at “someone on the job for three months who knows nothing about the town, the people who live here, the people that have worked for it for their whole life to be like ‘okay well since I can’t find anything let’s kick this family out.’ That doesn’t make any sense.”

Councilman Greg East told Amanda Martin, however, “Just as a point of interest, Ms. Burcham did the right thing.”

To which Amanda Martin agreed.

“We have a legal obligation to make sure that the ‘I’s’ are dotted and the ‘T’s’ are crossed basically because it’s public property,” East said. “We support what she’s done. I think where we are now, it’s unfortunate that along the way a lot of folks didn’t do the right thing, whether it be recording the agreements, or following up at the retirement. So, I think the ball has been dropped along the way.”

East said he would like council to go back and understand what the town’s options are and understand what has transpired as best it can, even though it’s not legally binding.

“We certainly want to give everybody a fair shake. But that everybody, because it is public property, includes the public. So, I think we need to do some more fact finding and figure out what the options are,” East said.

“I’m going out on the limb here, but I think everybody understands that 30 days is a short period of time. But it has started the discussion and I certainly, as I said, support Ms. Burcham, and sending the letter and bringing it to the attention of this council and your father. Yeah, it’s an issue that we need to resolve. So, I don’t think we’re going to determine tonight how we resolve it. We need to do some more fact finding and seeing what a reasonable solution is for all involved, to the best of our ability, including the public who we ultimately answer to, and that includes your father, but it also includes the rest of the town,” East continued.

“So, with the 30 days, like is the clock still running on that, like how does that work,” Amanda Martin asked.

“So, the 30 days is because, as our legal representative, Ms. Burcham has to give him a timeline,” said Reis. “She has to give you something to start with.”

Reis said he believes council will support Burcham in working with Gary Martin to figure out a practical solution that doesn’t involve wasting anyone’s money.

“No one is going to be thrown out on the street after 30 days, okay,” Reis told Amanda Martin. “At the same time, there are going to be consequences to not communicating with Ms. Burcham or someone else at the town offices, about your needs and your wants and what you can and can’t do. I believe Miss Burcham is a reasonable person who will come to a reasonable solution, but at the same time, like Mr. East said, we represent the town. And so, we have to have that conversation with you. I fully expect that if you communicate with Miss Burcham, she will communicate with you.”

Quesenberry told council that he had never seen the mobile home industry as busy as it is right now, probably because of all-time low interest rates.

Because of that, he said, and the fact there are only four mobile home moving companies in the area, it would take some time for Martin to have his home moved.

“I can tell you that if we sell a house today, we are booked until next May getting the home. Now I’m not saying that he can’t get his home moved in that time, but please take into consideration he’s not just going to be able to call and say, ‘I need to move a home tomorrow.’ It’s just not going to happen,” Quesenberry said.

Burcham said all involved need to consider more than one option at a time for solving the situation, and urged everyone interested in the issue to get together and come up with a plan.

By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot