Today is Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Council defers charter change

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Editor’s Note: An article in the March 18 print edition of The Wilson Post relied on an old copy of the Lebanon City Charter that was posted on the city’s website which said a worker could be disciplined up to termination for cause “as determined by the Mayor, by the Commissioner of Public Safety, or by two-thirds vote (4 of 6 votes) of the city council.” That was amended in 2005 to read “…as determined by the mayor and a two-thirds (2/3) vote (to be defined as four (4) of six (6) votes) of the Lebanon City Council.” The Post regrets any confusion and is happy to set the record straight.

By CONNIE ESHThe Wilson Post

Lebanon City Council voted a second time to repeal all previous approval of ordinances supporting the proposed Bible Park, and deferred action on the proposed amendment to the city charter which would have allowed city council to fire or discipline department heads, without the mayor’s consent.

Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Huddleston, who proposed the charter amendment during Tuesday night’s regular council meeting, requested it be deferred to a work session scheduled for March 30, after other member of the council raised questions about the proposal.

The amendment would have allowed a majority of five of six councilors to fire or discipline personnel without the mayor’s agreement.

Ward 5 Councilor Haywood Barry pointed out that the proposal could “begin to drive a wedge between all of us,” since if one council member disagreed, both that member and the mayor could be called as witnesses against the city if the employee protested.

The charter currently allows discipline up to termination for cause, “as determined by the Mayor, by the Commissioner of Public Safety, and two-thirds vote (four of six votes) of the city council.”

The amendment would also clarify the duties of the City Financial Officer and expand the description of the Mayor Pro Tem to make it synonymous with the state definition of Vice Mayor.

Once the changes are agreed upon the proposal would have to be approved as a private act by the state legislature and then come back for two-thirds approval by the council on a second vote.

Before the council voted unanimously to rescind its previous approval of the Bible Park, several members of the community spoke both in support and in opposition of the park.

Dave Kirkey told the council about the recent financial woes at Six Flags and Cedar Fair, two of the largest theme park groups in the country.

He also pointed out that part of the problem with the park is that employees would not be allowed to tell visitors about the actual significance of various displays. “They couldn’t explain the significance of the open tomb, because that would be endorsing religion,” he said.

Rob Sester asked if the council had been fair and even-handed in their treatment of the Bible Park promoters, pointing out that they hadn’t requested similar financial information from other corporations who had located facilities in the county.

He also asked why the city hadn’t waited to see what the county commission would have done when they voted on the park’s financing on Monday night. He said that as things are the county hadn’t had to take a stand.

Ward 1 Councilor Alex Buhler, who originally proposed the ordinance to rescind support for the Bible Park, said he didn’t think that what the city did had any bearing on what the county did.

“I owe it to the citizens of Lebanon to be sure that no one is hurt by this,” he said.

Tina Davis told the council that she thinks most of the citizens have a problem with the city and county helping to finance a high risk venture. And she said, “TIF (Tax Increment Financing) bonds are government bonds. The ACLU would probably sue if those are used.”

She also said she wanted elected officials to protect her tax money.

Buhler said he continued to think he had done the right thing and that he wanted it made clear that the ordinance was his idea, not something he did because Ward 3 Councilor William Farmer asked him to propose.  “I’ve been concerned about this from the beginning, because we couldn’t seem to get any answers,” he said.

After thanking those who spoke for and against the measure, Farmer said he supported the ordinance and would vote for it, but that it wasn’t a political issue.

“We made our decision after asking and asking and asking for some statement from the people we are dealing with, and it was always tomorrow, tomorrow,” Farmer said.

He also pointed out that Rob Wyatt had said first that no one asked him for the information and then later admitted that Mayor Philip Craighead had asked him when they had lunch together, but “it wasn’t formal or a written request.”

“I’m tempted to ask him what kind of request he thought it was,” Farmer said.

Farmer also pointed out that the ordinance does not shut down the dialog.

“If they come back with an independent feasibility study and some financial information we can still change this,” he said. “We need to ask questions and respect each other. When I saw 116 pages of names of people in South Carolina who lost money when Hard Rock went bankrupt it broke my heart.”

Barry agreed. He said, “Seeing all the little businesses who lost because they gave them credit, I felt like I was co-signing a note, and my mama said not to do that.”

He also said he thought there was a good chance the city could get sued because of the Bible themes.

Ward 6 Councilor Kathy Warmath said that she also supported the ordinance, although she had been pleased and excited about the possibilities presented by the park in the beginning.

But she said when no concrete information about the financial feasibility of the park was given and she discovered that another of Armon Bar-Tur’s enterprises, something called C-2 Inc., had also gone bankrupt in 2000 she became concerned.

“It’s not our job to fund speculative ventures,” she said.

The council also voted to approve on second reading an ordinance to reduce the payment in lieu of sidewalk construction from $10 per square foot to $5 per square foot. This ordinance requires three readings.

In other action, the council:

• Decided to accept the “best and lowest” bid for the Farmers Market project although it had some technical problems. The accepted bid from Five Bravo Construction is for $91,484.• Approved first reading bids to replace 12 windows and repair the roof at the city water treatment plant.• Authorized the application for a grant for public safety under the federal stimulus plan.• Approved rezoning approximately two acres on the corner of East Market and Owens St. to allow Habitat to build single family houses on the property.

Staff Writer Connie Esh may be contacted at cewrites@wilsonpost.com.

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