Lebanon residents and business owners expressed their concerns about local government operations on social media following Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
Whether they stood in favor of or in opposition to Mayor Philip Craighead’s proposed plan to create a community development fund to advance the Cumberland Center Development District was not the issue. Folks were outraged over Ward 2 City Councilor Fred Burton’s lack of a vote during the ordinance’s second reading.
The ordinance was passed over by Burton, who counted as “present, not voting” and received “yes” votes from Ward 3 Councilor Rob Cesternino, Ward 4 Councilor Joe Hayes and Ward 5 Councilor Tick Bryan. The ordinance received “no” votes from Ward 1 Councilor Lanny Jewell and Ward 6 Councilor Kathy Warmath.
Craighead withdrew the item from the previous council agenda on Tuesday, Feb. 4 because Jewell was absent. “I waited to bring it back on this agenda so that everyone would be present to vote,” Craighead said, before sharing his own questions and concerns. “I just can’t understand. The vote on the first reading was a unanimous ‘yes’ from all council members. What changed when you had the confidence to vote for it in a first reading?”
Burton said during the council meeting that he did not have enough information on the subject to cast his vote. However, The Jewelers Owner Shawn Smith chalked up Tuesday’s actions to “politics.”
“I think it is completely absurd that somebody in public office doesn’t have to cast a vote. It is a coward’s way out,” he said, adding that he believed Burton’s lack of vote was a trap to ensure that the Cumberland Center failed. “I am not a Philip Craighead band wagoner, but I do want growth for the city … They all knew if Fred voted ‘no’ that Philip could vote yes and break the tie so it would pass. Elected officials are placed up there to have an opinion. I say if you want to stay out of (city issues), stay off the ballot.”
Brooks House Director Liz Reese added that she too was “livid” with the way voting was handled by Burton, who represents her ward.
“I can’t even go to the city council meetings anymore. It makes me sick. I am completely livid,” she said. “We have people representing our ward who are not concerned with the will of the people. Our people want jobs and revenue. It is not about being for or against the Cumberland Center. I am for the betterment of the community.”
Reese believes that this betterment will not happen until elected officials are able to take their seats and think “selflessly.”
“They think about themselves and it wasn’t ‘themselves’ that put them in those seats. It was the people of Lebanon. My people fought for the right to vote, and for (Burton) to sit up there and not vote is a disgrace.”
The Cumberland Center Development District has been a longtime dream of Craighead, who revised the plan in 2013 after first introducing a version of it in October 2011 that failed to be passed by council.
Craighead hoped that the council would pass the ordinance to capture the city’s portion of sales and property tax generated within the 257-acre Cumberland Center Development District in a savings fund. Once the city was onboard, Craighead planned to ask the Wilson County Commission for its support by surrendering the county’s half of the 2.25 sales tax revenue to benefit the fund.
Once funds accumulated, his hope was that they would be used for the advancement of the Cumberland Center Development District, which is currently home to Logan’s Roadhouse and Boot Barn, and possibly be used to create a $40 million event center on 20-acres of donated property in the area. The center could have been used for concerts, trade shows, conventions, indoor sports, banquets, graduations, proms and festivals, according to Craighead.
Under the initial plan, the fund would have been operated by a six-member board including the mayor, two city council members and the county mayor and two county commissioners – if they elected to join in.
The Wilson Post made repeated attempts to contact Burton at home and on his cell for comment. However, he did not return calls before the newspaper’s deadline on Thursday.
Staff Writer Sabrina Garrett may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.