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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of July 20, 2010 - Addendum on the Hickory City Pools

The main issue at tonight's City Council meeting was the issue of the Hickory City Pools in Ridgeview and West Hickory that have been closed over the last two summers. This issue is the reason why there was a 90% capacity attendance in the Council chambers. So I have created a seperate newsletter to go over the happenings that took place at this meeting concerning the pool (water activities) issue.

Update Regarding Parks & Recreation Master Plan - Staff will review a fact sheet containing usage and cost information related to the City’s decision to close the Ridgeview and George Ivey swimming pools, requested by Mayor Wright during the June 15, 2010 City Council meeting. Included are the circumstances related to the pools closing and the cost estimates from two (2) companies to repair both pools. Staff recommends City Council ask its Parks and Recreation Commission to study and recommend the role and type of aquatic recreation the City should provide.

Mayor Wright laid out a framework for dicussion by stating that this was not a public Hearing. Rules for a Public Hearing calls for citizen input. No comments would be taken in connection with the Departmental Report, but at the end of the meeting people would be allowed to say what they have to say. The council would not depart from established rules of order.

City Manager Mick Berry addressed the Council. He stated that at the June 15 Council meeting he was asked to put together a fact sheet relating to the closure of the swimming pools. They looked at attendance, operating costs, revenues and summarized issues related to the capitalization of the pools. He went to the Ridgeview neighborhood meeting and shared this information and answered questions.

Manager Berry stated that the Virginia Graham Baker act triggered the series of events that they have gone through in the last year. In May 2009 the staff began testing the Circulation pumps of both pools. The Ridgeview pool circulated all water 2 times in 24 hours and The George Ivey pool circulated the water 1 time in 24 hours. Health reuirements are stated by law at 4 times in 24 hours. Initially they were optomistic that they could replace the pumps and pull more water through. The estimate was $55,200 to replace both pumps.

They brought in a contractor in to take a look who advised that because of the age and size of the pipes that circulate the water under the pool that they would have to do a total rebuild of both pools. They had two firms give estimates. Aquatic Resources out of Charlotte gave the estimates that were presented in the Documents from the Ridgeview neighborhood meeting. Below is the relevant factual information relating to this issue as presented by Manager Berry:

Link to the information as presented at the Ridgeview Neighborhood Meetins.

Pools Costs (click the picture to enlarge)

Pool Attendance (click the picture to enlarge)

Pool Revenues (click the picture to enlarge)

Manager Berry talked about the St. Stephens pool, which was a heavily attended pool and had to be closed at the end of Summer 2005, because of a leak at the bottom of the pool. That pool was a partnership between the County and the City of Hickory. He further went over the costs, attendance, and revenues associated with the pools. He acknowledged that cities don't get into Swimming Pool operations to make a profit. It is a service provided to citizens and is supported by general tax dollars. The total costs to rebuild the two pools would be $740,850.

They realized that (cost) number was close to what it would cost for state of the art aquatics. They decided that they need to figure out the best way to provide aquatic recreation to the people of Hickory. He then went over the needs assessment provided by Site Solutions. Staff Recommends that Council follow through on Parks and Rexcreation Meet to discuss the issue and hold charettes around the city to get feedback from citizens throughout the city.

The Mayor made a motion to proceed with the program and asks Parks and Recreation to study and recommend the type of aquatic recreation that the City would provide. He then stated that they would set aside as much time as needed for citizen input.

At the end of the meeting, the Mayor stated that two people had signed up requesting to be heard. He stated that others, who had not signed up, would be allowed to be heard. He stated that they (council) do not ever like to leave a meeting where they have a serious topic and someone says they wanted to be heard, but didn't get a chance. He asked that everyone be polite and respectful of one another.

Karen Hoyle was the first citizen to speak. She thanked the city council for allowing the Democratic process of allowing citizen input on this matter. She stated that at the last City Council meeting and the Ridgeview meeting that they have been presented with statistics that show low pool usage and revenue as main points to justify closure of both pools.

She wanted to go on record with a couple of key points that have been left out of those statistics. They have requested maintenance records over a ten year period (1999-2009). They have yet to receive or review these records. They were told that they could come to city hall and review the records, but due to the amount they were asking for, these could not be provided by staff.

Why is this important? Because they believe it is the lack or disregard of maintenance on the system that has kept the pool from functioning as it should that has brought us to where we are today.

Number 2 is because of Cause and Effect. Because of the lack of proper maintenance (upkeep) and no recreational programming that involved community use of the pool greatly affects the usage and revenues that have been quoted and the conditions of the pool today.

Number 3, they requested a line item breakdown of the cost of approximately $825,000, a number that was stated by city administration since we began this very public debate. We have been given proposals to do the work, but no itemization as to what the county/state requires to be done in detail. We ask that before you ask the Parks and Recreation Department to fund the study of an aquatic park, that you allow the community to present a compromise to the commission for you review and discussion. No maintenance, no upkeep, no programming equals low usage and deteriorating conditions that have led to pool closures.

Duane Muhammad next addressed the Council. He stated that it had been 19 years since he last addressed the council in regards to the Ridgeview community. He believe that since that time that we the community and local government made great progress as it realtes to upgrading as it relates to services and facilities in the community. The key to this progress was the ability to come together and establish dialogue. Dialogue being defined in this case as a discussion intended to produce an agreement, which we believe is the best way to resolve the problem.

It seems as if the Ridgeview community comes off as kind of selfish. That we want what we want at the expense of other parts of the city. We take exception to the fact that we are low income and that title is consistently attached to our community. There are many hard working tax payers who own homes in the Ridgeview community. He uses to word community instead of neighborhood, because many who frequent the Ridgeview community do not live in the Ridgeview community. Ridgeview is a codeword to say People of Color in the Southwest part of town. We also have changed demographics. We are no longer primarily African American. We now have Hispanics and Asians that live with us.

We have worked hard to rebuild and correct misconceptions about the community. But,
we find ourselves once again facing losing something. First communities, through the streets and roads (Tate boulevard, Highway 127) that split the community. Then the schools, we lost our schools, and with our schools the children left the neighborhood. And we have had to consistently fight to keep the library and the recreation center. We fight to keep these things, because we feel that the southside is a safe place to visit and enjoy oneself and we want people to come to this side of town without having to leave and feeling threatened by some ort of criminal element. When we are not part of the discussion involving change and taking away something such as the pool that is dear to generations of families that live in the neighborhood, then we find ourselves fighting again.

This did not have to happen. We didn't have to be here with signs... tv cameras... We didn't have to be here in this manner. But, we believe that someone changed the rules that we have been working with for many, many years. They agreed to sit down and dialogue like they had done in so many years previous. I challenge you to rethink where we are headed and begin the dialogues that were so successful yesterday and continue them today, because if we do not do that, then as you can see today there is no person of color (on the council). And if there was a person of color that is one vote. We have to dialogue and if we don't dialogue, then we can never have a proper voice in city government. I challenge you as leaders of this community to begin that process again. and before you make any more decisions like you hav just made regarding the pool situation that you come (dialogue)... You mentioned the charettes, it's good, but it is a little late. If you had done that earler, then we would not be where we are right now.

Jerry Lum next addressed the council. He stated that he wants to speak to the pool as one issue, but first he wants to speak about our children. Catawba County has the highest obsity rate in North Carolina. Swimming is a great way to exercise. An aquatic center would be an awesome asset for both young and the old. He doesn't understand why this isn't an issue and why this isn't addressed.

Last year we had an issue with the water and everyone jumped in. Why? because they were going to lower the lake levels and what does that do to property values? It lowers it.

Lets look at our kids, can we put a value on our kids? And our Parks and Rec Program on what it takes to get more active... To get them more educated on portion size and the exercise they need? These kids in elementary school now, afterschool programs, what do they do? They go in the gym and play on these mats. Can the city not take some of these deserted buildings... make a gymnastics facility... use public transit to go get these kids and get them active after sitting in school for six hours. That's how we are going to change. We have to change. This is an epidemic! Do you realize what kind of crisis this is. Does anyone know where we rank in the 50 states as far as obesity? We are number five in North Carolina.

You talk about business growth, economic growth and people coming in here. Companies are not stupid. They are going to look at these rates... for insurance, work related... they're going to look at our kids. They are our future and I think there is not enough talk and action about our kids today. They're going to run this. If we want it to be a retirement home town, which is fine, but people retire. What do we do when they're gone? You need young people. That is what is going to thrive your community. There is no reason why you can't have a balance like was talked about on the (City of Hickory) Logo. But, if you don't take care of your children now... The rate has doubled in ten years. This is not like an on and off switch. It has been increasing. Have we heard about it? Have we tried to help?

There was a study 30 years ago about how our basketball court size (number) was not adequate for the population... We built the new center... Our Parks and Rec are still not up to par with other communities. We don't have enough space, so we are renting school gyms out. Those gyms have not been resurfaced for 30 years. Soccer fields are only now being maintained. Walking tracks would be good around Neill Clark Park. We just had a survey guy (Site Solutions) come in here for $115,000 and tell us this. He said we have too many small parks. Our Mayor said they are beautiful in the morning. Here's your sign -- Childhood Obesity. Thank You.

Rebecca Inglefield next addressed the council. She stated that she is greatful for the participation. She said she looked at this this beautiful sign and we wish we could go back to 100 years ago and remember the segregation (sarcasm). She said she was greatful for the opportunity to come together. If we want to be a retirement community and invite businesses, the people are going to evaluate how we handle this issue. She hopes that you leaders will show energy and initiative to make sure that people see that we care about race relations. This will be a test... This is a chance to show that we are a beloved community... This is our chance.

Jessie McArthur next addressed the council. He moved to Hickory and was so impressed, but he must say that since he has been here and become more involved in what is going on, that he is disappointed. He stated that he was considering moving. Who wants to bring their family, their kids, themselves, and their business to a city where things just don't get done.

Dr. Joseph Inglefield was the next to speak. He is a local physician (allergist). He is a pediactrician. The childhood obesity issue is a huge problem with the patients that he sees every day. He knows one of the best activities they participate in is swimming. He is a swimmer and water polo player and he can't think of a better way to help the children in this local community and bring the community together than to do something about these pools and to get a facility that would be used by the entire community.

There is such a great need and theare so many ways of how it can be successful. Primarily, we should be thinking of and emphasizing the kids. And he thinks about the kids today in 95 degree weather and no pool or place to go cool off. Kids would love to go to the pool. You also want to have programming for those kids -- swimming lessons. Every time he sees that someone has drowned it just sickens him, because he knows that we have an opportunity to teach people how to swim -- among the black people especially. There are a large group of people that never learn how to swim. It is frustrating. We can save lives, literally save lives, by having programming in a pool. There are so many other things you can do, rehabilitation, water aerobics, swim teams...

What he envisions is a community wide facility that we all feel comfortable using and we all want to go to. He rtravels to charlotte weekly to their aquatic center, because they have programming there that he wishes they had in Hickory. He drives an hour to go do that. We can have the same facility here. We can have the same programming here. It is just a matter of having some vision about it and realizing the opportunities we have. We should grasp that opportunity... We have a community mobilized now... We should take full advantage of that.

The Mayor stated that he has spoken to staff about developing a program to address obesity. Those statistics did not escape our notice. Alot of us share Dr. Inglefield's vision of water facilities that are community based. The Parks and Recreation Division is in charge of advising us. The rights of all of the people in Hickory are important to every person on the council.

We have a lot of priorities. Pay raises, Jobs, Controlling the tax rate. All of these are Quality of Life issues for all of us. A park in the NorthEast (Cloninger Mill). We have some tough priorities, that cost money, and we are entering into a time where we have never had less certainty of where those dollars are going to come from. But, we have heard you tonight and I have been very pleased with your committment to be here and pleased with how we had our say. And the silent people with signs.

The Hound believes that this issue, in many ways, reflects the lack of passion and compassion encompassing the leadership of this community. Yesterday, I called into the First Talk program on WHKY and spoke to the Mayor. One of the things that I stated to him is something that I truly believe. Mayor Wright does see the faces behind these monetary issues that we face in the city and many times the people in the City administration are just concentrating on the bottom line.

Too many times we have looked at doing things the "City Government" way. We can't help a lady, by putting a car in her backyard, because of liability. But, we can crawl all over someones property investigating and assessing code violations?

Mr. Lum made many excellent points when he addressed the council. His rankings were a little off (NC was the 10th fattest adult state and the 11th fattest child state). But he is correct that Catawba County is worse than average in North Carolina Child Obesity rankings. Although we aren't the worst, the numbers are still alarming and his summation is correct. We have to get kids more active.

The city doesn't want to do anything and it is all about the money issue. You can see in their faces that they aren't convinced. Even the representative of Ward 4, Hank Guess, which encompasses both of these pools, didn't give the issue the attention that it deserves. Alderman Guess's comments at the end of this meeting on Tenant-LandLord agreements was bizarre. That was not what his ward wanted to hear from him and what he stated about the issue he addressed was barely audible. I will devote space to Hank's issue in the full newsletter, but people came to this meeting about the pools. They are his constituents, not the police, not the City of Hickory Bureaucracy. It is about the people. A government of, by, and for the people.

Hank needed to step up and speak his mind to his constituents (positive or negative) about these pools. The people around me seemed shocked. One lady yelled "Speak up!" and another gentleman seemed exasperated saying, "Oh Man" when Hank went into his comments that had nothing to do with the pool issue that these people were there for.

Duane Muhammad basically extended a hand to the Council in his comments. He is basically asking City Officials to at least communicate with the South Side before they make decisions that affect them. That shouldn't only go for the south side, but for every side of town. Why is there not better communication between City Officials and the people of Hickory? It is just like these pool statistics. I want to thank Manager Berry and his staff for giving us some numbers, but we still need some communication.

Ms. Hoyle and Dr. Inglefield also had some excellent comments. You have to maintain the pools and you have to have programs to go with the pools. It's all about vision and Vision is more than a word. It is a sense and a state of mind. I think of the possibilities of having a couple of restaurants and a spa as a public-private partnership at the city pool. The city can work with a private company to develop the restaurant and/or Spa and give them a 25 year lease. This is the same type of arrangement the city has with the hangars at the airport.

Wilmington, NC, where I went to College, has a city pool and a Municipal Golf course. I came back to this town after graduating college and lived in a little apartment off of 2nd Ave with my grandmother -- the best and most honest roomate I ever had. I have worked hard and done the right things and I thought eventually I'd get somewhere. What I have seen, is this town continue to go downhill and the pace has accelerated as the last decade has gone on.

Things looked like they were good in the 1990s and I saved my money towards fulfilling my goal of buying a house. And I did it the right way. I was patient and I thought this city would continue to grow, so I stuck to my path. Nose to the grindstone, 100 degree nights in kitchens, long days preparing food and hot nights playing beat the clock and the odds. People have no clue about how hard the restaurant business is and how little reward there is for someone who works in a kitchen in Hickory, NC. It beats the heck out of you Mentally and Physically.

I saved $15,000 to be able to get into a position to acquire the mortgage on my house. If I had the mentality of the City of Hickory, I would have probably never pulled the trigger. I could Monday Morning quarterback and say that if I had bought Gold instead, then I'd have $40,000+ off of that money. But, I enhanced my Quality of Life through the purchase of this house and I believed it to be a priority. If The City of Hickory isn't going to maintain facilities, upgrade facilities, or build new facilities when the time arises, then why is the city in the Parks and Recreation business at all?

It's disheartening to see the lack of compassion towards the working class in this community. It is almost like the reactions of a computer looking at something. Anything besides numbers does not compute. I truly think about those children in the poorer sections of town. And no, things aren't going to get better over night. They aren't going to get better until we change who we are as a people. Here or across the nation or wherever.

I plead with you to do whatever you have to do, not what you can do, whatever you have to do to get a pool open. Because your lack of compassion has been met by an equal and opposite reaction from these people. And they have passion and you can see that they aren't going to give up. Show some passion towards this subject and don't come up with artificial numbers to justify not getting this done. You need to get it done.

Some of us have been here all of our lives and others come here and look at this community as a stepping stone or a way along a career path. When I was a kid, I looked forward to going to the pool and you can't tell me that these kids don't want to go to the pool. Let's create the opportunity for these kids that past generations had and that we would want for our own kids. Let's look at them as our own children and do the right thing.

The History of this issue on the Hound:
More than Pools
Hickory City Pools -- Told You So 8)
Continuing the Rant - The City of Hickory's Budget
Newsletter about the City Council meeting of June 15, 2010
Newsletter about the City Council meeting of May 4, 2010
HDR Editorial - Hickory council needs a member with vision
The City Council Candidate Forum Last Night - 10/29/2009 - (Audio Available)
From the Hickory Daily Record - Election issues discussed at forum

1 comment:

harryhipps said...

It was great to see a large crowd from the Ridgeview community at the City Council meeting to push for the pool to be re-opened. They were passionate and well informed as to the history of the pool and the City’s past promises. My question is this: Where were you last fall when I ran on the pools, as well as the larger issue of the City kow towing to downtown interests and the politically connected crowd and ignoring the rest of the City?
My campaign was largely about these issues and despite debates, radio interviews, some newspaper articles, my signs, website, and phone calls, 77 people from Ridgeview voted. Several leaders from Ridgeview have commented on the lack of a person of color on the Council. Well if you don’t vote, your voice doesn’t get heard.
Billy Suddreth wrote a guest column for the Hickory Daily Record and I agreed with most of his viewpoints; however, he wrote about how the election system is not fair and doesn’t guarantee representation of different groups. He’s right, it doesn’t. But only 8.5%
of the registered voters voted this time and had Ridgeview turned out in large numbers, they could have determined the winners of both Ward 4 and Ward 6. So they had the potential to have a large impact on the City’s governance and didn’t do it.
One sign at the meeting said “One City, One People”. If this is truly to be what we become and not just a slogan, more people are going to have to get involved and insist that we have justice and equitable treatment for ALL the City. This means that Ridgeview needs to be concerned about Highland, Highland needs to be concerned about West Hickory, North West needs to look out for North East and so on. Fighting for issues in our neighborhood is good and I hope a nice aquatic center gets built and pools are open, but we need to go beyond this and demand that the City stop the cronyism and be fair to all. It’s not easy and it costs time and effort, but “if you keep doing what you are doing, you’re going to get what you’ve got. “ Keep fighting Ridgeview and keep working for the pools, but don’t let it end there. Let’s work together to bring fairness to City government.