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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of January 3, 2012

This newsletter is about the Hickory City Council meeting that I attended this past week. City council meetings are held on the first and third Tuesdays of each Month in the Council Chambers of the Julian Whitener building.

At right of this page under Main Information links is an Hickory's City Website link. If you click on that link, it takes you to our city’s website, at the left of the page you will see the Agenda's and Minutes link you need to click. This will give you a choice of PDF files to upcoming and previous meetings.

You will find historic Agenda and Minutes links. Agendas show what is on the docket for the meeting of that date. The Minutes is an actual summary of the proceedings of the meeting of that date.

Here is a summary of the agenda of the 1/3/2011 meeting. There were a couple of important items that were discussed at this meeting and the details are listed further below:

Please remember that pressing Ctrl and + will magnify the text and page and pressing Ctrl and - will make the text and page smaller. This will help the readability for those with smaller screens and/or eye difficulties.

Invocation by Rev. Karla Woggon, Episcopal Church of the Ascension

Reaffirmation and Ratification of Second Readings. Votes recorded on first reading will be reaffirmed and ratified on second reading unless Council Members change their votes and so indicate on second reading.

A. Community Appearance Grant to the Hickory Elks Lodge – Non-Residential Property Located at 356 Main Avenue NW in the Amount of $5,000.00 (First Reading Vote: Unanimous)
B. Community Appearance Grant to Michael and Nora Perkett – Non-Residential Property Located at 813 Main Avenue SW in the Amount of $5,000.00 (First Reading Vote: Unanimous)
C. Budget Ordinance Amendment No. 11 (First Reading Vote: Unanimous)
D. Grant Project Ordinance No. 5 (First Reading Vote: Unanimous)
E. Grant Project Ordinance Amendment No. 6 (First Reading Vote: Unanimous)
F. Approval to Enter into an Economic Development Agreement with Punker, LLC (First Reading Vote: Unanimous)

The Hound's reason why I have put the above reaffirmation and ratification items as reported in the night's agenda is to ask where the vote is that took place at the last meeting pertaining to the Canopy/Tent structure that is to be built on Union Square. The Council voted 7-0 to vote upon to move forward on that item and now it is conveniently not included in the votes that were taken from that night. There was most definitely a vote that took place that night, as I have documented on this site. As I stated, they will place this in the Consent Agenda and there will be no discussion. B-I-N-G-O, just look below in the Consent Agenda under item B. Budget Ordinance Amendment No. 12, No 2. To appropriate $285,976 of Capital Reserve Parking Fund and budget for the construction of the Permanent Structure Canopy Project for Union Square. Credibility on display once again.

Consent Agenda:
A. Resolution of Intent for Petition of Hollar Hosiery Investments, LLC (James Clayton Neill, Manager) to Close a Portion of Highland Avenue, SE (Authorize Public Hearing on February 7, 2012)

B. Budget Ordinance Amendment No. 12
1. To transfer $44,474 of General Fund Contingency to the Unemployment Insurance line item. This transfer is necessary to cover an unexpected increase in the City of Hickory’s annual Unemployment Insurance expense to the North Carolina Employment Security Commission.

2. To appropriate $285,976 of Capital Reserve Parking Fund and budget for the construction of the Permanent Structure Canopy Project for Union Square.

The Hound doesn't need to add any more to this than has already been alluded to over the past two weeks. If you haven't read it, I have provided the links below sequentially.

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of December 20, 2011 -- Addendum on Union Square's largest Awning yet - $285,000 - 12/21/2011
Newsletter about the City Council meeting of December 20, 2011 - 12/22/2011
Subterfuge and Obfuscation by Hickory's Insiders -- Silence DoGood - 12/27/2011
No Public Hearing for the Big Tent on Union Square - 1/2/2012

C. Capital Project Ordinance No. 1
1. To accept a $285,976 appropriation of Capital Reserve Parking Fund Balance and budget for the Construction of the Permanent Structure Canopy Project for Union Square.

Departmental Reports:
1. Report on City Council Visit to Chattanooga, Tennessee - Assistant City Manager Andrea Surratt gave the presentation. and was introduced by City Manager Mick Berry who said that 4 City Council members attended a series of conversations, visits, and tours.Ms. Surratt stated that they were visiting areas that had planned well for their downtowns, redevelopment areas, and manufacturing areas that have experienced decline.

Chattanooga has a professional full time Mayor and the Head of the County Government. They talked about branding, vacant buildings, and wayfinding. They met with a lady named Missy Crutchfield who is the administrator of the administration arts and culture department.This is a Mayor appointed position that is equivalent to the Arts Council, the DDA, and some of the education groups (Champions of Education) all lumped into one function under her direction. They have transformed Chattanooga from being one of the most dirty cities in the U.S. to being one of the greenest cities in the U.S.

They went to an area called North Shore - The Chattanooga Riverfront Story - The Tennessee Aquarium. She talked about the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge. There is a lot of mixed use there. She talked about the LED lighting there. They visited the Chattanooga  Business Development Center, which is a partnership between Chattanooga and Hamilton County. This is an incubator, which is a former manufacturing facility which is subdivided into units with central access to business needs.

Ms. Surratt talked about the multiple farmer's markets in Chattanooga and the group called Gaining Ground - (Facebook Page). She next showed a local youth hostile. She showed redeveloped areas along tyhe water front and the local aquarium. "They have a good presence about their public spaces." The last stop was the Volkswagen facility that incorporated a lot of open spaces.

Alderman Lail talked about the similarities of the MSAs of Chattanooga and Hickory. They have about the same size, but while Chattanooga's population is more centrally located around the city of Chattanooga, our population is more dispersed throughout the MSA. 150,000 people live in the City of Chattanooga, while only 40,000 people live in the City of Hickory. Alder Patton talked about the presence of corporate offices in downtown Chattanooga that made a huge difference in their downtown. They have a tremendous amount of private money available. When they want something done, they just put it out there and people jump on it. People step in and get things done to move things forward.

Alderman Lail talked about the major benefactor, the Lyndhurst family. Alder Patton talked about how there was art everywhere they went. Alderman Lail talked about what impressed him was the space that connected business owners with entrepreneurs. The Company Lab - (Facebook) connects idea people with artists. He said this space was full of energy. manager Berry spoke of a DVD that is available called Chattanooga's heroic drive and he passed it to other council members.

Alderman Lail asked Manager Berry to speak to how this is part of our process. Manager Berry spoke about how this was a different approach to the city's annual retreat. They have been to Roanoke, Burlington, Chattanooga and are looking to next go to Asheville and Greenville, SC. They will set out goals early in the Spring.

The Hound is glad that Hickory officials learned something from a city that is apparently making progress, because they aren't afraid to try some new things. Notice how they talked about a couple of specific Business Incubation Initiatives. Remember how Mayor Wright spoke out against such initiatives back in the Summer, because they compete against existing business.

I think it is great how this Council has great back and forth dialogue and brings more color to presentations and conversations when the Mayor isn't present. Maybe this isn't the Mayor's fault, but every time a Mayor Pro-Tem presides over a City Council meeting, the Council sure does perk up and bring some energy into their public deliberations.

Alder Patton stated, with some of the art, that a Chattanooga representative said that some people (1/3) are just deadset against anything, 1/3 love it, and another 1/3 take a wait and see approach. I think that is the dynamic of Hickory, but I also think a lot of those "deadset against" people serve in positions of power in our city. I don't think that can be said for most of you who read the Hound. We are definitely in favor of progressive actions.

What we are against is manipulations of process that take away the citizens' ability to have any input in the decision making process. The narrow mindedness doesn't come from people wanting to participate in local governance. It comes from people who don't respect the intelligence of the local citizens to make informed decisions and some governors work harder to keep people from being able to participate than if they would allow them onto the playing field. We have too many of the local governing decision makers that want to shape decisions towards their personal desires, instead of through consensus as to what is best for the entire community.

We also need local business stakeholders to realize that they have a selfless role to play if they want to revitalize the local marketplace. Look at what they espoused about Chattanooga's businesses investing in these projects. I hope that Council learned something here and doesn't take it as, "That's nice, but we can't do that in Hickory," because we can do this exact paradigm in Hickory.

Citizens Requesting to be Heard

Larry Pope once again comes before the Council. Mr. Pope talked about the lack of respect given to a citizen of the city. He goes on to address issues involving inaccessibility to his vision impairment involving the site construction of the "Canopy Structure" on Union Square. There are several problems due to how the square has been roped off for the building of the Farmer's Market "Canopy Structure" area.

Larry also spoke about the City Administration's policy of charging 25-cents per page for copies of public information that have been requested, 10-cents is reasonable. It is unreasonable that the city should be charging that much and the only reason they are is to try to make the costs for information requests cost prohibitive. The city has stated that part of the costs is to pay for administrative workers time involved in making copies. We shouldn't be paying for city workers to do what is supposed to be part of their job. 

City Manager Berry stated that Ms. Arnita Dula (the city staff attorney) had placed the letter in the mail and he didn't know why Mr. Pope hadn't received it. He stated that he delivered a letter to the City of Hickory pertaining to the issue and was supposed to hear back within 10 days, but has not yet heard back and the deadline would have been Saturday. Mr. Pope stated that Mr. Berry should understand why he wouldn't take his word for it when the City has told so many untruths in the past. He is asked to put requests in writing, which he has others do due to his visual impairment. He talked about how the city talks about tight budgets, but has plenty of staff on hand and Mr. Berry has a new secretary in his office. He wondeers why the city can never find money to do things when it is needed, but when they want something, like the Farmer's Market building, they can find it.

Mr. Pope talked about what has gone on in the recent past and stated that it is obvious that the City (administration) is going to do what it wants to do. Why is it alright to spend money on this structure on Union Square, but it wasn't alright to spend money to fix the swimming pools in the poor and minority areas in South Hickory?


Silence DoGood said...

Very interesting that Mr. Pope is being charged a “labor” fee as well. Seems that he is owed a refund based on the language of the following North Carolina General Statute.

NC General Statute § 132 6.2 (b) states in pertinent part, “… no public agency shall charge a fee for an uncertified copy of a public record that exceeds the actual cost to the public agency of making the copy. For purposes of this subsection, "actual cost" is limited to direct, chargeable costs related to the reproduction of a public record as determined by generally accepted accounting principles and does not include costs that would have been incurred by the public agency if a request to reproduce a public record had not been made. … if anyone requesting public information from any public agency is charged a fee that the requester believes to be unfair or unreasonable, the requester may ask the State Chief Information Officer or his designee to mediate the dispute.” What that means is, since the employee is already being paid by the City, they can’t ‘recoup’ the cost of employee pay for duplicating those record requests. They can only recoup the per copy cost of the paper, toner, and a per copy cost of the maintenance agreement on the copier. If the records are copied onto a CD, then actual cost of the CD. And Mr. Pope does have a means to seek redress with a source outside of the City in this instance.

Now that same statute goes on to state talk about bizarre or strange requests that tax the system or take inordinate amounts of time and resources. In those cases, the City may charge an additional fee. But if he’s looking for a copy of an ordinance or minutes of a meeting, that isn’t a strange request and shouldn’t tie up resources. Thus, the City, once again, readily appears to be openly violating State law.

James Thomas Shell said...

And we have known this for the years since I created this blog. Where we have made mistakes, is by running around the City's obstinance, instead of taking these issues that need to be addressed right at them. Make them put everything in writing and go on the record and then let a sanctioned third party decide how this city should and should not be properly run. We know that if left on their own, that that city officials are going to skirt proper rules and procedures in favor of whatever suits their personal fancy.

Silence DoGood said...

I know, you know, and everybody else knows why you charge a quarter a copy; to discourage people from getting copies. Actual costs for that copy is $0.11 to $0.16 depending on the copier and grade of paper. But, lets say that document is 10 pages long. The current price is $2.50 as opposed to $1.10 to $1.60 for those same copies at actual cost.

Somebody out there is saying right about now that if you can't afford it, you should be getting it. I guess too that if you can't afford the gas to go to the polls, you shouldn't vote either. If you don't have an ID, you can't vote. What's next? Poll tax? Intelligence test? Maybe we should reverse that and require an intelligence test to be a council member. A morals and ethics test too. Base eligibility for elected office on actual quantifiable measures as opposed to family or fraternal ties and popularity.

James Thomas Shell said...

And if you aren't specific in what you want, which how can you be with their secrecy (ie the closed sessions "for legal reasons"), then they will do a document dump on you and give you 100 pages of nothingness and charge you $25 to boot.

The best thing to do is to take a small digital camera into the area where they let you see the documents and take pictures of everything. If they try to deny this to you, then please report this to me and we will take it to court.

As I am sure that you know, this information belongs to the public. It doesn't belong to the governmental agency. There are very, very few documents that should be confidential. The only reason that they make you jump through hoops is because they have stuff that they want to keep hidden.

I can speak to specifics about people who have been given the run around by this administration when requesting information that was important towards their cause.

Silence DoGood said...

No, they can't deny you that generally. The only exception I can think of is if the document can be examined and not duplicated. There are some public documents that fall into that category for certain reasons. Otherwise, as long as it isn't costing them anything, no big deal. But yes, it is the public's business. They are the preservationists of the records of the publics' business. To me, that's where it stands. But you know, the truth of what transpires isn't in the documentation. Oh sure, you can find mistakes and errors in accounting sometimes, but if padding or cooking the books were ever to occur, one would never find it by obtaining a copy of the budget. The real truth about what goes on, theres no record of. It's all voice conversation, face to face or phone calls. Nothing that can really be logged or made a record of. That would be the only way to really learn what transpires and of that, we'll never know.