Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I was very proud of the citizens of Signal Mountain Monday night. We had at least 2 very contentious issues. The meeting was well attended. Everyone was polite and spoke to the issues without any personal attacks. Obviously, the big issue was that of traffic control cameras. Bill Kroski of American Traffic Solutions presented the technical details on these systems. Obviously, as owner of the company he was making a sales pitch and painted a very positive picture (pun intended) of the cameras. He answered questions and tried to dispell concerns. Next, the citizens got their chance to speak. It is probably no surprise that the overwhelming majority of comments were in opposition to this proposal. However, again everyone who spoke did so in an appropriate manner, respecting the decorum of the meeting and also respecting the 3 minute time limit, intended to give everyone a chance to speak.

I must say that I am not opposed to these systems in general. There are positive reports of increased safety in larger cities and paticularly dangerous stretches of highway. However, I don't think the citizens of Signal Mountain are ready for them and I would prefer to look to other alternatives for controlling our speeding problem. I have great respect for our police force and our Police Chief, Boyd Veal. He became aware of a problem and presented a potential solution. That is his job and I appreciate it very much. I do not think our speed limits are too low. I believe Taft Highway is our only multi-lane road and since its extent in our town limits is nearly all either residential or crowded commercial, I could not support increasing it. I know that some have suggested we increase the speed limit past the traffic light going down the mountain. This has been the site of most of our fatal accidents. Since many drivers "pad" the speed limit by 5-10 MPH anyway, Chief Veal showed earlier that lowering the limit to 35 succeeded in lowering the average speed to 40MPH. I think this is fine for this steep downhill stretch and personally I find that, by downshifting and occasionally tapping my brakes I can keep my speed at 35 without problem.

Our next potentially contentious issue was a proposed increase in the sales tax. Currently, our total sales tax is 9.25% with the potential to go up to a total of 9.75%. The state is actively pursuing opportunities to increase revenues and if they raise the state tax, we will only receive back a very tiny portion in shared revenue. However, if we raise it ourselves first, we will be able to retain the entire portion for local projects. Obviously, this is being presented as a defensive measure depending on what we think the state might do. However, it would benefit the town at a time when we have several capital infrastructure needs including the need for a new public works building, repairs to the Town Hall and the MACC. There is a legitimate concern as to whether this would put our local merchants at a disadvantage, although frankly the gas to drive off the mountain would cost more than the few cents saved (tax would mean an extra 50 cents on every $100 spent in town). Ultimately, the only way for this to go into effect would be by a townwide referendum which I suspect will be presented in the late winter or early spring so you'll hear more about this.

Many of you probably know that we have a grant for sidewalks on James Blvd. They have already been put in from Thrasher to the library and the next phase is from the library to Timberlinks. The grant is very specific and can only be used for this purpose in this location.
For reasons of right of way and infrastructure, it seems the best place to put this would be on the Country Club side. Representatives of the Club were present to raise concerns about safety which have also concerned me. The leland cyprus trees were planted along there for this reason, but at least some of these will have to come down to build the sidewalk. We approved an engineering study for the sidewalk which should address the safety concerns. At that point we will have to see what measures will have to be taken so that people casually strolling down the sidewalk will not have to risk injury from errant golf balls.

Finally, the really important and exciting news was giving authority to the mayor to sign the deed transfer for the MACC. After 10 years of leasing the building, it is about to become the property of the citizens of Signal Mountain. As an old and historic building, it has many needs including the urgent need to clean out years of debris due to racoons nesting in the attic! However, ownership opens up many new opportunities for grants. I think this is great news for the town and enjoy my relationship with the MACC board as its liaison. This is a great group of individuals working hard, along with Friends of MACC to preserve this treasure.

As always, let me hear from you on these important issues.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

We had a council work/agenda session yesterday. This served to reinforce a decision I made last summer. After the repeal of the SROZ, I decided that I no longer had any effectiveness in that area and that I had been totally marginalized on issues of land-use, so I felt I should put my energies elsewhere. After the recent meeting with Randall Arendt, I allowed myself to get excited again. While the Council and Planning Commission continue to claim to move towards conservation and open space design, I have felt their approach was too confrontational and therefore counterproductive. I ran pledging to try to bring people together to work cooperatively. However, I have seen an unfortunate move in the opposite direction.

From my previous post, you know that opposition has arisen to Mr. Arendt's offer to do a "pilot project" conservation subdivision design on a local piece of property. I had hoped that if the Planning Commission continued to be interested in this proposal, that the Council might support it. However, the meeting yesterday made it clear that there is minimal to no support on the Council. As a matter of fact, I was surprised that this proposal was perceived by the rest of the Council as a gift to the participating landowner and that Mr. Arendt's presentation to us was seen as self-promoting and more about selling himself to the developers than about helping the town. I tried to explain that I felt his emphasis on the economic benefits of conservation design was an attempt to show the landowners and developers present the advantages of using these designs. The response from the Council was that we didn't need to show any benefits, that the Council had the power to impose these regulations and the landowners would just have to accept it. This was a far cry from the cooperative atmosphere with which we started this process and I see no future in my continuing to waste any energy in this area. I never wanted this to be about cramming these ideas down any one's throats, no matter how strongly I supported them, but about creating processes which were mutually beneficial.

It is ironic that I occasionally wonder if I should have taken Mayor Lusk's offer to remain on the Planning Commission. When he told me he planned to oppose me for mayor, I told him that being on the Planning Commission was one of the reasons I would like to remain mayor through the completion of my term. This was because we were still in the middle of this process and I truly wanted to see it through. He replied that he didn't realize that the mayor served on the Planning Commission, that he was already too busy and didn't have time to do it and that I could continue on the Planning Commission. I told him that I thought it important that the mayor perform this important duty and that I didn't think I could honestly represent anyone who had opposed me for mayor or a council which had rejected me.

So, while I still hope the Planning Commission will discuss and consider Mr. Arendt's offer, I don't see much hope of the Council accepting it regardless. I think this is an unfortunate missed opportunity. At this point I think I just need to wash my hands of the issue.

In other business yesterday, there seems to be strong support on the Council for adding so-called "speed cameras" to the town. There are certainly arguments in favor of them, but there is also strong opposition in the town from all I've seen. I am trying to continue to keep an open mind, gather information and input from citizens, so let me know how you feel!

The Council will probably put a referendum on a ballot for early next year to add 1/2 cent to the sales tax. There is a strong feeling that the state will add this tax on state-wide and if we do it ourselves, we will retain a much larger portion of the tax. So it is probably not if, but when and how. Obviously the decision will ultimately be up to the citizens via the referendum.

EPB made a presentation in requesting a franchise agreement to begin offering their fiber-optic internet/tv/phone services. Once the contract is tweaked a bit I'm sure this will pass and they think they will have service up here by the first of the year adding another option for these services for our citizens.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

In follow up to my previous post on Randall Arendt's offer to do a "model" conservation zoning plan on some local property, I have since found out that at least 2 Councilmembers (Allen and Robertson) have notified Mr. Arendt that they oppose this idea and especially paying anything for it (probably about $2000). I am disappointed about this and especially the fact that neither member raised any particular opposition to this proposal at the Planning Commission meeting (other than some vague comments about making sure it was done legally). I am also concerned that the initial communications to Mr. Arendt and to the landowners who volunteered their property were done without any discussion with the Planning Commission or Council and were communicated in such a way to imply that the offer was rejected. Ms. Allen has since clarified that she was expressing her personal opinion and not speaking for the Council. My opinion is that this offer was made at a Planning Commission meeting to the Planning Commission, not to the Council. It did not originate with a landowner, although the landowners present were enthusiastic about the idea. It was my impression (considering the discussion was all very positive and noone spoke against the idea) that there was broad consensus on accepting this offer. The Chair of the Planning Commission (Melissa Cantrell) has since pointed out that she neglected to take a formal vote on this proposal. I find it unfortunate and a poor reflection on the town to first accept a very generous offer from our major consultant on this issue and at least 2 major landowners in public, then to reject it in private. I urge the Planning Commission to take a formal vote on this proposal at its next meeting on October 8 and obviously would urge them to accept it. I think this would be the proper process. The Town Council would then have to consider providing the funds for this project, but after 3 years of drawing out this process of re-writing our subdivision regulations and zoning laws (which they haven't even been started yet), we have spent very little money and I feel that a few thousand dollars to accelerate and complete this project would be well worth it. I would certainly hope that if the Planning Commission asked for this project, the Council would support and approve that request. If the Planning Commission members reject it, then that is their decision and I will accept it.

I hope, too that in the future Councilmembers will remember that they are public officials bound by the Open Meetings laws and that discussions and decisions of this sort should NOT be conducted in private. It was obvious from emails and proposals presented and shared with some and not other Councilmembers that "back-channel" communications continue on this Council which I find highly objectionable. Also, Councilmembers should be very careful in communicating with citizens and consultants that they are only expressing their own personal opinions, which is appropriate vs. speaking for the Council which is not appropriate. Decisions by the Council can only be made in public meetings.