Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Issues in the upcoming elections

     I had mentioned in an earlier post a "Chapter Two". I would like to take some time over the next month or so before the elections (and sooner with early voting!) to discuss some of the issues confronting the next council as I see them. I would love some feedback from readers as to what you see as the important issues in this campaign and what you think of my own take on the "issues".
     When I was elected 4 years ago, growth and development was the leading issue. The recall confused and misled the public on many of the facts surrounding this issue. I entered with a commitment to revise our zoning laws to encourage conservation development as a way to manage density and growth in a way that would preserve open space and allow more flexible development, more diversity of housing and neighborhood styles, decrease sprawl and generally preserve our small town atmosphere while still protecting the rights of the property owners. Sadly this has not occurred. We started strong with advise from Randall Arendt, a national expert on conservation development and then created a land-use plan based on his input and the involvement of a broad representation of our citizens. The next step was to revise our subdivision regulations and then our zoning laws. At this point, the Planning Commission has spent 3 years working on revising the subdivision regulations and still aren't done. I think this is unacceptable and would recommend a change in leadership on that commission.
     I have seen this council now reject the advise and offers of support and examples from Mr. Arendt and other consultants with similar approaches. My desire for a broadly inclusive process has been thwarted. While I have never thought that a Planning Commission should be dominated by development interests, this council, and specifically Annette Allen has proposed that noone with any experience in the development business should be represented on the Planning Commission. Having experienced the value of such former members as Don Moon and Wells Blake and current members such as architect Wayne Williams, I think this is a mistake. I encouraged the council to be inclusive and to seek the support of the development community to build "buy in" for conservation development which is still a new concept for many of them. I was told by Susan Robertson that this was unnecessary because "we have the power, we can make them do whatever we want". I was stunned by this statement. This is antithetical to everything I believe about governance. I strongly oppose this arrogant approach.
     When I ran, I proposed a process of review and revision to the SROZ ordinances. The Land Use Plan proposed a different approach to development in the undeveloped areas of town, primarily in the SROZ, from the already developed areas. It proposed using conservation development proposals allowing for controlling density directly but allowing flexible lot sizes to discourage sprawl and preserve open space. This council rejected the recommendations of its own land use plan, rejecting the whole idea of conservation development and returning to large lot zoning which encourages sprawl, discourages open space preservation and drives up the cost of housing. Bill Lusk clearly did not understand or possibly didn't even read the Land Use Plan when he complained that a one-acre lot owner on Palisades should be allowed the same development options as a 100+ -acre land owner with streams and forests and fields to preserve. This is directly in opposition from the proposals in the Land Use Plan. Why didn't he complain when we were developing the plan? Why didn't he oppose it then? Why didn't anyone else on the council who all supported him on this? I frankly don't understand.
     There are some facts which must be presented in addressing the issue of growth on Signal Mountain. As Daniel Moynihan said, you are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts. First, is the town growing? Well, not if you believe the US Census. Our population in 2000 was 7429 and, while the 2010 figures aren't out yet, our projected population in 2009 was 7253. And during that time we annexed the Shackleford Ridge Road area! In the last 10 years we have averaged less than 11 building permits per year (and even including the 10 years before the sewer moratorium it comes to about 14 per year). Not exactly the "unbridled growth" which was predicted and feared. I have made the analogy before between a town and a person. When a child is young, you want them to grow up big and strong. However, we all reach a point where any future growth becomes obesity or cancer! This is what we want to avoid. However, there is a third condition. It is called anorexia. This is where a person has such an irrational fear of growth that they can literally starve themselves to death. We all have to maintain our health through good nutrition to renew our bodies. If our town doesn't continue this process of renewal and responsible growth, then our expenses, which will continue to grow, will require greater revenue from a declining base which of course leads to increased taxes. In the recent town council debate at Alexian, Susan Robertson is reported as saying that she "hopes" taxes won't increase over the next four years. However, she is advocating for renovating the town hall and building a brand new public works building. We will probably need to build a new fire hall on Shackleford Ridge Road soon, especially if the annexations of Fox Run and Windtree go through. This will require increased revenues. The commercial base for this town is very limited and this council has already denied one proposal for a major commercial expansion of the current shopping center. I don't see much potential for any future such possibilities. We can't have our cake and eat it too, as they say.
     I would propose that the next council revisit the composition of the Planning Commission. Two councilmembers, the mayor and another member (currently Annette Allen) are also members of the Planning Commission. The Commission needs to finish its work on the Subdivision Regulations which has lasted now for nearly 3 years. Members came to me to ask for help on this daunting job. This is when we went back to Randall Arendt for possible input, however this offer from him was rejected by this council over my strong objections and the desires of several current Planning Commission members (unfortunately the current chairperson, Melissa Cantrell also rejected Mr. Arendt's offer). The regulations currently being worked on still need to be completed, then reviewed by the staff at the Regional Planning Agency then finally approved by the Planning Commission again. I anticipate several more months in the process at this point. Then, the Planning Commission will need to review the Zoning Ordinance, which was the original goal four years ago!! This was expected to be the really heavy lifting. If it took four years to do the preliminary work, how long might that take? Zoning is an ordinance, so will require public hearings (I don't believe there has even been an official public hearing on the subdivision regulations yet which, while not required has been promised by the Planning Commission). Once the Planning Commission completes its work, any changes in the Zoning Ordinance will then have to be passed by the Town Council (which does not have any official say in the subdivision regulations... a situation that I have always found rather odd). How much longer will that take? Will the new council, which may very well include a brand new majority, be up to speed on this?
     I have tried to encourage the candidates who have asked me for input to review Randall Arendt's original recommendations, which are still on the town's website on Page 89 in the appendix to the Land Use Plan: http://signalmountaintn.gov/assets/landuse/landuse.pdf . I hope they will be asked about this and that Ms. Robertson will be asked why the council has apparently rejected not only Mr. Arendt's advice, but the whole direction of the Land Use Plan itself.
    I think the next thing to be discussed is the Design Review Commission and I will address this in my next "issues" blog (Chapter Three??).

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Music on the Mountain series this weekend!

Lots of music this weekend! MACC Foundation's Music on the Mountain series makes staying "on the mountain" the thing to do this weekend!

Friday night at Lynn's Market: Dee Bass makes a return performance from 7-10. Come on out for burgers and bbq and beer and brown bagging and listen to Dee's eclectic performance.

MACC Coffeehouse Saturday night at Sweet Gipsy (http://www.sweetgipsy.com/). Come out up at 6 for Chili with all the fixin's or anything else from their menu. Stay for music from 7-10 with Mountain Cove Bluegrass (http://www.mountaincovebluegrass.com/). I will be opening for them at 7 then the boys come on at 8.

Next Candidate Forum October 10

The Mountain Business Association will sponsor the next Candidate Forum on October 10 at the Signal Mountain Country Club. It will start at 5:30pm. Here is the announcement in the Community News:


I hated to miss the forum last night at Alexian, but my daughter's birthday had to take precedence. I should make this one. I heard last night was well attended and went well. I urge any town residences who missed that one to come to the one on the 10th.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Candidate Forum Sept. 22

I'm not sure how many people are aware that there is a candidate forum planned for this Wednesday, Sept 22 at Alexian Village. As a matter of fact, I had to tell one candidate about it as he hadn't heard. It starts at 7pm and here's a link to an article with more info: http://community2.timesfreepress.com/news/2010/sep/16/alexian-hosting-candidate-forum-sept-22/ .

Since September 22 is my daughter's birthday, I will be unable to attend. If anyone happens to videorecord this event, I would love to watch it and would apprecaite knowing about that. I urge all citizens to attend and learn about these candidates. We'll have at least 2 new town councilmembers in November, so get out there and get to know them. There will be another forum, sponsored by the MBA on October 14 which I believe will be held at the Country Club.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Labor Day Picnic

Had a great day at the annual Lion's Club Labor Day picnic. Lots of great food. They've added bratwurst to the menu and it was good! I congratulated the Lion's Club on having the foresight to call ahead for good weather! Also, the number of vendors continues to grow and there was some great stuff for sale. If you didn't go you missed a great time and great food. Bill Wallace and Dick Gee were working the crowd announcing their candidacies for Town Council. I waxed nostalgic as I remember kicking off my own campaign at this same event four years ago. Frankly, I was surprised not to see any other candidates out on the traditional start of the campaign season (that is, no other council candidates, I did talk with Bo Watson who is breathing a sigh of relief that he has no formal opponent on the November ballot and congratulated Jim Fields on his recent election win). Unfortunately, The Orchard Band was unable to play music this year as my partners in musical crime are spending the weekend with family at the beach, but we'll be back! Happy Labor Day to everyone.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

most recent council actions and political courage

Our most recent Council work session included some good movement on some issues I would like to resolve before my term ends. However, it also included a bit of disappointment which I'd like to discuss first. When I was Mayor, I started a policy of inviting a variety of religous leaders to conduct our opening prayer. While I am a Christian and consider myself a religous person, I am also very supportive of the concept of separation of church and state. However, I have no problem with the idea of an opening prayer for a legislative body. I did, however try to represent the varied and diverse religous traditions represented on the mountain. We had leaders from all the local churches and several off the mountain, including a rabbi. Since I am friends with at least one Moslem family up here (and I'm sure there are more), I had always wanted to invite a Moslem cleric to lead a prayer, but just never got to it. When Bill Lusk took over as mayor, he asked our fire chaplain, Stacy Seals to conduct our prayers. That was a fine idea that I supported and Mr. Seals has done a wonderful job. However, I have recently been very concerned about the anti-Islamic mood in the country and particularly some of the protests against the building of mosques, including the recent vandalism and arson in Murphreesboro. Perhaps I am particularly sensitized by my recent visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, but I have always been deeply concerned about any persecution of minorities based on religion, color, national origin, etc. I thought that having a Moslem cleric do our opening prayer on one occasion would send a positive message of tolerance from the Signal Mountain community. I offered to make all the arrangements and I was very pleased when the council agreed. I talked with Chaplain Seals and he was supportive. Therefore, I was quite disheartened when I got home a few hours later and received an email from Bill Lusk stating he had reconsidered and didn't think we should do this. Almost immediately I received emails from Allen and Robertson agreeing with him. I know that frequently when Mayor Lusk and Vice-Mayor Robertson take their cigarette breaks during meetings, the other Council members stand outside and talk and I saw them talking after our meeting. I have to assume that they got together afterwards and had second thoughts on my proposal. Either this or they just didn't want to disagree in an open, public meeting. Frankly, I think this is a failure of political courage on their part. As English philosopher Edmund Burke said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." They suggested I write an "OpEd" since I feel strongly on this, but obviously a public display of tolerance by the entire Council would have much more meaning than the personal expression of an individual. I certainly regret this change of heart, but nonetheless I do want to express my own personal plea for religous tolerance. This was one of the founding principles of this country and one I feel very strongly about.

On a more mundane note, we are finalizing a revision of our "vicious dog" ordinance. Our previous ordinance defined "vicious" by specific breeds which I feel is inappropriate and we are working on a definition based on behavior. We also are revising our noise ordinance to define inappropriate noise based on objective decibel levels rather than the current vague definition of "annoying". As our chief said, "some people are more easily annoyed than others"! As I wrap up my term on the Council, I am trying to be sure we finalize as much as possible. I know from previous experience how hard it is to walk into the middle of something so I hope to minimize this for the next Council.

One other issue I'm trying to resolve has to do with benefits for Councilmembers. Early in our terms, one of the other councilmembers brought up the idea of allowing councilmembers to sign up on the town health insurance policy. Since the plan was for the councilmember to pay their own premium, this seemed like an ok idea, so I supported it. However, it later occurred to me that this could also affect our rates if a councilmember was high risk (realistically, councilmembers are likely to be older than most town employees). This was confirmed by Honna Rogers who told me that Blue Cross had serious concerns about this and would probably not continue to allow it. I suggested we repeal this option for future councilmembers. This is probably a moot point since Blue Cross is apparently not going to let us do this in the future anyway, but I thought it was better we get this off the books and it will be repealed.

I mentioned previously a "Chaper two"... I hope in the next few weeks to review the last four years and, more importantly to discuss the issues I see confronting the next Council. As you know, there will be Town Council elections on Nov. 2. Three seats are up for election and two incumbents, Hershel Dick and myself are not running for re-election. There are currently 6 candidates for those three seats. There will be at least two public forums for the candidates and possibly a third. So, stay tuned!