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A Lon-n-ng night filled with confusion and a $32m development proposal!

The November 6 City Council meeting proved to be an endurance marathon for council members and the attending public. Motions were offered, then amended, only to be immediately reconsidered and called back. Unfamiliarity and uncertainty over parliamentary procedure weighed down the proceeding, dragging the meeting into one of longest sessions in council’s history.

Clarksville Mayor Johnny Piper
Clarksville Mayor Johnny Piper (file photo by Bill Larson)

There are no pictures to illustrate the drama that was the city council’s meeting last night. Those who attended (expecting a fairly normal session) and stayed the long course, including the council members themselves, were exhausted at the end of this marathon session. It felt as if we all had been in the Boston marathon, our energies totally drained. The meeting finally adjourned at close to 11 p.m., with a surprise proposal that upped the price of the marina and related redevelopment plans to $32 million dollars.

In chronological order, this is how the evening played out:

Starting at 7:33 p.m., the meeting opened quietly enough with prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. Special recognitions went to Danny Powell and Matt Moore receiving Mayor’s Certificate for their achievements at the annual Public Workers Rodeo in Memphis.

Ken Spradlin, former CDE General Manager, was recognized for his forty year career with the utility, which culminated with his advancement to the general manager position and the expansion of the utility’s services to include fiber optics cable delivery. Spradlin said, “I’d like to accept this award on behalf of the CDE employees who do the work that makes me look this good.” Mayor Piper and Spradlin took this opportunity to introduce CDE’s new General Manager Rick Ingram and his wife.

The design and construction team for the Strawberry Alley project also received mayor’s certificates for the honors the city received for the project. Finally, Jim Durrett received a mayor’s certificate for being named Public Works Man of the Year by the Tennessee Association of Public Works.

The night’s fireworks began with the Zoning Change Requests portion of the agenda. Ordinance 27-2008-09 proved to be a highly volatile issue. A change of property at Memorial Drive Extension and Richaven Road from R-1 Single Family Residential District to C-1 Neighborhood Commercial District proved to be the sticking point, taking up fully the first eighty minutes of the deliberations of the meeting. Unfamiliarity with parliamentary law also proved to be major deterrent to progress during this matter. Having approved an amendment to the ordinance, concerned citizens from Rudolph Town and Memorial Drive Extension left the chambers only to have to be recalled by the police security force when the matter was unexpectedly brought back for reconsideration of the just approved amendment. The residents complaint centered on their contention that the zoning request was pure ‘spot zoning’ and as such was a violation of city’s laws ad charter. The session was recessed to that lawyers, applicants and complainants could confer and seek compromise. Following further parliamentary law uncertainty, amendment being put forth and withdrawn, compromise positions being debated, then approved and then rejected, the original ordinance was approved but it was clear the matter was not settled, as this was only the first reading.

Ordinance 23-2008-09 was approved with no deliberation. It authorizes the city’s use of eminent domain to obtain rights-of-way and or easements for the marina/fairgrounds development project. This action is likely to include property along Riverside Drive and the condemnation of the Jaycees building. Ordinance 24-2008-09 seeks to cap the mayor’s salary at the current $125,000, eliminate the automatic annual pay increases that would bring it to $175,000 within ten years. Instead Mayor Piper proposed that starting in 2010, the mayor’s salary would see a single four percent increase over the course of the next eight to twelve years. The adjustment would apply at the end of each four-year term, so the first increase would not occur until 2014.

Mark Harris (file photo by Bill Larson)

The mayor also proposed to allow the mayor to reject a pay increase, a provision which is not allowed under current rules. Council member Deanna McLaughlin asked that council members also be allowed to reject pay increases, if they so desire. Mayor Pro Tem Barbara Johnson noted that the council members’ salary is tied to the mayor’s salary. They are paid at the rate of one-eighteenth of the mayor’s annual salary. She offered a motion to allow the council’s salaries to advance on proposed increases to the mayor’s salary, even if that salary increase were rejected or frozen. This motion failed. Bill Summers then offered an motion to tie council members pay increase to the rate of pay increase given city employees. This motion was approved. The now amended ordinance was then approved with an eleven-to-one vote. Ward 6 Marc Harris cast the dissenting vote.

Ordinance 22-2008-09 deals with adopting River District Design Guidelines. It passed without debate. Copies of the guidelines were not available for the public. Also passed was Ordinance 32-2008-09 which would eliminate the requirement for sidewalks and underground utilities in industrial zones. Debate raged over whether light industrial zones could be excluded from the ordinance. The mayor proposed the exemption. Richard Swift was not supportive of the exemption, seeing no need for sidewalks in these areas as they are residential areas where people are likely to walk their strollers. [Ed. Note: Joggers and cyclists might use these areas as short cuts to other areas.] Lance Baker, as City Attorney, advised that the ordinance excludes light industrial areas. With that clarification, the ordinance also passed first reading.

“Eleventh hour” funding request to finance $32 million in marina and peripheral projects.

At 10:20 PM the council took up Resolution 28-2008-09, a measure to authorize the mayor to pursue funding sources for various capital projects, but especially the Marina/Fairgrounds Redevelopment Plan. Following a PowerPoint presentation, Mayor Piper told the council that in 1978, a marina had been proposed for the current fairgrounds location. At that time the estimated cost was one million dollars. That cost has now escalated considerably, to $21.53 million with the detailed amenities now proposed. The redevelopment plan will be developed in three phases, with the marina being a public/private enterprise. New to the deal is the inclusion of a Water Park in the new redevelopment area as well. Funding this redevelopment is the major obstacle facing the city; Mayor Piper offered strategies recommended by the Tennessee Municipal Bond Fund. The TMBF also has advised the city to move deliberately as loan funding is on hand but its availability may be limited. They explained that by re-structuring three current city loans, sufficient funds can be leveraged to accomplish the project without increasing the city’s current debt service payments. The full estimated costs for all aspects of the redevelopment plan is $32 million dollars. Quadruple the original $8m price tag bandied about. Debt that, according to accompanying eleventh hour figures would not be paid off until at best the year 2034.

Councilman Harris noted that 10:30 PM was not the time to begin considering a $32 Million dollars of new debt. Jim Doyle asked about replacing the ball parks that would be lost with the marina development. The roll call vote was 10-2, with Harris and Harrison dissenting. Finance Director Wilbur Berry old the council they must pass three resolutions, which are requirements of TMBF, so that required planning documents can be submitted for the loans development. [Ed. Note: This action only authorizes the mayor to begin talks about funding with the TMBF.] The council approved this action and the meeting was adjourned at approximately 10:50 p.m.

This was one of the longest council meeting in this writer’s memory. Also attending the meeting were council members-elect Candy Johnson and David Allen.

Additional information and details of the redevelopment plans will be presented on this site over the next seven days.



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