by Councilman Bill Summers
The city council met in its usual first Thursday of the month regular voting session. There were some surprises with actions on some of tonight’s agenda items.
Reservation of Land
The ordinance was up for its second and final reading. The mayor started this one out of the gate by announcing he would not support it and if passed he would veto it. This ordinance had been closely tied with Ordinance 94, the East – West Corridor moratorium (more on that in a minute). The ordinance basically would allow the city to set aside land, temporarily, in order to stop development and allow its purchase. Such action would reduce the need to invoke eminent domain on development that could occur while a final decision or financing was being studied. However, it was mentioned that the city could use eminent domain to achieve the same purpose. I find it unusual that a couple council members that were against this had previously cited that the city could use eminent domain so this wasn’t needed. Of course these are the same members that get upset when eminent domain has been invoked before.
Ordinance 94 applied to a specific land area with moratorium whereas Ordinance 93 generally provided coverage to public projects. I asked the mayor if he intended to keep Ordinance 94 separated and not linked with 93. He said they were separate issues. With that the council voted and Ordinance 93 was defeated with 13 no votes. The mayor voted “no” also, which is uncommon.
East-West Corridor Moratorium
You will recall this had been a lively debate within the council and in the public meeting that was held several months ago. The issue came to a head when a large development in the path of the last open leg of the East-West Corridor alternatives was coming before the Planning Commission. You will recall all of our hair was on fire and we had to have an answer to save the corridor. We talked about planning, safeguarding the future of managing traffic without waiting and having to use eminent domain to undo the potential of great amounts of new development that would occur in the road path.
Well all that logic and the battle to do the right things for Clarksville’s future evaporated like a 2-minute rain on hot August Tennessee asphalt. The mayor came out with a 180 degree reversal saying he would not support it as it placed an unfair burden of financial effort on the next administration and would not allow for that new administration to set its priorities. He felt that the 250-foot path was also too wide and placed too great of burden on property owners to hold in limbo.
I spoke and said I did not understand all the backpedaling on a difficult subject that we had reached a majority consensus on a couple of months earlier with the first vote. I told council members it would not get any easier for them or the property owners by stopping now. We should do the moratorium, get the updated study in, see if the study recommends the same route, and if so proceed with financing in next years budget to buy the land needed.
I did not agree with the mayor’s logic as presented. There is no financial burden on the next administration unless it puts it on itself, as it will be the one to vote for funding the land purchase or dropping the project entirely. There is no setting of priorities for the next administration, as again, it will vote to either do the project or not. The width had not been a major issue before as it was touted as providing “wiggle room” to move the road a little one way or another to lessen an impact on a property owner.
There was some additional back and forth and the vote was taken. The ordinance was defeated by a 4-yes & 8-no and one abstain. I voted “yes”. The mayor did the uncommon thing of voting “no” again. All this action and vote did was plant the seed to battle this issue again from the beginning next spring. It was also a hit to the efforts of the Planning Commission, Street Department and the 20-year planning group who had also said we needed to proceed with this project. It was only a week ago that the city was touting the 20-year plan as a roadmap to follow. Seems it didn’t take long for the 20-year plan and its support to run over an IED.
Ordinance 2-2010-2011 was looking to annex land into the city.
The basics of the plan and annexing were pretty much straight forward. However, the newsworthy item was the mayor was in partnership with those that would develop the land. He announced this publicly before the first vote last week. Councilman Burkhart was concerned due to the quick actions taken on this ordinance although state law said it could be done this way. He asked the mayor as a sign of good faith to delay the second vote for a month and requested the amendment to do so. Given there was nothing related to the annexed property itself and it met state law I saw no need to delay. I voted against the delay, as I believe 9 other council members did too. The final vote was taken and the annex effort was approved by a 10-yes & 2-no vote.
Then it got a bit testy as Mayor Piper came back to Councilman Burkhart (related to good faith statement) and referenced the problems with Burkhart’s Woodstock development where the city was spending a lot of money to fix flooding problems he basically created. Then the mayor referenced the money it was costing taxpayers to cover Burkhart’s lawsuit against the city. The mayor also referenced a threat that Councilman Burkhart is supposed to have made against the developers of the previouly annexed land if he wasn’t allowed to be a partner.
Then we move on to the next agenda items.
Restrictions to city employment of council members.
This had cropped up at the executive session. Councilman Allen sponsored this and basically it would end all time restrictions on council members to gain employment with the city after they left the council. Current ordinance requires a 3-month wait after leaving the council for rank and file city jobs. It requires a year wait for any department head position. It requires a year wait if a councilman just quits during his term.
I went on record at the executive session that I was against this and at most would only cut the wait to six months. My reasoning was that council members leave office on January 1 on election years. The budget for the new fiscal year is created in the late spring time frame and is voted and implemented July 1st of every year. By making a former council member wait 6 months, they would not be on the council and could not budget a job for themselves in the new fiscal year budget.
The reason this ordinance was on the books was due to a “perceived?” backdoor deal years ago that enabled a former council member to become a department head after they left the council. The problem has not reappeared since the delay requirement was put on the books. After more thought I was prepared to vote against Councilman Allen’s proposal and would not support any shortening of the waiting period.
When this ordinance came up, Councilman Allen requested a withdrawal of the proposal. He cited a need to do further study. I will vote “no” on any effort to shorten the wait period. When you run for city office, there are some set rules and you accept them. You cannot be employed by the city while in office (unlike the county commission members who can also be county employees) and you have to wait to gain employment with the city after you get out. There are enough credibility issues with being in public service as it is. We do not need to add any more potential problems. It ain’t broke, so it doesn’t need fixin’ in this case.
As you can see it was an “interesting” night at the council