The public meeting held at the noon hour on Monday was intended for the City Council to be advised of an opportunity to apply for $2,000,000 of Community Development Block Grant money for something called the Catalyst Program.
Mr. Michael Cirello, Plannng Director for Kerr-Tar Regional Council of Government, started the session with a presentation of his ideas for the catalyst program. Mr. Cirello’s expertise is in city planning. (Mr. Cirello’s presentation is posted on HiH.) The list of possibilities for this $2,000,000 of taxpayers’ money includes: an outdoor pavilion next to the library (the proposed opry house is out), some urban gardens, narrower streets for more mopeds, a stop for the high-speed rail, a downtown VGCC campus, and an illusion that businesses will return to the old business district from the new business district.
When Mr. Cirello completed his presentation the Mayor graciously allowed the Council members to be first to ask questions of Mr. Cirello. Councilperson Rainey asked, “ Does this mean the high speed rail could be encouraged to come here.” Mr. Cirello, said the Department of Transportation’s research shows there is no demand for a stop in Henderson. Councilperson Kearny asked Mr. Griffin if there was time to discuss this program after the meeting. Mr. Griffin, said that after the public meeting the Council could finalize ‘their plans’. Councilperson Deake asked how the money would be spent. Mr. Cirello, said the $2,000,000 was probably enough to build the outdoor pavilion.
Once the Councilpersons concluded their questions the Mayor opened the public hearing first for those favoring the catalyst program then for those opposed. Ms. Margret Ellis was the first of seven speakers, alas Ms. Elissa Yount was not present. Of the seven speakers only two followed the Mayor’s instructions. John Barns, President of the Henderson – Vance Chamber of Commerce, and Stuart Litvin, Director of Economic Development, both spoke with unequivocal favor for the program. Mr. Litvin said he and ‘the chairman’ support this project, which implied the Economic Development Committee favored this program. Ms. Andrea Harris quickly returned to the podium to say she is a member of that Economic Development Committee and the Committee has not met to discuss this program.
The other five speakers including Ms. Ellis all spoke simultaneously against and for the catalyst program during the time designated for those favoring the catalyst program. Ms. Ellis delivered a major rejection of this proposal saying, ‘you (the Council) start and stop projects yet you never get one finished.’ Ms. Ellis’s concluded her opposition saying, “Take my advise please finish something.” Ms. Harris delivered a coherent message scolding the Council for submitting this program without the public’s input, then challenged the Council to finish “what you start.” Ms. Harris ended her remarks saying, “You want to improve this city you put the money into the schools.”
The Mayor closed the public hearing after asking and not hearing anyone who disapproved of this program excluding the five who spoke out of turn. Mr. Griffin then asked the council for advice. Mr. Kearny said, I like grants that help the ultimate people not the architect and others concluding; then he added “Before I vote for this I need to know this is going to do someone some good.” Ms. Coffey said, I favor progress but this program is not meeting the needs of the citizens. Mr. Deake said this is a wonderful plan and helps us look into the future but we have so many projects we do not finish. Mr. Deake added, ‘I cannot figure out the nuts and bolts for this plan.’ Mr. Griffin stated the obvious; ‘I do not hear support for this concept and I do not want to waste the COG’s time to go forward. To go forward would be counterproductive. Do we just pull the plug?’
The Mayor asked if the work session on October 29th, should be cancelled. Council members all agreed there was a need at least to gain public support for this or another plan. Mr. Griffin added that the application needed to be submitted by November 30, 2012. The work session was cancelled and a future meeting of the public will be held to gain a compromise.
Want to know why the city and county start many projects and finish few, poor planning.
As Ms. Harris said of Mr. Cirello’s proposal ‘this is a wonderful plan but we are about 30 years behind the time.’ If this is a once in a life time opportunity to apply for this catalyst program, then we have missed this train. If there is another opportunity next year, then use Mr. Cirello’s concept as a starting point for finding a minimal consensus for a catalyst program.