Michael Bobbitt: Notes From The Peanut Gallery (City Council September 22, 2014)

The public part of the 22, September 2014, and the 25 August 2014, City Council meetings were brief especially compared to the long closed door sessions each had. One major announcement came from the closed door session Monday night.

Closed Session

Mayor O’Geary, said there would be an announcement when the Council returned following the closed door session to discuss two personal matters, a client attorney matter, and an EDC matter. I suspect the mayor and council were unaware of the magnitude of the announcement. When the Council resumed their meeting all appeared normal. Mr. Griffin announced two reports from the closed session. Both were reports to amend the resolution continuing the engagement of the law firm Stainback, Satterwhite, & Zollicoffer, PLLC for attorney services to the city. Once those amendments were approved and before council could continued on Mr. Griffin said he had a personal statement to make. Mr. Griffin said he needed to read a prepared statement to avoid misspeaking. The statement he read was his retirement announcement effective 1 November 2014. The throngs in Peanut Gallery were stunned as so it appeared were the city employees attending the meeting. Mr. Griffin in his short tenure has done much to lift the character and morale of the city’s employees. Mr. Griffin has set in place a structure and process the council members and city employees should continue with his replacement. He included in his statement that for the past fifteen years the city employees have been doing more with less until there is no more less to give. On a personal note, Mr. Griffin’s has been an excellent teacher of city and county government.

Regular Meeting

The high point in Monday’s meeting came early. Chris Belk, Board Chair elect of the North Carolina American Water Works Association and the North Carolina Water Environment Association (NC AWWA-WEA) presented the Water Environment Award to Tom Spain, Water Reclamation manager. The NC AWWA is a 95 year old organization of volunteers who provided education and training to those individuals whose desire and passion it is to make certain our public water supply is safe for our consumption and use. Mr. Spain was recognized for volunteering his time and effort for 30 years to pass the baton of knowledge on to others. Mr. Spain’s modesty shown through when he said, “I did what I did because I care about the students and people that work in this business. I made up my mind at the beginning of my career that I wanted to give back to those people”. Without Mr. Spain’s tireless and little recognized efforts Kerr Lake, the source of drinking water for the entire city and some parts of the county, is useable for recreation near where water returns after its use.

The New Business items included approving construction funding for replacement of 2” water mains, approval to dispose of abandoned property jointly owned by the county and the city authorizing the purchase of fire and police vehicles, and cancelled the scheduled December 22, council meeting. Councilman Daeke, continued with his long running concern about selling abandoned property in blighted areas to a buyer whose only intention is to rehab the property to some minimal standard for rental purposes continuing the cycle of government subsidized housing. This sad cycle of rehab to abandonment to rehab is a refrain lamented by posters to HiH without anyone having a workable curative solution. The council did learn that the sale of this abandoned property will net the county $750 to cover some or most of the cost to sell and transfer the property and none of the lost property taxes.

Work Session

Following Mr. Griffin’s announcement the Council returned to normal work. First up was a briefing by Clark Thomas, City Engineer, regarding the 1) Brownfield Assessment Grant and; 2) Inactive Landfill Assessment Grant. Two responses have been received in response to the request for proposals on the Brownfield grants. Answering Councilman Kearney’s question, Mr. Thomas said Locklear, Locklear & Jacobs and Cardno each submitted a response to the request for proposal. Locklear, Locklear & Jacobs “is a full service Consulting Engineering and Project Management Company” headquartered in Pembroke, NC. “Cardno ChemRisk is an internationally-recognized scientific consulting firm that focuses on understanding the hazards posed by chemicals in foods, soil, sediment, air, water and medical devices. Its principal focus is on risk assessment – in particular, the impact of chemicals on human health and the environment.”, with offices in Raleigh. As for the inactive landfill, DENER has hired a consultant to assess the inactive landfill at no cost to the city. Once that assessment is completed and prioritized then a decision will be made determining the proper course of action to be taken. Councilwoman Coffey asked how soon. Mr. Clark said he did not have a time line adding that Cardno is working with DENER on the inactive land fill.

Two other work session items were briefly discussed. One was Councilman Daeke’s suggestion the city consider building water spray parks and the other some changes to the Off Premise Advertisement Sign Ordinance. The water spray park idea will be back for consideration in October. There is an issue with what is defined as a non-government organization sign. Once this initial ordinance was approved the plastic signs lining Dabney Drive disappeared. A new group has sprouted lining the perimeter of the Walgreens property and along Raleigh Road making Two Guy’s hamburger restaurant.

Before the meeting closed

Councilwoman Simmons asked what could be done with two duplexes on Chevas Ave each with one apartment rented and the other appearing abandoned by the landlord. As Yogi Berra famously said, it’s like déjà-vu, all over again. May be a strong enforceable rental housing code should be considered, especially if written by the City’s own legal beagles Stainback, Satterwhite, & Zollicoffer, PLLC.