Michael Bobbitt: Notes from the Peanut Gallery (City Council April 26, 2015)

Public Hearings through Consent Agenda

Two public hearings were held both regarding annexation of land by the city. No one from the public spoke for or against either annexation; both were approved within the first ten minutes of the meeting. Four items were on the agenda for new business only two required approval. The first item was to approve hanging a banner for this year’s relay for life program from the railroad bridge over Charles Street. Councilmember Daeke requested the city’s planning department review the procedures for securing the banner to prevent it from dropping on a passing vehicle or person. The council approved displaying the banner and as quickly approved Tax Releases and Refunds for the Month of March 2015. The city’s finance director provides quarterly financial updates. Ms. Bradford handed out a copy of the financial report for the 1st Nine Months of the fiscal year 2015. The only question came from Councilmember Inscoe who asked about extended warranties on vehicles the city has purchased. Ms. Bradford said she would check on the extended warranties. Ed Wyatt, Interim City Manager, presented a one page status update of several projects for the councilmember’s review. No one had any questions so the meeting moved to the public comment period on non-agenda items.

Public comment periods are the time during the meeting when citizens (preferably voters) can express their opinion of the actions or inaction of the city council or city’s departments. Monday’s city council meeting eight people had signed up to make a comment on non-agenda items. First up was Geraldine Champion who spoke about a parking issue near her home. She actually offered a suggestion to resolve the parking issue, allow parking on only one side of the street. Mayor O’Geary referred Ms. Champion’s request to city planning department for review and follow-up. The next seven speakers all spoke on the same issue, the Inter Basin Transfer of water from Kerr Lake to Franklin County. This topic is a hot button issue that surfaced this month. Some of the seven speakers live in the city, some live or own property in the county, and a few are non-county residence. All are concerned about the transfer of water from Kerr Lake to Franklin County. Three of the speakers spoke to the county’s Water Committee during their meeting earlier in the afternoon. Mayor O’Geary told each speaker they would receive an answer to their concern or an explanation of the city’s action for approving the transfer. John Hyson, of Macon, NC, offered a little clarity on the cause of their collective concern. Mr. Hyson said the original published procedures to inform the public of the a change in the water transferred from Roanoke River basin to the Tar River basin were altered legislatively and abruptly last November. The change reduced the number of media sources required to be notified of a change in water allocations. I think it is fair to say, that in general the public wants to trust their government and elected officials. When that same government or elected officials make changes in public notifications that appear or do reduce and restrict the public’s input then the balance of trust shifts to distrust of government actions. The distrust creates a cacophony of voices and little hearing between groups of otherwise clear thinking and well meaning people.

After the council moved into closed session for a personal matter I sought out some information from the city officials and Kerr Lake Regional Water System management. Here is some of what I learned. First, Henderson annually projects its water needs for the next 20 to 50 years and all other municipalities do the same. The Kerr Lake Regional Water System’s plant is in need of a major upgrade to meet the future (20 – 50 year) water needs of Henderson, Warren County, Oxford and Granville County, plus the regional water systems customers (Franklin County, Kittrell, and Vance County). When Kerr Lake Regional Water System knows their customers’ long term water needs then the water system management team can justify the needed funds to expand the plant’s capacity to meet those long term needs. The only locally held public meeting to discuss the plan to transfer more water to Franklin County was scheduled on the same evening as the re-scheduled Henderson-Vance Chamber of Commerce’s annual gala. Most if not all city council members and county commissioners were attending the gala and not the public meeting. The Daily Dispatch apparently did not publish a notification of the public meeting to discuss the planned transfer. HomeInHenderson did publish the notification. The Henderson City Council and Vance County Board of Commissioners each approved a resolution recommending the increase in the amount of water to be made available to Franklin County. Neither governing body offered a public hearing to discuss the transfer before approving their respective resolutions.

Maybe the city and the county government should take a moment from there very busy schedules and packed agenda to host a joint city and county public meeting to learn about the proposed water transfer. In the meantime I encourage all those knowledge source on this topic please add your voice especially if correcting my understanding of this matter.

Work Session

When the council returned from their close door meeting without any announcement they got back to real work, the work session. The two items in the work session were quickly approved with a consensus of approval and will be part of next month’s consent agenda.

Download:  3rd Quarter 2015 Financial Report to Board