City board running smoothly under new speaking restrictions

boring under railroad
Workers prepare for a deep bore underneath the BNSF Railroad line near the radio station.
December 4th, 2019     Featured General News

The December meeting of the New Albany Board of Aldermen went smoothly, the second meeting under new stringent rules governing speaking and questioning.

The policy was instituted because discussions at previous meetings had sometimes gotten out of hand with multiple people talking over each other and comments veering from the point under discussion.

Now, if a person wants to speak to the board, he or she must get on the agenda by the previous Friday before the meeting. Public appearances are limited to five minutes and are timed.

New this week was the installation of lights in front of each official, which can be switched on when the person wants to be recognized.

One other change not related so much to discussion was the implementation of what amounts to a consent agenda. Routine matters and items which come up regularly can be grouped under the agenda if it is likely they will cause no discussion. If they wish, aldermen can vote on all the items in the consent agenda section at one time.

Mayor Tim Kent said he has heard no complaints about the change and it does help move meetings along.

In fact, the item that took up the most time in the relatively brief meeting Tuesday was a zoning issue.

Building Inspector and Zoning Administrator Eric Thomas asked the owner of the property at 500 and 502 Clarke Street be required to clean up that property. If that is not done, the city would then do the work and bill the property owner.

The owner in question, Jenny King, has a contentious history with the city.

Most recently, the city ordered the demolition of a house at 702 Parrish Street, owned by King and next to Clarke Street.

Thomas said the house, being only used for storage, had had no utilities since 2006, was not livable and was generally in need of repair. While utilities are not required is the home is not inhabited, Thomas said at the time that city ordinances still require it to be secured and maintained, and the house was not.

Thomas added the house was gutted and King had had the house for two years without making needed repairs.

King said then she felt she was being treated unfairly. She has a history of disagreement with city rulings concerning the area around her home and placement of a storage building on the lot.

Thomas said she improperly placed a storage building and did not have a permit. Although she did move it, she never obtained a permit. She said the city would not tell her what the cost was while Thomas said the fee would depend on the building cost, which King would not provide to him.

Aldermen did condemn the structure and, when King failed to demolish it, the city did.

The hearing this week was over items scattered around the yard and which did not meet code requirements.

King argued that many toys were in the yard for when children came to visit, and that she had a privacy fence around the yard. City officials countered that the fence looked a series of wooden pallets had just been placed there.

Thomas said the accumulated rubbish constituted a fire and pest hazard. King responded that, “Every time I do something he shows up,” referring to Thomas. “I don’t see anything wrong with it,” she added, referring to photos of the property.

Ward One Alderman Amy Livingston told King that Thomas was only following the ordinance and there was nothing personal involved. “If you live in a municipality you have to follow the law,” she said.

The board did eventually vote unanimously to have the property cleaned up within 30 days.

“I’m not going to clean it up,” King said, and the mayor countered, “Then the city will.”

In departmental business, Bill Mattox had the largest number of items for the light, gas and water department.

Nearly all involved funding-related matters for the Marshall County gas expansion, the water system expansion on Hwy. 348 or the construction of the new wastewater treatment plan north of the city. The various payments totaled nearly $650,000 but virtually all the costs will be covered by grants rather than local taxpayer money.

Mattox also got permission for emergency repairs to a Wellspring substation transformer, accept a lone bid to purchase a line truck for the electric department and advertise for bids on a lighting project for a county football field.

Mattox noted some dissatisfaction with the digger truck bid. He said the state forced his department to use the reverse auction process in bidding and the Altec company bid $236,841. Mattox said companies tend to initially bid high in reverse auctions so they have room to come down on the price.

In this case, if the city been allowed to be exempt from the reverse auction he could have purchased the truck for the lower price of $228,000.

Concerning the football field lighting, the county district will reimburse the city, he said.

The only other departmental business that came up was a report that the planning and zoning board had approved a conditionally permitted use exemption for the house at 609 Highland for a home occupation.

Owners Robert and Nannette Ballard are using the house as a sort of sanctuary house and location for various classes.

The only consent item that drew discussion was approval of a sublease agreement for the Emerald Mississippi building.

The furniture company and Union County had gone through a process for the county to own the former Denton Mills plant and help get loans for renovation of the building.

County officials have already approved this and Board Attorney Regan Russell said the city is involved mostly because it is on the loan.

Emerald is no longer there, he said, but is still liable for the loan, ultimately. With the sublease, the Hackney grocery company will repay the loan, however.

Before adjourning, the board voted to go into executive session to discussion a possible real estate purchase but Mayor Kent said no action was taken at the time.

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