New Albany aldermen meeting, July 7, 2015

July 9th, 2015     Government & Politics

New Albany, MS-It was not the least productive city board meeting this reporter has ever observed, but it was the least productive I’ve seen in New Albany.

That’s an opinion. For the rest of this article, except where clearly labeled as opinion, we will try to emulate the Fox news people and keep it “fair and balanced.”

We refer to the monthly meeting of the New Albany Board of Aldermen this past Tuesday, July 7th.

The meeting lasted nearly two-and-a-half hours. It is true the agenda was a little longer than usual but that was not the problem. There was the usual routine business:

— City department heads were, as usual, well prepared, brief, and to the point.

–Mayor Tim Kent did his usual workmanlike job of trying to keep the aldermen focused on the business before them.

— They approved the minutes of the June meeting, paid the  bills, etc.

[Editor’s Comment: However, the meeting became very tedious, lengthy and generally unsuccessful when it came to the primary job of aldermen: knowing and understanding the facts and making decisions with courage and clarity.]

The board’s inability to hear facts and arguments and make coherent decisions was demonstrated in the second item on the 29-item agenda: an ordinance to change the name of Baker Street in the near southeast part of the city to Beasley Street in honor of the late Tommie Beasley, a long-serving aldermen.

Two lifelong residents of Baker Street objected to the change. They stated their objections clearly and courteously. It has been Baker Street for over 100 years, and the people that live there didn’t want it changed. The change would create confusion because everyone would have to change their address, and the postal service, 911, etc. would have to revise information. The residents also said, without indicating any disrespect for the late Alderman Beasley, that, if the street needed a new name, there were other names that should be considered. Whether sufficient or not, the objections were clearly articulated.

It was a simple matter, of no practical consequence except to the people who live on Baker Street, but the aldermen proved unable to deal with it. City Attorney Regan Russell opined that the zoning board would have to sign off on it first and that someone would have to apply to the zoning board for the change to be made. There was no explanation as to why these routine details had not been handled before the item was placed on the agenda. The aldermen couldn’t decide what to do about this simple matter, so they did nothing at all. They tabled it, meaning the matter of Baker Street’s name is likely to consume time at one or more future board meetings.

[Editor’s note/question: If the aldermen are unable to deal with this simple matter, how on earth will they deal with the big stuff?]

Then came the third item on the agenda. A group of veterinarians from Holly Springs bought the New Albany practice of a retiring vet a couple of years ago and wanted to put up a new sign to better advertise their new business. The sign was out of compliance with a couple of arcane provisions of the town “sign ordinance,” and the zoning board said the sign could not be used. The animal docs appealed the decision, asking the New Albany aldermen for a routine variance.

(For more information on the ordinance and its enforcement, see: New Albany Renaissance IV, sign langauge)

Dr. David Childers appeared as scheduled before the board Tuesday night for what should have been a routine hearing seeking a variance fromNew Albany’s sign ordinance. He was represented by Bill Rutledge, a prominent New Albany attorney.

Attorney Bill Rutledge spoke to the Board of Aldermen regarding a variance to the city sign ordinance. Seated at left is Alderman Johnny Anderson.

Attorney Bill Rutledge spoke to the Board of Aldermen regarding a variance to the city sign ordinance. Seated at left is Alderman Johnny Anderson.

Rutledge told the board that Dr. Childers and his associates had purchased a new sign for $22,000 to help direct customers to their place of business on Highway 30 West. The sign, which the city ordinance defines a “monument sign” is larger than the ordinance allows for that type of sign. The sign is also internally lit, which is also forbidden by the ordinance.

Rutledge demonstrated to the board that the sign, while not complying with the strict letter of the ordinance, does comply with the stated purpose of that portion of the ordinance, specifically that it does not interfere with or endanger highway traffic in any way. Rutledge carefully and thoroughly reviewed for the aldermen the conditions that must be met in order for a variance to be  to be granted, and he showed how the requested variance met those requirements. Rutledge also presented photographs proving that one business located in downtown New Albany had already either received a variance from the prohibition of internally lighted signs or had installed such signs illegally several years ago, and without objection from city authorities. Rutledge stated his opinion that the current sign ordinance was essentially hostile to new businesses wanting to locate in New Albany.

Dr. Childers then spoke to the board and said he and his associates wanted to expand the range of services available at the clinic including more sophisticated diagnostic equipment and the capacity to care for large animals.

When Rutledge and Childers completed their presentation to the aldermen, Mayor Kent asked for a motion from the board that would address the matter. No motion of any kind was made.

City Attorney Russell broke the silence with a statement of his opinions about what actions the board might take. Much of what Russell said was not audible or understood by many in the room (including, by admission to this reporter, at least one of the city officials present). However, this reporter did understand Russell to say to the Board that they had lawful authority to grant the variance.

When Russell stopped speaking there was still no motion forthcoming. There was some desultory discussion about whether or not the aldermen wanted to overrule the zoning board.

Rutledge  restated his explanation of how the request met the requirements for a variance. Rutledge then asked the aldermen if any one of them could give a reason why the requested variance would in any way conflict with the public interest or in any way did not fulfill all the legal requirements for a variance.

No alderman made any attempt to respond to Rutledge’s questions.

Mayor Kent stated his belief that the city needed to make it easier for businesses to operate in New Albany, but the mayor is not allowed under the law to offer a motion to the board.

There was some brief, not entirely audible, discussion to the effect that perhaps the sign ordinance should be amended to accommodate the sign the veterinarians have purchased, but there was still no motion to grant or deny the request for variance.

The mayor again asked for a motion.

Finally, First Ward Alderman Jeff Olson offered a motion that the matter be tabled for possible reconsideration at the August 4 board meeting. The motion was seconded and passed unanimously by the board.

Dr. Childers and his associates will have to wait at least one more month before they know whether or not they will be allowed to inform the public of their available services with their nice $22,000-sign.

Again, as in the case of renaming Baker Street, the city board decided not to decide.

[Editor’s note:  Coverage of other business discussed at the July 7 board meeting will be published on during the coming weekend.]

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