Citizen input dominated Thursday’s East Ridge City Council meeting at City Hall.
From garden club members rolling out an elaborate long-term plan for planting trees and shrubs at Camp Jordan, to church members talking barbecue, to outrage over the timing in the city’s condemning an extended stay motel, citizens had their say.
Maggie Burns, President of the Crestwood Garden Club, had sketches and a hand-out for the Council. Burns said the club wants to plant a memorial garden at Camp Jordan for long-time member and past-president, Jo Lawrence, who passed away last year. The garden would include trees and shrubs and a Blue Star marker that Ms. Lawrence had once kept away in her home.
“Jo’s favorite color was pink,” Burns told council members.
The garden club asked for the city to move forward with a “work request list” in preparation for the first phase of the three-phase plan. Burns said a rock planter needs repair and new soil. She asked that the council review the plans and begin moving forward to plant cherry trees this fall.
“It is my hope to dedicate the garden next spring,” Burns said.
John Temple with the Jones Memorial United Methodist Church invited Councilmen to the church’s annual barbecue, one of the city’s most revered fall events. It’s scheduled for Sept. 26. Temple said that last year they sold $17,000 worth of barbecue _ pork, chicken and beef. They used the profit to buy coats for hundreds of the city’s less fortunate school children. “It’s a good cause,” Temple said after inviting everyone to attend.
Laura Seneker addressed the Council about children, but in a much different way. She had questions about what took place at Superior Creek Lodge. Seneker said she had no issue with the city condemning the facility, which is home to as many as 100 school-aged children. Her issue was with the city putting children on the street on Wednesday evening as some were preparing to go to bed in anticipation of school the next morning.
“This is not how I see the city responding to the needs of its people,” she said. “This is how I see an attack.” Seneker said more thought should have gone into the planning of the eviction to show not only concern about an unsafe building, but with the people who live there.
Fire Chief and Acting City Manager Mike Williams said condemning the building and evicting its tenants was “not easy for any of us.” He explained that once building officials condemned the building out of concerns for “life and safety,” the city was required by state law to act immediately in getting residents out of the dilapidated structure.
“It was bad timing, I agree,” Williams said. “But there is no good time. It’s a sad day for many employees at the city, but we had to act.”
Williams told Seneker and those gathered at the meeting that he was acutely aware of the children in Superior Creek Lodge. He reminded Seneker that he and others started the city’s Needy Child Fund.
Shutting down SCL was “the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make,” Williams said.
Vice Mayor Marc Gravitt said that the City was “caught between a rock and a hard place,” in its actions related to SCL. He said if the city was aware that residents could be hurt or killed because of the dangers the building posed and did not immediately act, “social media would be lit up with cries of ‘why didn’t you do something.'”
Mayor Brent Lambert characterized the situation as a “Catch 22.” He said city officials were going to be criticized in some way no matter what actions they took.
City Attorney Hal North said he was consulted prior to any action being taken by the city. North emphasized that the building presented a real and immediate danger to its occupants.
“It would have been unconscionable of me to allow those people to stay one more night.” North said.
Matthew DeGlopper urged the Council and city officials to “have a plan going forward to look at all rental property.”
He said that in this period of development and commercial revitalization of East Ridge there is a “fleet” of media trucks at Superior Creek Lodge broadcasting that “East Ridge is condemned.”
“Address these issues before it gets to this point,” he said.
DeGlopper also asked the Council to begin to take action to find a permanent City Manager. He said it’s been two months since City Manager Andrew Hyatt departed and the Council has made no effort to find a replacement. He said the Charter requires a permanent City Manager and that the Council was doing a “disservice to taxpayers” by putting off finding a replacement.
When the Council got down to items on the agenda, the issues were prosaic. The board passed a budget amendment on second reading.
In short order the board dealt with resolutions for another pole tent for The Needy Child Fund, contracting with the Southeast Development District to oversee grant money for a Safe Routes to School Program, accepted two grants centered on animal services and allowed the City to apply for a grant for fitness equipment for the fire department.