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published on 07/15/2003

Old Towne Residents Speak Out at Town Council Meeting

By staff writer

The regularly scheduled meeting of the Signal Mountain Town Council started out going directly into a discussion of the pending parking lot at the entrance to Rainbow Lake on Ohio Avenue.

Present at the July 14th meeting were Mayor Jim Althaus, Vice-mayor Bill Leonard, and Councilmembers Steve Ruffin, Rachel Bryant, and Robert White. Also present were town manager Hershel Dick and town recorder Diana Campbell. Town attorney Phil Noblett was out of town. Calling the meeting to order at 7:00 PM, Mayor Althaus asked Vice-mayor Leonard to open with prayer. The minutes of both the June 9th regular meeting and July 30th special meeting were approved.

Mayor Althaus introduced resident Bill Sonnenburg as the designated spokesperson for the residents affected by the new parking lot. Mr. Sonnenburg began by praising Sam Powell for his efforts and for obtaining the grant to make the improvements at the entrance, however, he pointed out the biggest problem everyone was facing was a lack of communication. He suggested the homeowners and others concerned about the project meet with Mr. Powell and come up with a compromise that will make everyone happy, addressing two key issues, landscaping and the current projected size, which he and the other homeowners feel is much more parking than anyone envisions necessary.

Mayor Althaus then introduced Sam Powell, chairman of the Signal Mountain Parks Board. Mr. Powell began by giving a history of Rainbow Lake saying that back in 1963 it was determined that the town of Signal Mountain owned all the land, approximately 400 acres around the lake. It was decided at that time to begin taking ownership to it in a more aggressive manner and one step was to create the current parking space at the entrance. With Alexian Village’s help the parking lot was built but never completed because of a lack of funds. After losing the first grant, Mr. Powell reported a second grant was secured in May 2002. A portion of that grant was designated to improve the parking lot. He noted that he had asked the town to removed the brambles and brush when it had the time so work could begin on the project. He had drawings and assured the members of the Council and audience that he never dreamed of building anything but a first class parking lot. Mr. Sonnenburg’s suggested meeting in an adjacent room, which was agreed upon by Mr. Powell. Mayor Althaus and other members of the council agreed this was a logical next step.

However, before leaving the room, several residents felt the need to start offering suggestions to which the mayor and other members of the council pointed out were not appropriate for this meeting but should be discussed in the other room. The key issue was the lack of communication, between the town and the citizens. Also proper procedures were not followed i.e. bypassing the Planning Commission with a proposed plan, not getting town council approval, and not offering opportunities for input from local residents before any work began on the parking lot. The only response the Mayor had to this comment was that the town messed up and apologized.

Resident Greg Goodgame pointed out that the best way to be informed is to attend the council meetings on a regular basis. Resident Jocelyn Willis added that residents should have access to upcoming grants to which the mayor said the town recorder will now have all that information available so that residents can view them at any time.

Because the parking lot in question is within the Signal Mountain Historic District, many of the residents present were from Old Towne. There were several other Old Towne issues brought up at the meeting. One, questioned by Margo Gardner, was the decision of the town to take the monies received from the sewer fund and transfer it to the general fund for town use. Residents did not understand the reason for doing this and wanted their money back to which the mayor said it wasn’t going to happen and in fact reminded residents that town attorney Phil Noblett said it was legal to do this. Other issues discussed concerned speeding along Flint Street, a chemical odor coming from Alexian Village down the trails to Rainbow Lake, and speeding construction trucks to and from Alexian during their expansion. These issues will be addressed by town manager, Hershel Dick.

Resident Lolly Durant, addressed the town council by reading a letter in which she stated her love of the community, the arts, and her dedication and service to the Mountain Arts Community Center. She asked that the town council look into alternative ways to charge people including non-residents so that the program will not die. The mayor thanked Mrs. Durant. The issue needs to be resolved with fairness to the other programs in the town, according to the mayor. Mrs. Durant asked that a committee be formed to come up with a solution. The mayor and town council agreed that was a good idea. They urged the committee to meet and come back with a solution before the next meeting. The council appointed Hershel Dick and Diana Campbell, Karen Shropshire, MACC director, Bernard Wolfe, chairman of the MACC board and Mrs. Durant. She asked Joe Dumas and Pris Shartle to serve who both agreed.

Town manager Hershel Dick announced that the Town of Signal Mountain has received a State Stormwater permit effective July 3, 2003 and expires February 2008. According to Mr. Dick a lot of long hours and numerous meetings of the Stormwater Board took place to make this a reality.

Two bids were presented at the meeting; the first was for the guardrails on Mississippi Avenue and the second for the concrete pad and fence for the fire trainer. Funds for both these projects are provided by grant money. Current proposed location of the fire trainer is on land owned by the town behind Warner field.

Joe Dumas asked the council what the status of the town’s web site was. Mayor Althaus deferred the question to town recorder Diana Campbell who said pictures were being taken of everyone and should be posted soon. Mr. Dumas suggested the town look into using the Signal Mountain Community web site, which in his opinion is doing a fine job now representing the town. Councilmember White added that the town needed to pursue that idea.

Coughlyn Cooper a new member of the Playground Committee announced that the third new member appointed since the last meeting is Brandi Buntain. The first meeting with new and old members of the Playground Committee is scheduled later in the month.

In Mayor Althaus’ report under new business, he suggested that the town consider buying five acres of land on Edwards Point Road, which had just become available. Not only could the fire trainer be located there but also this would be an ideal place for the future fire sub-station, according to the Signal Mountain public safety director, Larry Eddings. The town has been saving money for almost eight years in preparation of building a new fire station. Although the mayor pointed out that town attorney Phil Noblett was out of town, things needed to get moving on this before someone else bought the property. His recommendation was that someone on the council spearhead the project. Councilmember White volunteered to serve but it was decided that the town manager and town recorder could get with the town attorney when he returns and bring to the council a proposal. Resident, Mark Shartle, asked the mayor why this subject had not been placed on the agenda so that citizens could have been prepared to hear about it. In his opinion, since a motion was being made and action being taken, mentioning the subject under “new business” was inappropriate. The mayor felt he was informing the public by mentioning it now. Resident, Pris Shartle pointed out to the mayor that he was missing the point. If the town is trying to avoid situations where miscommunication causes friction between the residents and the council then every effort should be made to do things in an orderly manner. Bringing up a subject, not on the agenda or not added to the agenda at the beginning of the meeting, and then reported on the Signal Mountain community web site or one of the newspapers after the fact reinforces the feelings residents have of not being informed.

Councilmembers Bryant, Ruffin, White and Leonard all expressed their feelings about serving on the council, each bringing to the table suggestions and thoughts to improve communication and citizen participation. There were over 50 people in the audience at one time and many brought to the meeting some valid points and thoughtful suggestions. The meeting ended around 9:10 PM. Lively discussions continued in small groups outside in the parking lot as residents shared feelings, ideas, and a spirit of pride for the Town of Signal Mountain.
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