During December's regularly scheduled meeting of the Franklin Board of Aldermen, Town Manager Sam Greenwood asked the board to consider moving Pickin' on the Square to the Town Hall parking lot for the 2013 season.
Historically held on Town Square at the Gazebo, Pickin' has been temporarily moved to Town Hall from time to time for small renovation projects to the Square, and according to Greenwood, individuals involved with the event seems to like the alternate venue.
Greenwood explained to the board that for some time there has been consideration of improving the facility on the Square which currently houses Pickin'. “There has been discussion of renovating or making improvements to the Gazebo and in order to do that, we have to have an alternative site,” said Greenwood. As of yet, plans haven't been developed for what renovations the Square will see, but in order to move forward with the concept of renovating the Gazebo, the Town Hall parking lot must be renovated to be able to accommodate the event.
In the current fiscal year budget, Greenwood noted that $12,000 is allocated for improvements to the Town Hall Parking lot in the event the board wanted to temporarily move Pickin' on the Square. Those funds are intended to be used to upgrade the lighting system and to construct more outdoor power outlets. As funds allow, Donnie Clay, event coordinator for Pickin', will be given money to construct a temporary stage for the 2013 event season.
Alderman Billy Mashburn explained to the board that by approving the improvements to Town Hall, and even by voting to move Pickin' on the Square for the upcoming year, the change would not be permanent and when the renovations on the Square are completed, the event can be returned to its original location.
Alderman Joyce Handley spoke up to say that she would not be in favor of moving the event permanently, but would support renovations to both Town Hall and the Square.
Currently no funds are allocated in this year's budget to pay for renovations to the Square and since the new budget will not be implemented until July 1, in order to fully complete the proposed project, funds would need to be advanced from next year's budget.
Mayor Joe Collins informed the board that he has spoken to residents of White Oak Street who were not in favor of moving the event because of the noise it causes. Collins suggested that board approve moving forward with the upgrades to the Town Hall parking lot, and to take time to gather citizens’ input on moving the event.
On a motion made by Handley, the board approved permitting renovations to the Town Hall parking lot and will consider moving Pickin' on the Square at a later date.
Junk Car Ordinance
Over the last few months, under the direction of the Town Board, Town Attorney John Henning Jr. has been reviewing a junk car ordinance for vehicles abandoned within city limits. The ordinance allows the town to remove and dispose of abandoned, junk or nuisance vehicles that are left unclaimed for a specific amount of time or are parked on unauthorized property.
Henning explained that the ordinance is designed to allow the town to utilize its power, pursuant to state law, to forbid the abandonment of vehicles within city limits. The mandate also uses the town's police power to define and declare certain vehicles — generally speaking, vehicles left in such a way as to collect water, foster weed growth, and harbor pests and vermin — to be prejudicial to the health, safety and welfare of the town's citizens.
According to the ordinance, Franklin Police Department (FPD) and the Town Code Enforcement Officer will be responsible for the administration and enforcement of the new mandate. FPD will be responsible for administering the removal and disposition of vehicles determined to be abandoned on the public streets and highways of Franklin and on property owned by the town. The Code Enforcement Officer is responsible for enforcing the ordinance on private property.
To handle the removal of the vehicles, the ordinance allows the town to contract with a private tow truck operator or towing company to remove, store or dispose of the vehicles. According to the ordinance, the towing of the vehicles will incur minimal costs due to the price and high demand of scrap metal.
Mayor Joe Collins stated that in the past, Franklin has operated a program that allowed volunteer cooperation with officials to have junk cars removed, but after the program ran its course, it was forgotten. Henning explained that the ordinance, which is scheduled to go into effect on February 1, is designed to work with property owners and owners of the junk vehicles in a joint endeavor to have the ordinance implemented with as much cooperation as possible.
Town Manager transition
Sam Greenwood updated the Town Board on the transition process of Warren Cabe assuming the role of Town Manager next year. Greenwood informed the board that Phase I of the transition process, which includes Cabe spending more time on town management issues, while still working as Franklin’s Fire Chief, will begin in December.
Greenwood and Cabe will start working on Phase II of the process which involves Cabe working alongside Greenwood on water system planning, sewer plant renovations and the process of crafting the budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
Alderman Bob Scott brought it to the attention of the board that he objected to the minutes in the agenda packet for the Nov. 27 informational meeting between the Franklin Board of Aldermen and downtown merchants.
Scott said that although the meeting lasted approximately one hour and 15 minutes, the minutes from the meeting only reflected one line which states, “There was discussion with the Main Street merchants about the guidelines for festivals. The Board took no action.”
Scott requested that additional minutes be provided for the meeting by reason that the meeting had more than 60 attendees, including a full Board of Aldermen with the exception of Alderman Verlin Curtis. Scott cited the State General Statute § 143318.10 which defines that all official meetings of public bodies are open to the public and minutes are required.
As read by Scott during Monday night's meeting, the statute states: “Official meeting means a meeting, assembly, or gathering together at any time or place or the simultaneous communication by conference telephone or other electronic means of a majority of the members of a public body for the purpose of conducting hearings, participating in deliberations, or voting upon or otherwise transacting the public business within the jurisdiction, real or apparent, of the public body. However, a social meeting or other informal assembly or gathering together of the members of a public body does not constitute an official meeting unless called or held to evade the spirit and purposes of this Article.”
Despite argument from members of the Board of Aldermen that the Nov. 27 meeting of the board was an informal meeting, which would exempt it from falling under the open meetings law, Scott noted that the meeting was advertised as a special called meeting, called specifically by Mayor Collins.
According to the email notification sent to local media from Summer Woodard, assistant to the Town Manager, the meeting should be considered an open meeting. The notification read, “Mayor Joe Collins has called an informational meeting Tuesday, Nov. 27, at 5:30 p.m. in the board room at Town Hall. This meeting is for merchants in the Main Street district. This meeting is for discussion only. No action will be taken. No agenda.”
In addition to the format in which the meeting was called and merchants were informed, the minutes from the Nov. 27 meeting read, “The Town of Franklin Board of Aldermen held a special called meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012 at 5:30 p.m. in the Town Hall Board Room. Mayor Joe Collins presided ... The meeting adjourned at approximately 6:45 p.m.
Due to the public notice of the meeting, and the specifications that the meeting was, in fact, called by Mayor Collins, and the minutes which emphasize that the meeting was a special called meeting, there should be a full record of the members who spoke during the meeting, according to Scott.
As cited in the Open Meeting law, “Every public body shall keep full and accurate minutes of all official meetings, including any closed sessions held pursuant to G.S. 143318.11. Such minutes may be in written form or, at the option of the public body, may be in the form of sound or video and sound recordings. When a public body meets in closed session, it shall keep a general account of the closed session so that a person not in attendance would have a reasonable understanding of what transpired. Such accounts may be a written narrative, or video or audio recordings. Such minutes and accounts shall be public records within the meaning of the Public Records Law, G.S. 1321 et seq.; provided, however, that minutes or an account of a closed session conducted in compliance with G.S. 143318.11 may be withheld from public inspection so long as public inspection would frustrate the purpose of a closed session.”
The Board of Aldermen denied Scott's motion to include additional minutes for public record and declined discussing the matter further.
Scott also brought it to the attention of the board that he was bothered by information the board received during the public comment period of Monday night's meeting.
Betsey Gooder, owner and publisher of The Macon County News addressed the board concerning a developing situation with town representatives. According to Gooder, because of an article published in the Nov. 8 edition of The Macon County News, Linda Schlott, executive director for Franklin's Main Street Program made the decision to no longer advertise town-sponsored events in Gooder's publication.
“We distribute 13,000 free newspapers weekly in Franklin, Highlands, Sylva, Dillard, Dillsboro and Clayton. We try to cover everything that happens in this community. Like all of you on Main Street America, I rely on you to keep me in business and you do the same for your business,” said Gooder. “Last week, I called Linda Schlott to see if she wanted to reserve the same ½ page advertising space in The Macon County News for Winter Wonderland that she had last year. She replied, ‘No.’ Now This advertising is paid for by Franklin Main Street Program, Town of Franklin, Franklin TDA and Macon County TDC; this is money that our tax dollars pay for.”
Gooder said that Schlott would be advertising Winter Wonderland in other publications including “Fun Things in the Mountains,” Gainsville Times, Smoky Mountain News, “Mountain Laurel” magazine, The Franklin Press, the radio station, and rack cards. “I suggested that maybe we could split the ad that was running in The Franklin Press and that would be fair. Linda said emphatically, ‘No, that as long as you write derogatory news about me, I will not advertise in your paper.’”
According to Gooder, Schlott is referring to the Nov. 8 article titled “Town taken to task on treatment of ‘Streets’” which stated: “Since its inception, VLF [Venture Local Franklin] has reached out to members of the town board, the town manager and Linda Schlott, Executive Director of Franklin's Main Street program. Any emails sent to groups of VLF were also sent to Schlott. VLF sought to include the town in any and all ideas for the betterment of Franklin. Schlott attended the first VLF meeting, but has not participated in the community group since ... even though she is the Executive Director of the Main Street Program. Schlott was in attendance during Monday night's town board meeting, but did not speak.”
Gooder said that she attended the meeting that Macon County News reporter Brittney Parker reported on and that she believed the article to be factual, but regardless, Schlott's actions should be questioned by the board. “Linda Schlott has let her personal feelings overshadow her job as a representative of the Town of Franklin,” said Gooder. “After talking with my staff, they suggested I get in touch with Joyce Handley and Sissy Patillo, who are on the Main Street Board.”
Handley and Patillo agreed to meet with Gooder last week and according to Gooder, neither representative was cooperative during the meeting, which lead to her decision to speak to the board as a whole. Gooder implored the board to consider how the Main Street program and board is being represented.
“I leave you with this,” said Gooder. “The town and the business owners do not have a communication problem. They just have the wrong kind of communication.”
The Board of Aldermen did not address Gooder's comments at that time. Alderman Scott brought it up at the end of the meeting, noting the importance of giving the situation some consideration. “If what I heard tonight is true, we had an attempt to manage the news by withholding advertising,” said Scott. “When that starts happening, and when this board starts deciding what is news, that is propaganda, clear and simple. We are a public body and I am very concerned by an attempt that may have been made to withhold advertisement. If we advertise in one newspaper, its only fair that we advertise in both newspapers.”
Scott noted that while it is legal to withhold advertising from one newspaper or the other, he questions the ethics and morality behind it.
The Board of Aldermen also declined to discuss Scott's concerns regarding the public comment period.