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Council Blocks Town Common Presentation

credit: City of Greenville

photo: City of Greenville

by Lisa Ellison

The Thursday, Jan. 16 city council meeting started out looking a lot like the Jan. 13 meeting: Forced, cheerful, buddy-buddy, punch-on-the-shoulder kinds of interactions from the mayor to councilors with a string of unanimous votes.

After breezing through appointments to citizen boards and commissions (one of note was District 3 representative Marion Blackburn’s appointment of former mayor Pat Dunn to the Redevelopment Commission) and elections and appointments of councilors to committees (see list below), council unanimously approved the items up for public hearing, including closing an alley on East Fifth Street and its related item, an amendment to the ordinance limiting public alleys in the central business district to pedestrians and service vehicles to expand the eastern boundary to Reade Street. (Click here to see more about these agenda items.)

Committee Appointments

Elected by council
Taxicab Appeal Board: Kandie Smith (D1)
Joint Pay and Benefits Committee: Rick Smiley (D4), Rose Glover (D2)
Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) Trust: Calvin Mercer (at large)

Appointed by Mayor
Audit Committee: Smiley, Glover, Mayor Allen Thomas
City Council Economic Development Commissions: Richard Croskery (D5), Smith, Thomas

Town Common

Council’s run of unanimous, discussion-free votes didn’t last. When things rolled around to the Town Common forum, an item requested by Blackburn “to get a briefing” on what’s next on the Town Common master plan, all councilors had something to say.

The briefing Blackburn hoped to see was a presentation already given to the Recreation and Parks Commission on January 8 (clip and link below). The request for that presentation was received too late (9 o’clock the night before the meeting) to have it ready for the council meeting, according to City Manager Barbara Lipscomb.

“Since they’re the ones who are supposed to be bringing us information and meeting with the stakeholders in Uptown Greenville,” Smith (D1) moved that council discuss the Town Common again after the Redevelopment Commission’s annual meeting to determine what projects the commission will pursue over the next year and to evaluate the body’s progress toward longer-term goals.

Blackburn said she would not support that motion. “Let’s go ahead and get our briefing, let’s go ahead and let it be broadcast.”

Smith’s motion to block the briefing until March passed in a 4-3 vote (Smith, Croskery, Glover for; Smiley, Blackburn, Mercer against), with the mayor breaking the tie.

See the presentation below or beginning at 44:00. (Please note that you must have Microsoft Silverlight installed to watch this video.)

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Citizens’ Voices

In the public comment period, citizens let council know about the work of  ReLeaf, a community-based nonprofit which has planted more than a thousand trees throughout the city. Others encouraged council to be mindful of citizen responses to the 2009 Town Common survey; spoke in favor of preserving green space at the Town Common, and proposed a policy of land-value taxation.

Coming up next is city council’s planning session–Jan. 24 and 25. See the full agenda here.

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Responses (11)

  1. A clarification: My request was simply to view a brief PowerPoint presentation about the Town Common Master Plan. It was a request for information, but not for a discussion of next steps. I imagine we will have many public conversations about moving forward in the months ahead. With new membership on Council, and with so much energetic interest in our Town Common among the public, it is time to reacquaint ourselves with the Town Common Master Plan. It has not been reviewed, publicly, since it was approved in 2010. This brief presentation about the Master Plan was presented to the Recreation and Parks Commission earlier in January and it generated great interest among its membership. It is appropriate for us to view the plan as well; to bring the public into the discussion; and to renew our commitment to supporting our “central park.” My intent was not for us to discuss steps forward; my goal is that the Council and the public have a clear vision of the Master Plan before we began our community discussion of steps forward.

  2. Anthony Noel says:

    Amazing that Greenville is using Silverlight – which isn’t even in development at Microsoft anymore. Last time I checked we were in the digital age, no?

    Of course, being in the digital age is meaningless if the PUBLIC’s right to view presentations which were created using PUBLIC dollars is squelched. The fact that the Mayor and three councilors denied we, the PUBLIC the transparency Blackburn rightly sought should be a huge red flag to Greenville residents that those determined to profit on the Town Common want to keep their motives on the down-low for as long as possible. Thursday’s vote prompts one to wonder if those forces have “gotten to” Croskery – whose vote against a PUBLIC showing of the presentation about this very PUBLIC issue affecting our city’s hallmark PUBLIC space is simply indefensible.

  3. Dennis Mitchell says:

    I think what Councilwoman Smith wanted was to be transparent. We heard a lot about the city council not taking the recommendations of the boards and commissions seriously, so why should the council circumvent due process. We created the Redevelopment Commission to have purview over the Uptown District and West Greenville and due to the renewed spotlight on Town Common, they included it in this year’s work plan and have already started the process of public engagement along with Uptown Greenville. So why would the City Council go around them and begin to discuss this issue. I am sure no one believes the City Council will just get a presentation and have no comments or direction on it. What Councilwoman Blackburn’s request would have done is preempt public participation and transparency whether or not it was intended to do so.

    As far a motives, I don’t understand why the Town Common is up for the discussion anyway. The only thing that needs to be discussed is how are we going to fund it. With the option of leveraging private funding through some development being so controversial, the only options are a tax increase or a bond.

    I think Councilman Croskery has shown that he will hear all sides and make up his own mind. So just because you don’t agree with how someone voted, you should not automatically assume that someone has “gotten to” them.

    • Anthony Noel says:

      Nobody proposed “circumventing” anything, Mr. Mitchell – and ensuring there is no discussion or comments from council after the presentation is viewed is as simple as stating that no discussion shall occur. Perhaps Blackburn will move for the presentation’s showing at the next meeting with that stipulation in her motion.

      I also find a little disconcerting your apparent belief that the Town Common’s inclusion in the Redevelopment Commission’s work plan should preclude other public bodies from encouraging public engagement. Since it is the TOWN Common – not only the Uptown or West Greenville Common – and the site of city-wide outdoor events, why wouldn’t we want everyone in the city to be fully informed about it? The suggestion that publicly showing a presentation – which was produced with public money – in order to ensure all members of the public have access to it and are fully informed about the Master Plan would somehow NEGATE public participation and transparency is some of the most upside-down logic I’ve heard.

      • Dennis Mitchell says:

        I find a little disconcerting your apparent belief that the city staff should be engaged in two processes to garner public input. If the Redevelopment Commission, who initiated and oversaw the development of the Town Common Master plan and by city statute and state charter is charged with facilitating activities within the area which includes the Town Commons has already scheduled public engagement sessions utilizing the same staff time and efforts, why would the city council choose to preemptively intervene in process that has already begun. It was the Redevelopment Commission who implemented the public participation process that those who point to the Town Common master plan as a model for public participation so widely celebrate. I think it is very wrong and inciting to insinuate that a board/ commission would somehow choose to not include the public in its public engagement session.

        The reason we have boards and commissions is to encourage more participation not to limit it.

        • Anthony Noel says:

          With all due respect, Dennis, you have yet to explain how simply including in a council meeting a presentation that already exists and could be seen by any member of the public who happened to attend a Rec and Parks meeting earlier this month constitutes “intervening.” I suspect that’s because you know it doesn’t. What is even remotely “preemptive” about releasing something that already exists? The Master Plan has been around since 2010; isn’t it just plain smart to make sure the new council and all citizens are familiar with it?

          Will allowing the rest of the public to see it somehow alter the process already in motion? If not, how is including it in the proceedings of the city’s ultimate decision-making body “preemptive?” And if it will alter the process already in motion, maybe that means the public wants more input at the beginning – something it is entitled to anyway, if we really embrace the idea of open government, don’t you agree?

          All across the country, forward-thinking cities which walk the walk about “building an inclusive community” – as opposed to just talking the talk – have a set policy of making instantly available to mass media all presentations that have been prepared by their agencies. Blackburn wanted to give the public greater access by including the presentation in a council meeting, which many citizens watch on the city website or GPAT. Doing this should be a no-brainer, and the fact that council did not give it unanimous support and instead quashed it is more than a little disturbing, in term of our city’s commitment to complete openness and full public input.

  4. Dennis Mitchell says:

    I guess I don’t understand how previous presentation that was shown is somehow not available to ALL the public. The Boards and Commissions meet in the same chambers as the city council and their meetings are shown on GTV just like the city council. Any member of the public is welcome to come to their meetings just like they can come to the city council. I hate to answer your question with a question but how does this leave the public out of the conversation? On top of this, the Redevelopment Commission will hold public participation forums in March.

    What is really confusing to me is the fact that we are revisiting this issue. It seems to me that those who don’t want any changes to the master plan are either seeking to create a wedge issue or don’t realize they can open up the possibility for development on the Town Common by revisiting it? Shouldn’t the city council just come up with a plan to fund it? We have a vetted and approved Town Common Master Plan that is 4 years old that just needs funding. What is there to talk about other than just to fund it?

  5. Anthony Noel says:

    I agree with your latter point, Dennis. We study everything to death. If the result of the ReDev commission’s involvement is an effort to change the Master Plan, it is going to run up against serious public opposition, I think. Regarding your earlier question about funding it, one option you don’t mention is private funding that does NOT include profound development, specifically seeking donors. Many public projects have been funded (or at least subsidized) this way. (Personally, I’d support a bond issue or tax increase in order to ensure our goals for this space are met.)

    As to the availability of the presentation through other meeting videos, yes, people can get it that way, but I think it’s fair to consider what people tend to watch most. I don’t have figures, but my guess is that people tune in for city council proceedings in greater numbers than they do for those of various commissions.

Tell us what you think.

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