Marked Tree Council to put out bids on engineer for Carver Gym

Friday, January 15, 2016

January's Marked Tree City Council meeting Monday night was one of many close votes. In the continuing discussion regarding Carver Gym, the council approved putting out bids for an engineer thanks to a tie-breaking vote from the mayor.

The night's discussion on Carver Gym began with Carver Gym committee member Louis Bailey urging the council to make a decision so the committee can move forward on getting donations and hard numbers to help. "We all know the gym needs one of two things," Bailey said, "renovation or a new gym. If you're going to vote to renovate, let's make that happen." Bailey said a lot of people are willing to donate time, labor, and materials but need to know which direction to go.

When Bailey asked the council members to each explain why they were voting the way they were regarding Carver Gym, Alderman Danny Johnson said his understanding was that the committee was supposed to decide whether to renovate or build a new gym, and he would support whatever the committee recommends. Bailey said the commitee recommends renovation. When Bailey asked for the other council members to explain their reasoning, Mayor Mary Ann Arnold said she didn't think that was the proper way the discussion needed to continue.

Next on the agenda, Alderman Cleo Johnson, Jr., spoke. "I'm talking to the mayor and the council," he said. "I would like us to restore Carver Gym to its fullness." He made a motion to restore Carver which was seconded by Jerry Jones.

Alderman Michael Scott was reluctant to vote without paperwork or numbers, and Cleo Johnson gave him a copy of the estimates the council received in July. Danny Johnson wanted to get bids on restoring the gym, to which City Clerk Pam Wright said the city would need to hire an architect or engineer first.

Voting commenced but paused several times while discussion continued. At one point, Cleo Johnson said repeatedly that the city has the money to restore the gym until Mayor Arnold said, "No, we don't."

"I understand we want to restore the gym," Scott said, "but until I see something on a piece of paper, I'm voting blind. All we have is a piece of paper that says $165,000. It's to vote with no blueprint. It's hard for me to support without an engineer."

The vote to restore Carver Gym was tied 4-4 with Jerry Jones, Cleo Johnson, Danny Johnson, and Michael Scott voting for and Steve Craig, Gail Nichols, Mary Smith, and Soozi Williams voting against. Cleo Johnson urged the mayor to break the tie. "I'm not going to vote, Cleo," Mayor Arnold said.

After the vote, Jones said he agreed with Scott. "I'm looking for an understanding," Jones said. "We don't have numbers. We need a motion to hire an engineer to numbers to fix the gym. We could do it in phases."

Craig spoke up, saying he had voted for the park to replace the gym and thought it was disrepectful last month when the audience booed off Betty Shaw when she described plans for the park and Cleo Johnson made the motion to remove that option. Cleo Johnson countered by saying he believed Shaw was out of order.

Mayor Arnold broke in and addressed the audience. "This takes a lot of patience to decide. This is an important decision for the city as a whole. I want you to be patient. This is a decision the council has to make, not me," she said.

After more discussion, Jones made a motion to put out bids for an engineer. Wright said the committee can help interview the engineers. The vote was called, and the council voted the same way as the previous vote, tied 4-4. Mayor Arnold broke the tie in favor of putting out bids for an engineer.

When the council went into executive session to discuss hiring, Louis Bailey spoke to the Democrat Tribune. He had mixed feelings about the votes. "Let it be known the mayor has stalled the renovation because specifically didn't want to make a decision on renovating. But I do appreciate that she made a decision to get bids," Bailey said. "She had a chance to move the project forward, and the committee thought she would have.

"We're going to take the progress that was made and go forward. Hopefully it will not be a tie when the numbers come back from the engineer," Bailey said.

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