Vote to renovate Carver Gym fails

Friday, February 12, 2016

After another packed meeting Monday night, the Marked Tree City Council is still no closer to an agreement regarding Carver Gym than they were last month. Another vote was called to renovate the gym, which has been closed since last April. The vote, which was tied last month, failed again this month. One city council member's resignation was announced, and a community member announced he was petitioning to recall the mayor and city clerk from office.

First up: Carver Gym. Louis Bailey spoke to the council on behalf of the Carver Gym committee. Bailey asked that the council make a decision in favor of renovating the gym and explained that the committee wants the gym renovated in phases. According to Bailey, phase one would rely solely on the insurance and donations to fix the roof and ceiling so the gym can be dry and prevent further water damage caused by leaks. "I've spoken with several people in the community who are willing to donate. If we get around 300 people to donate $100 each, we're looking at $30,000," Bailey said. Phase two would involve using the $35,000 the council set aside along with grants for further renovation.

During the council's discussion of the gym, Alderman Cleo Johnson, Jr., said he "would like to see the city do what they're supposed to do and fix Carver Gym. You can't build a new gym because you say you don't have the money, so why not go with option two and vote to remodel the gym?"

To this, Bailey said the committee was not going to burden the city government by asking for more money than the $35,000 already allocated. Cleo Johnson then asked about the $300,000 spent to put in new digital water meters.

City Clerk Pam Wright answered this, saying the city had saved up the money for the water meters over the course of several years. "We've been saving for those electronic meters for years. You don't want to hear that part," Wright said.

"She's not on the city council, so keep your mouth shut," Cleo Johnson said. "She cannot talk on city council business."

Next, Alderman Danny Johnson brought up last month's decision to advertise for an engineer, where Mayor Mary Ann Arnold cast the tie-breaking vote. Mayor Arnold said they had not advertised for an engineer yet, and Wright added that after the vote to renovate the gym failed, no one on the council clarified what the engineer was for, so they couldn't advertise for one.

Alderman Jerry Jones made a motion that the council agree to renovate the gym. The vote failed 3-4 with Cleo Johnson, Danny Johnson, and Jerry Jones voting for and Steve Craig, Gail Nichols, Soozi Williams, and Mary Smith voting against. Alderman Michael Scott was absent from the meeting, having turned in a letter of resignation.

Bailey asked the council why they were voting against renovation when $35,000 has already been allocated. Several who voted against renovating spoke up with concerns about the project costing the city later on. "I cannot see an end to it. What happens when phase two is over?" Smith said. Nichols voiced concern about draining funds from the city budget and then not having enough to pay for expenses on things like city equipment and repairs.

Mayor Arnold asked the matter be tabled another month and promised to advertise for an engineer in that time. "This didn't happen overnight. It fell into my lap, but I'm determined to get something done one way or another," she said. Then Cleo Johnson said the city has already seen estimates from two engineers, and Wright asked what the council wanted to advertise for the engineer to do since the renovation vote failed again.

Jones said, "We need to make a decision to renovate the gym. Let's come to an agreement and start getting donations."

"We don't have a plan," Mayor Arnold said. "Say we advertise: what's he going to do? We haven't voted to renovate."

"There are too many unanswered questions," Alderman Steve Craig said. "I think it is going to cost the city more than you (Bailey) are saying." Craig told Bailey he wanted to see a sheet listing a substantial number of donations. On that note, when the council later went into executive session, several community members signed pledges to make $100 donations toward the renovation.

Discussion on Carver Gym was finally tabled with a vote of 5-2 with Cleo Johnson and Jerry Jones voting against.

The council then heard from several citizens on the agenda, including Lavander Jones and Jerry Crockett, who claimed they were locked out of last month's council meeting. Mayor Arnold said the door to the courtroom where meetings are held does not lock but can be hard to open. Police Chief Jerry Lung said, "I can assure you, 4-5 years ago there was a lock on that door," but he said the lock was removed around that time and the door has not had one since.

Another citizen the council heard from was Larry Rollins, who urged the council to vote to renovate the gym, saying, "You can't put a monetary value on something to keep kids off the street." Rollins also said there were rumors going around town about a petition to recall both Mayor Arnold and City Clerk/Treasurer Wright, and he wanted them to know he was the one behind the petition and he would be back out the next day getting signatures.

Later in the meeting, Mayor Arnold read a letter from Alderman Michael Scott announcing his resignation from the council due to his business effective immediately. Mayor Arnold then suggested the council appoint Soozi Williams to fill the position, but Williams is already on the council. Jones immediately made a motion to go into executive session, and when the council came back they voted unanimously to appoint Jason Gilbert to fill the position for the remainder of Scott's term.

In other business, the council passed an ordinance to rezone property for a trailer on Jefferson Street and accepted a bid to purchase four police cars on a four year plan. Chief Lung said the city has been buying used cars, and this would be a chance to get some new cars. Currently, two cars are down and another will be soon. The cars will be financed through Government Capital and are Ford vehicles since the department, along with many others across the state, have had problems with Dodge police cars.

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