Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

August 14, 2013

New board off to fast start

BLUEFIELD — The five newly-elected members of the Bluefield Board of Directors had little time Tuesday to get their feet wet before facing a multitude of citizen comments, requests and concerns.

The board meeting room was packed — normally a rarity for a noon session — and the list of citizens who signed up to speak before the board was equally as long. The gathering was the first official meeting for Ellen Light, Mike Gibson, Chuck McGonagle, Barbara Thompson Smith and Mayor Tom Cole.

Al Hancock, a local veterans advocate, asked the board to take steps to make Bluefield a “veteran-friendly city.” Hancock suggested signs or billboards advertising Bluefield as a veteran-friendly city. He said the board also could consider a community get-together or gathering at the park to recognize area veterans. “It’s not going to take a lot of work, but you have to have an open mind,” Hancock said of the proposal.

 Dr. David White, a member of the state Board of Education, asked the board to appoint a citizens committee to investigate what he called a “dangerous situation” of the Bluefield Rescue Squad and Bluefield Fire Department allegedly not responding to calls. White said there were five instances where he contacted the rescue squad and fire department to help his step-father, but allegedly didn’t get a response.

White said the first incident occurred on May 23 when an hour after calling the Bluefield Rescue Squad, no one arrived. White said an ambulance had to be contacted from McDowell County instead. White also alleged that calls for help made to the Bluefield Fire Department also went unanswered. He said Jan-Care Ambulance Service had to be contacted on other occasions.

“I have shared my concerns with the city manager, and his response was to paint me as frustrated,” White said. “I’m not frustrated. I’m discouraged. I can’t believe how the city of Bluefield can’t help its older people.”

Sam Pennington, administrator of the Bluefield Rescue Squad, said he was aware of only one of the five complaints mentioned by White. And on that day, Pennington said the Bluefield Rescue Squad was contacted by Jan-Care, but didn’t have a crew available to assist. Pennington said the rescue squad tries to keep at least one advance life support team on station in the event of an emergency call.

Pennington said White was invited to come to the rescue squad, and to review copies and tape recordings of the disputed calls. Gibson asked Pennington if there was a difference in the amount of equipment and resources available between Jan-Care and the Bluefield Rescue Squad. Pennington said Jancare is the state’s largest ambulance service, and has the contract to provide transports to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Beckley.

Charlene Long, also a concerned citizen, encouraged the new board members to visit the various neighborhoods and communities in the city, and presented the board a list of what she said was “lazy people” who are failing to maintain their property. She also complained about drug houses in city neighborhoods such as Union Street.

Doug Conley, who also addressed the board, expressed concerns about a five-hour concert Sunday at Chicory Square, which he alleged contained “provocative language” and “sexual innuendo.” Conley said the music was too loud, and parking and access to adjoining streets was blocked as a result of the show. Conley said he called the Bluefield Police Department, and requested for officers to ask those responsible for the concert to lower the noise. However, Conley said he was told the city had no power to stop the concert.

Cole asked City Manager Jim Ferguson who approved the use of Chicory Square for the weekend concert. Ferguson said he was unaware of the concert. Cole said he saw photographs of the concert in Monday’s Daily Telegraph.

Dwight Godwin, director of parks and recreation for the city, said he approved the permit for the concert. Godwin said he felt it was appropriate to have a wide variety of events in the downtown area. Godwin added the music didn’t appear to be inappropriate while he was in attendance at Chicory Square.

Dan Brewer, another concerned citizen, questioned plans for a new street light in an alley that would block access to his property. The new lights are planned as part of the Depot  District vision for the downtown area. Brewer also expressed concerns about restricting traffic to one-way on Commerce Street.

Bluefield, Va., Mayor Don Harris approached the board, and made a plea for renewed and improved communications and cooperation between the two Bluefields.

“Over the past several years, it has been the goal of my council members to have a better working relationship with the city of Bluefield,” Harris said. “We hope as you get your feet wet that we can work together on a number of projects.”

In other action Tuesday, the new board members thanked city residents for giving them an opportunity to serve; decided to hold off on the purchase of protective flooring material proposed by Ferguson for the new city auditorium gymnasium floor; and discussed visiting individual communities and neighborhoods across the city. The board members also agreed to take a second look at traffic directional changes in the downtown, including making Commerce Street one way.

Ferguson said the change on Commerce Street was requested by the Bluefield Preservation Society, which is working to develop new sidewalks and lighting in the area as part of the larger Depot District vision, which includes renovations to the old Granada Theater.

“I think we do need to study that and make sure the no left turn is appropriate,” Cole said of the traffic change to Commerce Street. “It is something we need to try to look into.”

Cole also expressed support for the ongoing renovations to the old Granada Theater.

“I’m old enough — just barely — to remember going to the movies at the Granada Theater,” Cole said. “I’m very excited with the potential for the Granada Theater.”

Cole also thanked the former city board members for their service, and acknowledged the attendance at Tuesday’s meeting of his father and former Bluefield Mayor Paul Cole, who served three-plus terms as mayor of the city.

Gibson proposed having the new board members visit the individual communities.

“I would like to see the new board members go out to the individual neighborhoods,” Gibson said. “And announce it as far enough in advance that we are coming to your neighborhood to talk about the problems you perceive in your neighborhood.”

“I would also like to thank the citizens of Bluefield for electing me to the board of directors,” McGonagle said. “I feel like we’ve got a good group of board members that can do some good for the citizens of Bluefield.”

Smith, the board’s vice mayor, said she looks forward to working with citizens and “...helping with anything I can.”

“I would like to say thank you to the citizens of Bluefield for giving me the opportunity, and I guess the citizens of district two,” Light added. “But I hope I can serve everyone in Bluefield to the best of my ability.”

Cole also reminded citizens of the upcoming Lemonade Festival and Lemonade Festival Parade scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 31.

— Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com

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