Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Princeton Time Opinion

October 28, 2011

Letter to editor: Was special meeting democracy at work?

PRINCETON — The City Council of Princeton called a special meeting Monday, Oct. 24, on the proposed purchase of the old First Community Bank building on Mercer Street and the moving of City Hall, the police and fire departments to that location.

The “reported” reason for this special meeting of the City Council was to get “public input” before the council voted on this purchase.

Several people signed up and voiced their opinion. The overwhelming majority of the people voicing their opinion were against the purchase and the move.

One person suggested moving the Police Department to the old library building by the Post Office, where the police would have a clear view of Mercer Street. As a police presence downtown was supposedly the major selling point for this move. Then let the New River College buy the old bank building, as it would be an ideal location for their new campus.

It was obvious to me that three council members, and the mayor, had already made up their minds in an executive meeting behind closed doors, days before this “special meeting.”

I thought this tactic of passing legislation was only used by corrupt politicians in Washington, D. C.

The person who headed up the feasibility study on this plan stated that he did not originally recommend it. He was then sent back to do another report.

There were professional architectural analysis hand outs available on this plan, to include financial facts, that did not support this plan. However, the approving council members and the mayor refused to have these handouts be given out.

The city manager, which is the best city  manager this city has ever had, and will probably ever have, appeared to be against buying the old bank building and move. He stated, “In my opinion the city cannot afford to take this action at this time,” that, “out of the last five years the city ran a deficit for four of them,” that “the city had been spending its (monetary) reserves to balance the budget.”  He stated, “This plan would have a negative impact on the city’s finances for years to come.”

Council members, who later voted with the mayor to approve this unwanted, unnecessary, and ill-advised purchase, listened to the people who opposed the action with some obvious inattention.

There was one very revealing and important fact that came out in this meeting:  The property that the current city hall sits on is some of the most valuable real estate in this part of West Virginia, and some developers would love to get their hands on it.

I had talked to one city councilman, who voted to approve this plan, on the Sunday evening before the Monday meeting in the church yard. He told me then that if 9 out of 10 citizens were against this plan he would vote against it. During this special meeting 9 out of 10, by my count, opposed this action; and yet this councilman voted to approve it.

When I confronted him on this after the meeting he told me that all of the many firemen who had made such passionate pleas against this move were city employees, and were not counted as “citizens” by him for the purpose of opposing this action, even though they lived in the city.

It seemed to me that the only reason for this meeting was to “let the records show” we had a public hearing on the matter.

I think this meeting was just a sham and a complete waste of time.  Especially for those who opposed the purchase and move.

— John E. Dills

Princeton

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