BY STACIE LETT CAIN
The Statesville City Council on Monday decided to revisit a pair of controversial decisions and again voted to change course on a matter that it — and a previous council — had already decided.
This time it was new Councilwoman Amy Lawton who pulled the council backwards as she moved to revisit the issue of the parking deck in downtown Statesville. The council previously approved a $3.8 million plan for the new parking deck behind the city-owned Vance Hotel.
When this issue was previously discussed and passed by the council, there was a gallery full of supporters for the building of the parking deck. The issue was not on Monday’s meeting agenda. The project was brought up under “other business,” when no members of the public were present for the discussion and vote.
“I’m just concerned that the developer who is looking at the Vance Hotel is interested in putting in their own parking deck and if we go ahead with our plans it would discourage the development deal for the Vance,” Lawton explained. “I also am concerned that we just don’t have the financing for this right now.”
But having had more than ample discussion prior to the previous vote, other council members were frustrated by going back on what a previous council had decided.
“We have beat this horse to death, we heard citizens voicing opinions in support of the parking deck, we have heard all of these arguments before and we voted to proceed with this already,” Councilman William Morgan explained. “We need to honor our word and move forward instead of backwards.”
But Lawton, seemingly pulled to the side of opposition of the parking deck, was joined by Steve Johnson, Jap Johnson and John Staford, those who originally opposed the deck in the last vote. The reconsideration was granted, and then followed by a motion by Steve Johnson to rescind the contracts awarded on the parking deck.
Council member Doris Allison voiced her frustration and disappointment with the decision, arguing that relying on the possible development of the Vance was a mistake.
“If the Vance Hotel fails, then what happens?” she asked. “People are making decisions based on this man doing a parking deck and we have no idea if this is going to happen or not. That leaves us right back where we started.”
But Staford said it was the right decision, explaining that the city didn’t really need that many new parking spaces and that lots can be paved over on land already owned by the city in the vicinity of the civic center.
“We aren’t talking about that many spaces and we have more than enough land to pave over for additional lots,” he said. “I believe a parking deck is nothing we need to invest in right now.”
The vote to rescind the contract was a tie with Steve Johnson, C.O. Johnson, Staford and Lawton voting to rescind. Mayor Kutteh voted with that group to break the tie.
Effort to resume plans for municipal building in South Statesville fails
The council also revisited the proposed Municipal Services Building planned for South Statesville.
The initial plan was to construct a new police headquarters, Statesville Fire Department station and Iredell County EMS base. But council members subsequently decided not to include space for EMS and the SFD in the project.
Staford, however, explained that at no time was he aware that the new building would be used solely as a police department.
Discussion this time centered on the placement of fire services, concerns about police and fire response times and the fear of substandard first responder protections.
Even though Police Chief David Addison explained that patrol units are working in the community once their shifts start, some council fixated on an increase of response times. They also worried there would be no protection in some areas.
But in the end it wasn’t response times that were the biggest concern. It was the bottom line.
“This isn’t a black and white issue — it’s a black and red issue,” Staford explained. “We need to use our funds for the most important issues facing our city.”
Allison fired back, saying it was clear that investing in the south side of the city is obviously not one of those “important issues.”
“We are using fear here to guide this issue in a direction some want it to go,” Allison explained. “Mr. (Jap) Johnson is using fear to try to tell us that we won’t have police protection if we put the police station in South Statesville. I believe the people of Statesville have common sense and they won’t fall for this crap any more. You need to vote your conscience and we need to move on.”
Morgan, in an effort to once again put this issue on the right road, made a futile attempt at making a motion to proceed with the project as originally approved by the previous council and the motion failed 5 to 3, with Morgan, Allison and Frederick Foster voting in support.
“The way this council has done today — we are all accountable for our decisions,” Allison said voicing frustration. “We are set back 25 years. You, as a council, just told South Statesville that they aren’t worth investing money into and I hope they are listening to what you are saying.”
Staford justified his opposition to the municipal building, stating that there was no reason to honor a previous council’s vote.
“I don’t think we need to honor a previous council’s vote,” he said. “I think this is an independent voting body, and we are charged with being good stewards of taxpayer money.”
But Morgan questioned Staford’s reasoning, reminding the council that a $5 million airport project was approved by council without a budget provision or even a plan for that money.
“I just want to point that out,” Morgan said. “It seems that there were not these concerns surrounding a possible tax increase for that project.”