Thursday, September 21, 2006

Council Questions

Questions abounded at Wednesday’s regular City Council meeting.

Residents wanted to know why there was so much confusion over vital flood damage legislation that was brought up at the last minute.

Council members went into an unusual 45-minute executive session to discuss undisclosed “emergent” issues. In open session, council members also asked for explanations of various administration decisions.

North Avenue Historic District merchants asked why they could not get answers on proposed redevelopment of the blocks in which they had invested so much money.

Nine months into the new administration, resident Tony Rucker asked why there was such a paucity of information on the city’s local cable channel and web site.

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs was not present to hear the concerns of the residents and merchants, but her cabinet members attempted to answer some.

Public Works and Urban Development Director Jennifer Wenson Maier said the flood damage information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency came to the city six months ago, but not in a form that spelled out what action the governing body had to take. The federal agency requested acceptance of flood plain maps, she said, but did not specify other legislation, she said. Neither she nor City Engineer Carl Turner was aware of implications for development in flood zones, she said.

The issue on Monday was that the Planning Board as well as the council had to approve the flood damage ordinance, but that the Planning Board could only promise to endorse the ordinance, as its schedule called for approval after the Sept. 20 deadline. However, the item is not on the Sept. 21 Planning Board agenda, but may be approved Oct. 4.

The North Avenue issue involves merchants and investors who took a chance on the troubled block across from the main train station that was marred by decay and neglect. Having created a new and thriving business district, the merchants want to know why they might be replaced by a new redevelopment plan that may call for their removal and relocation.

Ruth Carrion, owner of a family investment project at 151 North Avenue, claimed her plans for redevelopment were thwarted by city decisions.

“I feel like I was denied my rights as a citizen of the United States,” she said through an interpreter. The family claimed to have invested $500,000 in their project.

Before the meeting, Plaintalker asked various merchants what they thought.

Randy Briggs of XPress Mart said his family’s investment in the convenience store was up in the air.

Merchants have been courted both by Latino activists and party politicians in days since the controversy broke.

“People are walking up and down the street talking about it,” he said.

At the meeting, Flor Gonzalez, president of the Latin American Coalition, said “The business community wants to be part of development , but not in a token way.”

Administration officials claimed that development issues were open to all and that it was a “public process,” apparently meaning citizens could keep track of stuff by checking legal notices.

On Rucker’s concerns, McGee claimed the city web site was better than what was offered last year, but resident John Campbell noted McGee was not here last year.

Campbell, a longtime observer of the political scene, said the administration so far has not been able to deal with city problems such as tree debris left over from summer storms.

“I never saw bosses that can’t get subordinates to do what they were getting paid to do,” Campell said.

--Bernice Paglia


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