Sunday, July 22, 2018

Public outcry dominates county board meeting

Commish meeting June 28
Johnson County commissioner Ernie Henshaw, far left, debates with commissioners Fred Meyer and Phil Stewart over the land the two are proposing to purchase for the construction of a new county government building in the Vienna Industrial Park on the east side of town.

By Lucas Wright

While there was no mention on the agenda of last meeting’s purchase of land, the Johnson County board meeting was filled with public comment on the issue.

Not a single comment made from the public was in favor of moving the courthouse off of land on or adjacent to the square.

To open the public comment session, Chairman Phil Stewart made the point to say the board had been on the topic for an extended period of time.

“This was not a rushed decision we made on this property,” Stewart said. “We’ve been talking about this for three or four years, where we were going and what we were going to do.”

Stewart failed to mention the decision to purchase the property in the industrial park was made after less than 20 minutes of deliberation, a point the public tried to reiterate in comments.

In Stewart’s opening remarks he mentioned prices being “10 times” what the properties were worth at the possible sites the board had looked into. When a citizen asked if the board members had looked into any of the prices within the last month, Fred Meyer replied: “Do you want us to check the prices every month if the prices come down or what?”

A proposal was made soon after on a lot located near Subway at a significant cost reduction compared to the already board-approved lot. The proposed lot was offered at $50,000 an acre, but was soon shot down by Meyer, who called upon his already-approved proposal saying it kept money in the county by giving some to Johnson County 2000.

Larry Mizell, president of Johnson County 2000, was on hand to clarify points made about Johnson County 2000, including the appraisal process upcoming and his board’s position on the topic.

“Johnson County 2000 board voted to support that they felt like the new county offices building should be on or adjacent to the square,” Mizell said. “We also respect the fact that we aren’t making the decision where it goes, and when they asked if we would sell that, we priced it to the county.”

Mizell also pointed out the money the Johnson County 2000 board would receive in the transaction would be put into developing the land in the industrial park to further accommodate business. He tossed around the idea of putting in a frontage road for easier access to the area.

The most emotional address of the meeting came from 94-year-old Rosemary Orr, a long-time resident of Johnson County who was more than displeased to see the board voting to leave the square.

“Why would you want to take the Johnson County square, which has been here as the seat of justice since 1812, and move it off the square,” Orr said. “The courthouse is on the historical register. It is the only courthouse in the state that has been in continuous operation this long.”

Orr brought up the point of having the accompanying historical aspects of the library and the honor roll located just across from the courthouse.

Orr’s point was echoed by community member Max Hook who said he had high hopes for the board plans prior to the meeting, and that he spoken to a majority of people who wanted the facilities to stay on the square.

“Many towns who have had this opportunity with an interstate nearby are moving out toward the interstate. It would make us unique if we would stay (on the square) and use the county offices as an anchor for the square,” Hook said. “It would help eventually increasing business, residences, possibly including apartment buildings if the city could get involved more with encouraging the building of apartments.”

Hook highlighted that people who come to the Vienna area are desperate for places to live, giving the city the opportunity to build in order to fill the need, and profit off the opportunity. Hook also pleaded with the board to take the time and hear from the main officials in the town on the issue, along with doing the proper research needed for the issue.

Further following the seemingly popular public opinion, Vienna Mayor Jon Simmons did not shy away from making his point heard and was just short of yelling by the end of his comment.

“I bet you 80 or 90 percent of the people in this county want it right here on this square,” Simmons said. “We’re begging you to keep it right here in the middle of our city.”

These comments were just a sampling of the community’s outrage over the subject, further shown by emails, and letters sent to Robin Harper-Whitehead’s county clerk office. Along with the handful of letters, Harper-Whitehead said there were over 200 comments and posts on Facebook arguing the board’s decision. One letter that was of interest to commissioner Henshaw was one that had only word on it: “RESIGN.” There was no indication at who the letter was directed to on the board.

The county clerk’s office was the recipient of the many comments as a direct result of Mike McMahan’s letter to the editor in the June 15th issue of The Vienna Times.

Other than the issue of the placement of county facilities, a few other points of old business were dealt with.

The biggest of those issues being the replacement of 911 signs on county roads throughout the county. The problem has been ongoing for many meetings according to Henshaw and is something to be dealt with immediately. At this point in time, the county is in a bind with lack of funds to deal with replacing the signs, but the board has postponed the issue to the next meeting to give the 911 officials time to gather data on possible prices.

The board expressed concern of the county being liable for a possible lawsuit in the event 911 officials cannot reach a destination due to missing signs. Along with this, officers could also be held liable for missing roads on calls, if an incident were to occur where a sign is not.

The board resolved a public road dispute, brought to their attention by county resident DD Adams during the meeting. The road brought to attention had never been in the possession of the county according to past records and could not be acted upon because of the fact, to the dismay of Adams.

A motion was passed to approve the resolution brought in front of the board on the topic of the bicentennial celebration to come in 2018. The resolution includes a possible payment of $250 at a later date.

In new business, the board passed a prevailing wage ordinance as expected. Ordinances like this are usually passed multiple times a year.

One of the more worrisome reports coming in was from the air quality report on the offices located on the square. The offices had dealt with mold and air quality over the recent past, but a report showed the air now contains <1% poor quality air. Due to the good report, the facilities will now be taking down their signs making the public aware of the presence of mold.

The final bit of new business passed by the board was the re-appointment of Floyd Koehler to the Johnson County Housing Authority Board. Koehler will serve a five-year term.

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One comment

  1. Wm. David Oliver

    As a registered voter of Johnson County, I think the Commissioners are making a HUGE mistake in moving the county offices away from the square. It will certainly determine my vote for next Commissioners. Keep it close to the square—-the façade can be made to blend right in….to match the existing look.