A city meeting tonight will include a presentation involving a recently formed citizens group, which initially was barred from the agenda.
Gene Clark, the treasurer of Citizens for a Transparent Mount Airy, is scheduled to lead the presentation before the Board of Commissioners, focusing on the Spencer’s redevelopment project downtown, during the meeting beginning at 7 p.m. This is expected to include its own alternate proposal for expanding the Barter Theatre on the former Spencer’s property.
The group has been critical of recent plans for the city government’s financial involvement in the project. This includes paying lease costs for the Barter of $540,000 to $580,000 annually for five years and supplying another $2 million in operating support for the theater during that period.
However, Clark — whose efforts have included a Monday trip to Abingdon, Virginia, where the Barter Theatre is headquartered — almost didn’t make it onto tonight’s agenda.
Based on recent emails back and forth between Clark and various municipal officials, he initially made a request to City Manager Barbara Jones to be put on the agenda.
It was relayed to City Attorney Hugh Campbell, who responded to Clark in a follow-up email that council rules do not allow items to be added to the agenda by Jones per such requests.
Campbell told Clark that “the public does not have an automatic right to be placed on the agenda. You are welcome to speak on any topic during the public comment period offered at the beginning of each meeting.”
The attorney further advised that if Clark, a local businessman, had information about a specific industrial or business project, he should contact local economic-development personnel.
“On the other hand,” Campbell added, “if you are wanting to discuss general economic-development activities or policies and prefer to present your ideas in a forum other than the public comment period, I would recommend that you contact the mayor, your commissioner or the city manager to share your thoughts because this might lead to an opportunity to be placed on the agenda.”
During his attempts at that, Clark also contacted Mayor David Rowe last week and pointed out that other organizations or individuals had been allowed agenda time recently. He cited issues involving the Shepherd’s House homeless shelter, Reeves Community Center and an Inman Circle homeowner plagued by erosion.
“He basically told me I had to go through a commissioner (to make the agenda),” Clark said earlier this week of the mayor’s response. “And I did with (Commissioner) Jim Armbrister.”
This was in keeping with a procedure approved unanimously by the commissioners in March, whereby any elected city official — including the five commissioners and mayor — can ask to have an item added to the agenda for a specified meeting. This must occur at least five working days beforehand.
Among other business at tonight’s meeting, the city board will:
• Consider approval of a memorandum of understanding that involves plans for Mount Airy to supply water to Pilot Mountain;
• Discuss “massive” requests for public records recently made to City Hall through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the costs involved;
• Receive an update on codes enforcement in Mount Airy;
• Hold a closed session on matters related to economic development and the attorney-client privilege.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.