Green Forest council may hear lots of discussion at Monday's meeting

Friday, February 8, 2013

GREEN FOREST -- Council members will likely face a light agenda and heavy discussion at Monday's meeting of the Green Forest City Council -- with only two issues vying for consideration.

The first of these is a proposed update to the city's employee handbook, which Green Forest Mayor Charles Reece said had not been reviewed in nearly a decade.

The second matter -- and the one which is likely to attract more attention -- is a discussion of $212,059.50 worth of improvements to Phillips Avenue, approved by Council last month at a hastily called meeting.

The project, which would include construction of a landscaped median and re-curbing and paving of the street, is to be paid for in part with grant money. However, the greater part of the funding -- $127,000 -- would come from city coffers.

The project has drawn the ire of some local residents, including Pat Villines, who Reece said had asked to be placed on Monday's agenda.

Reece originally said city council members would decide whether to allow Villines to speak. However, when asked if he was implying that council had the authority to prevent her from doing so, he clarified that they might only place restrictions on the time she was allotted.

"Some of the council members are a little tired of a couple people coming and constantly harping on the same thing," he said.

He added, "I'm gonna let her get up and chat, but we're not going to let her go on forever."

Villines has addressed council on the matter before -- as have fellow residents Bill Emerson and Pat Bishop, who have disparagingly dubbed the project the "Charles Reece Parkway."

Their collective argument, in brief, is that the work is unnecessary and prohibitively costly. The project's critics have given an especially lukewarm reception to the proposed installation of a landscaped median on the street -- calling it wasteful.

However, a few points seem to have been lost in the discussion. First, about 87 percent of the city's cost in the project would go toward re-curbing and paving the street, and less than $20,000 would go toward the much-maligned median. The rest of the funding would come from a grant.

Second, all of the city's share would be drawn from the street fund, which is earmarked by the state for road work and cannot legally be used for anything else. In brief, city officials could not use the money, say, to buy a fire truck.

Beyond the issue of funding, however, the project's critics have also criticized officials' decision to award the contract for the work at a specially called meeting that very few residents were aware of.

The meeting was announced only a couple hours before the 3:30 start time, just within the two-hour's notice required by law, and Bishop and Emerson were the only residents to attend.

At the meeting, Emerson spoke at length and in earnest, arguing that city officials' justification of the project -- that it was necessary to discourage speeding on the thoroughfare -- was inadequate. He downplayed that problem and suggested the city could solve it more economically by installing a few speed bumps.

Council members responded that the work was also meant to beautify the city and, in turn, encourage civic pride and economic growth.

Emerson and Bishop have also lamented that the money could be better used for other purposes. In a letter to the editor submitted this week, Bishop suggested eight -- some of which were not feasible given legal restrictions on the use of street funds.

For the rest of Bishop's suggestions -- and several other Green Forest resident's comments -- see the opinions section in today's paper.

City Council will meet at 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 11, in City Hall, located just south of the intersection of South Springfield Avenue and Main Street, in Green Forest. For more information, call 870-438-5568.

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