Thursday’s meeting of the Murfreesboro City Council included a second try for property rezoning, unusually contentious consideration of a playground, and an attempt to move the municipal election date.
Lifestyle Communities LLC again requested rezoning of 20.36 acres along Robert Rose Drive from RS-15 and General Office to a Planned Urban Development District.
The Ohio firm originally requested the rezoning before the city council on March 29, but questions concerning the use of vinyl siding within the Gateway District were raised by state Sen. Bill Ketron, of neighboring Blanton Pointe, who addressed the council during a public hearing on the subject.
Those questions were echoed by Councilman Shane McFarland, who sought assurances that the use of vinyl would be limited to areas not visible to passersby and would be properly maintained.
“Should the siding become dirty or otherwise unclean our onsite staff will clean it using a power washer,” Development Director Chase Miller stated in a letter to the council. “Should the siding become damaged by hail or for any other reason it will be replaced by a qualified installer. Importantly, this is an expense which is typically covered under the insurance policy that we will carry for the property.”
This was seemingly enough to allay council members’ fears, as the request for rezoning passed easily on a 5-1 vote, with Councilman Toby Gilley voting no and Vice Mayor Chris Bratcher abstaining.
Murfreesboro’s Kid’s Castle playground at Old Fort Park has been in need of repair for several years, community volunteer Susan Steen said, who helped to organize the building of the original facility in 1995 by an all-volunteer labor force.
Parks and Recreation Director Lanny Goodwin recommended awarding a contract to build a new playground on the site to low bidder Miracle Inc., a Missouri-based firm, after a lengthy bidding process that included a special committee of community residents considering proposals by several firms.
“We’ve been talking about renovating kids castle for some time, but no one would take on the project,” Parks and Recreation Director Lanny Goodwin said in an interview.
The new playground will cost $300,000, with half the amount provided by a Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation grant.
The recommendation hit a snag, however, when Gilley raised concerns about using out-of-state contractors for the work, and a local bidder on the project accused the Parks and Recreation Department of questionable competitive bidding practices.
“I think the local aspect of our Kids’ Castle is the most important factor for me, so I will have a hard time awarding this to an out-of-state contractor,” Gilley said.
He then motioned to suspend the rules in order to allow Jon Hardesty, of Murfreesboro’s Kids Zone Play Systems, to address the council concerning his accusations of bidding irregularities by the Parks and Recreation Department.
The motion gained unanimous approval, and Hardesty presented a prepared binder of information to the council, as well audience members, detailing his complaints of favoritism to the winning bidder.
Goodwin responded by detailing the process that the committee followed, which included members scoring bidders’ submissions on nine criteria.
He repeatedly assured the committee the contractor had promised to use local vendors for supplies such as concrete, mulch, and gravel, but Gilley noted that those promises are not enforceable.
Steen, who participated in the process as a committee member, also gave an emotional address to the council in support of the recommendation.
“If we had all banded together five to 10 years ago and stepped up to rebuild the Kids’ Castle, we would not be here today,” she said. “But that didn’t happen, and what you have before you tonight is a proposal that represents the hard work of several community members who care about a safe playground for Murfreesboro’s children.”
The recommendation then passed on a 5-1 vote, with Bratcher abstaining and Gilley voting no.
Discussion then moved to a request by Gilley to move Murfreesboro’s municipal election from April to coincide with the August or November general elections.
City Attorney Susan McGannon outlined the process in the city’s charter for doing so, as requested in the council’s previous meeting by Gilley.
“I appreciate the fact that the April municipal election, as a standalone election, provides us insight into how voters feel about how well we are accomplishing our most important job – providing city services such as fire protection, police protection and properly managing the city staff,” Mayor Tommy Bragg said. “There is no guarantee that moving the election will increase voter turnout for the municipal election in any way, and it can only serve to make the election of our independent city council even more partisan.”
Councilman Shane McFarland echoed Bragg’s sentiments concerning partisanship.
“As an accountant, I am inherently conservative, but I don’t think making this body more partisan will serve this city well, and moving the municipal election to coincide with a partisan election will do exactly that,” he said. “Partisanship hasn’t worked in Washington, and I think it will have the same debilitating effect on our city.”
Gilley then motioned for the change and Councilwoman Madelyn Scales-Harris seconded that motion, which failed on a 4-2-1 vote.
Councilmen McFarland, Bragg, Ron Washington, and Doug Young voted no, with Bratcher abstaining.
Gilley and Scales-Harris voted in the affirmative.
McGannon then advised the council on district representation, as Scales-Harris had requested in the council’s previous meeting, detailing the procedure for amending the city’s charter and providing acceptable forms that such a system could take under state and federal law.
She indicated a ballot referendum was the only way to implement such a system but an Attorney General’s opinion would be necessary to clear up some outdated vagaries within the city charter, and Gilley took the opportunity to request a draft of such a referendum and one for an election date change as well, to be presented at the council’s next meeting.