Two newly-elected commissioners, Hollie Berry and Stefanie Dalton, who have no experience in government, worked as a team Wednesday night at their first Red Bank Commission meeting. One nominated the other for mayor who in turn nominated the other for vice mayor. Joined by a vote from the third new commissioner, Pete Phillips, they succeeded in placing Ms. Berry as mayor and Ms. Dalton as vice mayor. Voting in opposition to both nominees, Acting Mayor, and long serving Commissioner Ruth Jeno said she voted against, because both Mayor Berry and Vice Mayor Dalton are new and do not know how government works. “I hope you’ll learn fast,” she said. During the campaign, she said, there were "a lot of rumors and hurt feelings, and I hope you will put aside the differences to work for the good of the city." Both were sworn in by Judge Gary Starnes Wednesday night.
Continuing as a team and bolstered by friends who came to the meeting to speak, the new mayor and vice mayor made attempts to suspend a Request for Proposal for the property on Dayton Boulevard where the old Red Bank Middle School had been. They wanted to add the requirement that proposals must include a green space. Earlier this year, the National Park Service rescinded the agreement that had been made in 2011 with the city regarding that land.
Mayor Berry said that her number one concern with the land conversion agreement was that three acres be preserved and that there is no requirement for this in the current RFP. Vice Mayor Dalton’s concern with the RFP was the same - a lack of green space for the use of citizens of Red Bank. She made a suggestion to renegotiate with the federal government before moving forward with the land conversion.
City Manager Tim Thornbury replied that since the change to the agreement, made recently by the NPS, property in the land conversion is now restricted to be 14 acres all in one location and that it be contiguous. It cannot be piece-meal, he said.
Green spaces may be included in some of the proposals that the city receives from developers, said Commissioner Jeno while suggesting to wait and see what comes back before taking any action. The commission has the right to turn down a plan if it feels it is not suitable, she said.
That property was part of a land swap 10 years ago, known as a “conversion.” An agreement had been made with the federal government, to use three acres of the old school property for a park, plus other property in Stringer’s Ridge Park as a hiking trail, to replace ballfields where a new middle school could be built. This was the way that Red Bank could keep the school in the city limits.
In rescinding the original agreement, instead of allowing separate properties to be used as a substitute for the previous ball fields, the NPS is now requiring 13-14 acres of contiguous property. That much land has been a challenge for the small city to find.
With the change made by the NPS, the three acres of old school property was released from the agreement, allowing for an RFP from developers for the entire parcel. That RFP was made available to developers several months ago and proposals will be submitted to the city on Jan. 6.
Commissioner Jeno said that the RFP was prepared by City Attorney Arnold Stulce and City Manager Thornbury according to protocol. When proposals are received, they will be given to the planning commission, then to the board of commissioners followed by public meetings. She said that it would be unfair to the developers who have spent much time and money doing market analysis and research and who have been working with architects. She said it would be like a slap in the face and would be a bad business move. "No one would trust us in the future and it would be very foolish," she added. "It would be in our best interest to wait until Jan 6 and see what comes in." The commission has the right of refusal, she said to the new mayor and vice mayor. "It just does not make sense to retract the RFP now," she said.
A resident of the city spoke up saying that the city already has several green spaces, some are just not in very visible locations. She said that it would be responsible to listen to experienced, long-time elected officials and to respect the developers’ time and the money they have spent working on RFPs. She said it would be rude to make changes now and that it would be in the best interest of everyone to listen to each other.
With Commissioner Phillips saying that he saw no advantage in withdrawing the RFP, the vote to suspend the Request for Proposal on the middle school property failed with only Mayor Berry and Vice Mayor Dalton voting in favor.
Two appointments were made to the planning commission, Kate Skonnert for a two-year term and Nigel Luther for four years. Rufus Smith was reappointed to the Board of Zoning Appeals.
Past Vice Mayor Tyler Howell said he had been pleased to serve the city, citing accomplishment that had been achieved during his four years on the commission, including no tax increases, improved parks, newly paved main and secondary roads, new sidewalks on Ashland Terrace and the south end of town and $5 million in upgrades to the sewer system. Much new construction and renovations have taken place, property values have increased and the commission successfully protected the city from a predatory business, he said. “I wish the incoming commission the very best of luck,” he said.
Outgoing Commissioner Carol Rose, who did not run for re-election, said she joined the commission when John Roberts was mayor who “got the ball rolling” to get the city where it is today. She said she is proud of the aesthetic changes that have been made in the past four years which contributed to people and businesses moving to Red Bank. She is also proud that the C3 zone was established to protect residents and neighborhoods on the north end of the city. She praised City Manager Thornbury for his work in the dual role of city manager and public works director. His depth of knowledge cannot be replaced, she said.
A change in the city’s administration is that after working for Red Bank for 32 years, City Recorder Ruthie Rohen is retiring. She has done most every job in the city, said Commissioner Jeno, saying she could basically, run the city.
“She’s a big part of what the city is today,” said the city manager who has worked with her throughout the years.