With a record-breaking 20-minute board meeting last week, Wendell commissioners cut their meeting surprisingly short by stalling on two of the three agenda items.
Although the meeting’s agenda was already brief, discussion on two of the three items was cut short due to the absence of Commissioner Sam Laughery, who had placed the items on the agenda and was out of town.
The meeting started with a public comment by new Wendell Middle School principal Rob Morrison, and by 7:15 p.m., commissioners were already giving their final remarks. Normally, meetings run at least an hour, often longer.
The three items placed on the week’s agenda included reviewing and approving a facade grant for improvement of an empty property on Old Wilson Road, a presentation of property inventory downtown, and discussion on new downtown boundaries proposed by the economic development board.
While the first item was approved, commissioners stumbled over the last two items, both of which had been discussed in prior board meetings.
The second item was the presentation of a list of the condition of downtown properties, both residential and commercial along with the owners’ names and the assessed values.
Town planning director David Bergmark presented them along with a list of potential incentives and general statutes for the town to investigate for improving their condition.
After his presentation, he asked for direction from the town board.
Laughery had pushed in the past few board meetings to pressure property owners to improve the condition of their buildings. But, since Laughery wasn’t at the meeting, board members hesitated.
“I don’t know what you want us to do with that, I don’t that we have the power to take someone’s property and mandate to them what they do with it,” Mayor Tim Hinnant said. “I’m a little concerned with direction. I don’t want to overstep our bounds as far as a government. I didn’t make this request – can you tell me what we’re going to be doing with this information?”
Bergmark responded that he didn’t know yet either.
“Commissioner Laughery asked for this to be placed, we might need to wait and see,” he said.
Commissioner Ginna Gray agreed.
Special interest in committee?
After commissioners pushed off any further deliberation of the matter, discussion turned to the downtown retail overlay district that the economic development committee has chewed on for months and commissioners have pushed off in the past.
Hinnant re-emphasized his concerns that the district would increase taxes and discourage some types of companies from coming to a business-starved area. In addition, he was concerned about bias.
“I’m not sure why we put this back on (the agenda),” he said. “But one of the reasons I have reservations with it, I spoke with a member of the economic development committee and at one time ... his business was being looked at and considered.
“He gave staff a response that he would be for it as long as his business would be excluded from it. I’m definitely against special interest. ... That tells me it’s something we do not need to be discussing tonight.”
Gray, who said she felt neutral toward the district, agreed.
“I would never be in favor of something that excludes one group,” she said.
The mayor added that since Laughery had placed the item on the agenda, they could wait to discuss it even further, and the board moved to table it.
During commissioners’ comments at the end of the meeting, Commissioner John Boyette emphasized his regret at the stalling of town business.
“I know Commissioner Laughery brought them (the agenda items) up and that’s fine, and he’s all about business, and I think we need that,” Boyette said. “But I don’t think we can gloss over some of these things because he’s not here. He’s not the board, we all are.
...If this town is going to survive and grow, everyone is going to have to be invested. ... This is a team effort. I’m looking forward to tackling some of these issues, whether Mr. Laughery’s here or not.”