Friday, February 3, 2012

Clarksville, Tennessee: Council focuses on charter, garbage cans, airport and noise

12:06 AM, Feb. 3, 2012
Written by: Allison Smith, Leaf-Chronicle

The City Charter was yet again up for a vote in an effort to amend the document to allow board and commission members to serve with less fear regarding conflict of interest.

The resolution passed 8 to 5, but that was not a two-thirds majority, which is preferred by the Tennessee General Assembly before consideration is even granted.

“It’s not even a legal requirement that it be done in the beginning, but it is the practice, the custom, and I’ve been told by the staff attorney at the state legislature for the local government committee that they won’t even introduce the bill to amend a private act charter if it hasn’t passed by two-thirds because there’s no point in them spending their time debating it and passing it if, on the back end, it’s not going to pass by two-thirds,” City Attorney Lance Baker said. “There is a legal requirement in the Tennessee Constitution that when it comes back, before any such change affecting a local government entity can take effect, it must be passed by a two-thirds of a local governing body.”

Ward 1 Councilman Nick Steward, Ward 2 Councilwoman Deanna McLaughlin, Ward 8 Councilman David Allen, Ward 10 Councilman Bill Summers and Ward 11 Councilwoman Kaye Jones all voted against the resolution.

The Airport Authority Fiscal Year 2012 budget also took up much of the council meeting.

Summers asked Finance Commissioner Ben Griffin to clarify what the city will be giving to the Airport Authority. Griffin said the county has already advanced the airport $219,000 and since the city has no imminent shortage or inability to pay funds, it would go ahead and match that just to make things even.

“The other thing that we agreed to do, we accountants do our normal thing when bills come in, we process paperwork, which is for us,” Griffin said. “Since we know that they’re a little tight and they’re waiting on this money from the state, that we would go ahead and process their payments the day that we receive them whether it’s on the accounts payable today or not.”

The ordinance to amend the budget passed, with Redd, Jones and Ward 9 Councilman Joel Wallace voting against the amendment.

A new ordinance dealing with the placement of garbage cans, which was introduced by Summers and postponed from the last council meeting, passed 8 to 4.

Ward 12 Councilman Jeff Burkhart did not support the ordinance because of questions about enforcement. He said he understood Summers’ point with the danger of children jumping out from behind a can and almost getting hit by a car.

“If we’re going to write ordinances for everything a kid might do, then we’re going to be here for a long time with a big book,” he said. “I just can’t see that it’s going to be feasible to enforce.”

Redd said he doesn’t believe an ordinance shouldn’t be defeated simply because it’s difficult to enforce.

“Most of the laws that we pass on this body are broken. My street has a 20 mile per hour speed limit sign and almost everyone who goes up and down that street goes 25 to 30 miles an hour,” he said. “If we just look at making laws just on if they’re all enforced each and every time, we wouldn’t be able to make any laws.”

Steward, Burkhart, Ward 5 Councilwoman Candy Johnson and Ward 6 Councilman Marc Harris voted against the ordinance.

Amending the noise ordinance to limit the times loud noise-emitting businesses could work at night was another issue discussed. It was cut short by a motion to postpone because Baker was apprehensive about legal problems that could arise should it pass.

Redd, who introduced the amendment, wanted to protest and discuss the issue further; however, Baker mistakenly believed motions to postpone could not be debated.

Romona Reese, who is a resident complaining of noise coming from a quarry, spoke in the public comments session before the council meeting. She said while it’s true that Winn Materials operated a roller rock crusher at night for years, which only emitted a low hum, the company now uses a jaw crusher to accommodate more material. This, she said, is what’s causing the nocturnal sounds that are keeping her and her neighbors awake.

“The best description I can give you of what residents are listening to, not every night, but at night, the best description I can give you is it’s like a cargo load of combat boots, filled with concrete, clunking around in a clothes dryer all night long,” she said. “You’ve been lead to believe the complaints about the noise from the late-hour quarry activity stems from a recent zoning case, the barge port case, and that simply is not true. There are city records to verify complaints were made before the port’s passage.”

Reese said she has asked Winn Marine Vice President and General Manager Chad Swallows if he and the company would work with the residents and make concessions on this issue, but his answer was no. So Reese and her neighbors sent out letters for help and tried to contact city departments, and more than one told them operations of this type were in violation of the city noise ordinance.

The Clarksville Police Department has even cited Winn Marine with a noise violation, but the court date was moved without the residents’ knowledge or notification, so there were no witnesses and it was dismissed.

Swallows said he would like to recommend a type of committee to decide on the issue that includes representatives of the Industrial Development Board, Chamber of Commerce and residents.

“If you’re truly seeking to provide an equitable, balanced regulation which covers everyone’s needs equally, then I’d like to be part of drafting that regulation,” Swallows said.

He said he feels as if the ordinance unfairly singles out his industry.

“I’m certain and I’m confident if the noise regulation covered all commercial and all manufacturers and it’s measurable, that our business could live within that regulation,” he said. “You have to treat everybody the same.”

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