The Greenville City Council has postponed its vote on whether to purchase the old grocery store building at 2601 King St. for $475,000 so that a public forum can be held before a decision is made.
Tuesday night’s council meeting began with the mayor and mayor pro tem complaining about public criticism over the proposed purchase of the old Safeway building downtown, followed by other council members who expressed gratitude for the recent newspaper and social media attention and the “massive” citizen feedback.
The city administration’s failure to release, post or distribute any information about the proposed purchase – so that citizen input could be sought – and the city’s decision to bypass the board overseeing the TIRZ funds to be used for the purchase are among the aberrations mentioned in recent days by several city officials and dozens of readers.
The proposed purchase of the building and 1.34 acres at 2601 King St. for $475,000 is part of a larger project that has been discussed since at least September by council members and city administrators, officials said.
That project would have the city extensively renovate the building – or demolish it entirely and then rebuild – so it could relocate city administration offices and fire department administration offices there, according to an engineering study performed for city officials on the proposal. KSA, the consultant firm that conducted the study, wrote in their report that the total estimated cost of the project being considered would be $3.6 million to $5 million, including the purchase of the property.
The administration, for only the second time in the last decade or more, completely bypassed the TIRZ board, which normally plays a large role in proposing and furthering any proposals to use TIRZ funds as this one does. [Find more information about that and reaction from the TIRZ board chairwoman in Monday evening’s Herald-Banner report, here: https://bit.ly/2rx2CcX.
Both Mayor David Dreiling and Mayor Pro Tem Jerry Ransom at the start of Tuesday night’s meeting lamented the “shameful rhetoric” used amid the public outcry on social media of the past week.
Specifically, Ransom referenced “personally slanderous” and humiliating language among citizens complaining on Facebook about the city’s decision to reschedule the Christmas parade to Tuesday night and those complaining about the recent revelations that the Council has been discussing since September the possibility of buying the former Safeway building and renovating or demolishing it and building new city and fire department offices there.
“We have no respect in our culture locally or nationally when we disagree,” Ransom said. “The rhetoric we see is shameful and often ridiculous.”
Ransom also described in detail several individual residents who have sharply criticized and/or called for the resignations of the mayor and some council members because the individuals are unhappy about recent council actions.
The bulk of the mayor’s opening speech referenced – with inaccuracies – a Herald-Banner report over the weekend detailing the portion of the council’s agenda about the proposed property purchase, and detailing an engineering consultant’s report that was not included in the agenda and which noted dozens of serious problems with the structure that would be costly to repair or demolish.
Dreiling said the engineering assessment report from KSA was “never secret” and that council members were told two weeks ago they could “discuss” the report with anyone. He also questioned why – if the report were secret as citizens have complained – it was published almost verbatim in the Sunday Herald-Banner.
The mayor did not mention Tuesday night that the report was never included in any public document or website and was omitted from the public agenda packet about the proposed grocery store purchase. The mayor also did not offer any explanation as to why the report has never been distributed or included in any public document or website, instead alleging that by giving council members permission two weeks ago to “discuss” the report with others that it had in fact been “released.”
Several members of the public stood up to speak, each of them criticizing the fact that the proposed property purchase had not been brought up for discussion publicly until a few days before the vote, when it could have been as early as Oct. 7, after it was put under contract at the price the city negotiated.
The 90-day contract expires on Jan. 6.
After public comments, council members James Evans, Brent Money, Cedric Dean and Holly Gotcher each expressed gratitude to some degree for the enormous wave of feedback from citizens in recent days.
Gotcher took it a step further, appearing to respond to the complaints by Dreiling and Ransom about the angry comments on social media.
“I don’t know what’s on Facebook, but I don’t blame anybody to exercise their right to free speech,” Gotcher said emphatically. “It is vitally important to the success of government [for citizens] to come in and speak and be heard.”
Gotcher made two motions: first, to postpone any vote on “whether we move to accept the proposed purchase of this property,” and second, to hold a public forum “so everyone can come and hear what we know that maybe they don’t – on the reasons we have made some of these decisions and are interested in this purchase – and in turn the public should have an opportunity to speak and be heard.”
“I support the free and open exchange of information – yes, we should have transparency,” she said, referring to a word several citizens used during public comments. “That way you have the right to be heard and the right to know what we know and express your opinions.”
The motion to postpone the vote was approved by council.
Editor’s Note: Read more about Tuesday night’s council meeting – including information on discussion of a new $12.5 million bond that may be put up for a citywide vote in May to fund the reconstruction of Sayle and Stonewall streets – online Tuesday at HeraldBanner.com. To read the full initial report about the proposed grocery store project, visit https://bit.ly/2SF9gcw.