The Williamson City Council met in special session to approve a letter of support for a pending grant application and to set a special levy election (see related story) on Jan. 5.
The letter of support was requested at the Dec. 15 meeting of the council by the Greater Williamson Community Development Corporation. The GWCDC is in the process of applying for a $100,000 planning grant. As part of the application procedure, the agency wanted to demonstrate wide community support and to include letters of support with the city being one of those supporters.
The item was tabled for a work session in an effort to obtain more information after several questions were raised concerning specifics of the grant including fiscal management, project implementation and memberships of a project selection committee and core team. However, as the work session was being slated, it was changed to a special meeting to allow action to be taken immediately.
An almost hour-long debate mostly involving Williamson Mayor Charlie Hatfield, Williamson Health and Wellness Center CEO Donovan “Dino” Beckett and GWCDC representative Jenny Hudson ensued. However, the discussion devolved as Hatfield and Beckett hurled accusations at each other about the Williamson Memorial Hospital, financial management of previous projects and grants, broadband implementation, for former Main Street program and the Mountaineer Hotel among others.
Hudson tried to bring the discussion back to the topic at hand saying: “With all due respect, this is about moving forward. The question is how can we work together in the future?”
Councilman Mike Casey, Ward Four, also interjected, “Enough of this bantering back and forth.”
Another brief dialogue stemmed in response to questions raised by Councilman Stuart Hight, Ward Two, about how the planning information would be used.
According to Hudson, the purpose of the U.S. Economic Administration Planning Grant is to “utilize funding to support economic development planning efforts in Williamson,” and to later “consider applying for implementation funds in the future.”
The grant will include assessments such as:
• Emergency planning;
• Business market analysis;
• Building inventory and real estate analysis;
• Street use and parking studies; and
Hudson also presented the Council with a formal document seeking its input concerning members of the selection committee and community stakeholders who should become part of the proceedings.
“We are offering you a planning study,” she told the Council. “There has to be some trust and collaboration. This won’t work without the City.
“How will this hurt the City?” Hight asked. “We still have the option to reject any plans we do not like. They (the GWCDC) will not be taking anything away from us. In fact, we will have (a study) to back us up on other projects we want to do.”
“We are turning over the choice of projects to the CDC,” he said. “They will control the money and money controls the projects. (The Council’s) power will be usurped. A letter of support could be considered a green light of what they are doing.”
Casey made a motion to approve the request and grant a letter of support to GWCDC. The measure resulted in a split 3-1 vote. Casey, Hight and Councilman Joseph Bucci of Ward One each voted in favor of the motion. Hatfield cast the sole vote in opposition. Councilman Ralph Hall, who represents Ward Three, was not in attendance because of work obligations.