Discussion between the city and family died in March with no settlement reached. It is an issue the city could face again after city leaders approved a resolution on Jan. 12 to treat Johnston Park like any other municipal park. The resolution presented by Councilman George Poe would “allow people to go in it just like they always have.”
According to the resolution, the heirs would be asked to sign an amendment to the restrictions consistent with how the park has been used for a great number of years. At the city’s expense, the back wall would be removed from the amphitheater as requested by the Johnston Park Advisory Board.
The heirs were asked to accept or reject the offer by March 1. Poe said if the heirs rejected the city’s offer, then the city shall deed the property back to the heirs and original owners and cease using it as a city park.
“I still have a problem telling one person they can go in there and another person they can’t,” Poe said.
Family spokesperson Elizabeth Ferguson later informed Casteel by letter of the family’s decision not to accept the offer made by the Cleveland City Council at its Jan. 12 meeting.
The family expressed a desire to see the park restored to “passive, pastoral green space,” which would include removing the amphitheater and gazebo. Those two elements were not part of the original deed.
However, Ferguson, a family member and attorney from Nashville, expressed the family’s agreement to letting the Veterans Day celebration and Evening Shade concert series remain in the park. Though the two events are relatively new in the span of the park’s 74-year history, she stated they should remain, but changes in the deed would be necessary to bring the activities into compliance.
“The Veterans Day celebration and Evening Shade are wonderful new events that, while not originally contemplated by Mrs. Hardwick, draw people into the park,” she wrote. “We want to work with the Council to effectuate a change to the deed to allow these events and also make the city’s conduct legal. We want to end the history of broken promises and threat of reversion. It is important to note, however, that even with this change to the deed to allow the events [in] the park would not be in compliance without further work.”
The park was originally donated in 1937 to the city of Cleveland by Clyde Johnston Hardwick in honor of her parents, John Tucker and Mary Tipton Johnston. Over the years, the park became the site of public functions such as the Veterans Day ceremony and Evening Shade concerts.
The family has complained before. The first complaint came June 23, 1980, through local attorney and Hardwick family member Col. James F. Corn Sr. A second complaint was initiated Oct. 25, 1995, by attorney Wayne Peters of Gearhiser, Peters, Lockaby & Tallant, PLLC. Apparently, in response to the second complaint, city officials negotiated a compromise which led to removal of a fish pond in exchange for keeping the Veterans Day ceremony and Evening Shade concerts at the park. According to the wording of the original deed, if the city violates the restrictions, the park’s ownership will revert to the family heirs. Poe said removing the wall would return the park closer to its original state of being able to see through it from all four surrounding streets.
Southside Redevelopment Task Force
At-large Councilman Richard Banks presented the resolution to colleagues April 30 during the Council’s voting session to have a mechanism in place to redevelop the Whirlpool site as soon as the appliance manufacturer relocated its new plant on Benton Pike.
Banks proposed the Southside Redevelopment Task Force as a way to repay Whirlpool for its commitment to remain in Cleveland.
“When the transition period occurs, there will be many vacant buildings and parking lots on the south side of Cleveland,” he said. “They may sell all that property to a manufacturing company and we might have a manufacturing company moving in the day they move out.”
But, if that doesn’t happen, the city will be faced with policing a site where security lights illuminate empty parking lots and buildings with broken windows.
In addition to the 90-acre Whirlpool site, Banks said there were other opportunities such as the Old Woolen Mill and other sites along the railroad tracks.
“With public and private opportunities, I think this Whirlpool property and surrounding property could be a great asset to Cleveland,” he said. “That’s where Cleveland started.”
City terminates financial contract
At-Large Councilman Richard Banks brought up three impromptu resolutions not on the agenda June 27 that evoked comments from Vice Mayor Avery Johnson, who is normally not inclined to publicly criticize colleagues.
Banks offered resolutions to prevent boards and committees from changing their votes after a lawsuit has been filed in Chancery Court; and to terminate the contract with financial adviser Morgan Keegan and issue requests for proposals. The third item was to explore a $6 million line of credit from the Municipal Bond Fund if Bradley County agrees to pay half of the loan and half of the originating cost of the loan.
“I make a motion that we further explore this with bond funds as far as securing a commitment from the bond fund on the condition that the county agrees to fund half,” Banks said.
Johnson said, “This is the third item I’ve voted on today that’s not on the agenda — the third item. I just wonder why we can’t get this stuff on the agenda and get the information into everybody’s hands. I read it today. It was handed to me when I walked in the door and it’s really good. It’s something I would support wholeheartedly, without any questions, because it involves city and county and it’s a way for us to get the funding at a reasonable rate. But why is it that we have not gotten this information in advance?”
Banks said it was discussed two weeks ago, but he only received the information earlier in the day. Casteel and City Clerk Mike Keith assured Council members the information was forwarded to them as soon as city staff received it.
Estes said it is a slippery slope when the governing body cancels contracts based only on perceived improprieties.
In spite of the disagreement between Council members over impromptu resolutions at the previous meeting, they rebuffed the city manager’s request to reconsider terminating the contract with Morgan Keegan.
Council members voted 5-2 on July 11 not to rescind the June 27 motion to terminate the financial services agreement with Morgan Keegan. Council members Richard Banks, George Poe, Charlie McKenzie, David May and Dale Hughes voted not to rescind the decision. Vice Mayor Avery Johnson and Councilman Bill Estes voted in favor of rescinding the motion.
The discussion of whether or not to change their decision consumed most of the afternoon work session and voting session, despite Poe’s remarks.
“I think we should end the discussion. The contract has been terminated,” Poe said. “I don’t think there is anything else to discuss in light of the way the 2 o’clock session went and what was said. I think we should end it right now. Period.”
Big pile of dirt
The big pile of dirt located near the rear entrance of Blythe Bower Elementary School that became a regular topic of discussion at Council meetings was finally taken down in size.
Public Works Director Tommy Myers proposed the mound of dirt be leveled and turned into a multiuse field to be used by the school and the community.
The dirt was supposed to have been temporarily stored on the site after it was excavated to build the 18th Street detention pond in 2008. The city tried for months to give the dirt away to anyone who would haul it away.
A contractor finally accepted the city’s offer.
The Cleveland City Council authorized a $6 million variable-rate interest loan to purchase property for the proposed industrial park in southwest Cleveland near McDonald.
Securing the loan for the industrial park is still contingent on securing a certificate of purpose from the state and a signed agreement between the city, Bradley County and Cleveland Utilities. The county has still not approved funding for the 343 acres once part of the Bob Zeige farm. The property is now owned by Allan Jones under Jones Lakeland LLC.
At Large Councilman Richard Banks abstained because he and Jones are brothers-in-law.
The 15-year loan is with the Public Building Authority of the city of Clarksville. The beginning rate is 1.28 percent. The city, county and Cleveland Utilities are supposed to each share one-third of the cost of the loan.
Some of the $5 million will be used to purchase the property. The remaining $1 million will be used for due diligence such as soil samples, environmental and cultural heritage studies.
In return for pitching in a one-third share, Bradley County is not expected to repay its share until 2014, after it begins collecting taxes on the Wacker Polysilicon North America plant under construction off Interstate 75 Exit 33 near Charleston.
Cleveland Utilities will get 25 acres tentatively planned for an Electric Division operations center 10 to 15 years in the future.
The property was part of about 1,050 acres incorporated into the Cleveland Urban Growth Boundary in September 2010 and annexed by the city a month later.
First Tennessee Bank
The Cleveland City Council accepted the gift of the First Tennessee Bank building at 775 Raider Drive. Councilman Dale Hughes raised the motion Nov. 28 to accept the building without restrictions from Forrest Preston. Preston used Cleveland Development Enterprises II LLC as a mechanism to make an anonymous donation of the property.
Hughes’ original proposal was to accept the building instead of bouncing the donation around until the offer is withdrawn.
“We needed to let Mr. Preston know how much we appreciate such a wonderful gift,” the 5th District Councilman said. There was concern expressed by other councilmen about accepting the building without a written contract. Hughes restated the motion to include “without restrictions.”
At-Large Councilman George Poe seconded the motion. The Council delayed accepting the donation of the four-story bank building since the offer became public on Oct. 23.
After that, there was concern expressed by some that the city would move its offices to Raider Drive from its downtown location at 190 Church St. N.E. The move is opposed by many downtown business owners and MainStreet Cleveland.
Cleveland City Schools has expressed interest in the building for use as its administrative offices, the STAR center currently located on leased property on North Lee Highway, the Bradley/Cleveland Education Foundation and possibly the teachers’ credit union. The four-story building has 48,000 square feet of space and more than 8 acres of property.
No decision has been made on how to use the building.
Various funding options were discussed during the Cleveland City Council’s fall planning retreat as a way to pay for unfunded projects.
Casteel said the options were presented as ideas and estimates of how fees and revenues could be raised or implemented.
The options included raising property taxes, implementing a wheel tax or including a drainage fee on sewer customers. The funding options followed a discussion of how to pay for unfunded projects such as the 2004 Transportation Plan, Cleveland Municipal Airport, a new public works building, Southeast Tennessee Veterans Home, and the proposed Spring Branch Industrial Park.
The city ’s share of the airport will be about $3.5 million minus the money received from the sale of Hardwick Field. The public works building, veterans home and industrial park are all estimated at $2 million each. Also, the city is losing $900,000 in 2012 and will lose a total of $1.8 million annually after the fire contract with Bradley County expires June 30, 2013.
Casteel said a penny increase in property tax equals about $110,000 and a wheel tax would bring in an estimated $40,000 for each dollar added to the cost of annual registration.
Rowland said Bradley County is discussing the possibility of a wheel tax and the city should be part of it.
At-Large Councilman Richard Banks said, “I think it’s going to be very difficult to get any kind of tax passed in the next year or two in the present economic conditions.”
Casteel said a drainage fee could be collected by Cleveland Utilities just as the sanitation fee is collected.
The utility has about 17,500 water meters inside the city limits and approximately 12,500 outside the city. She said after the floodplain study is completed, there will be some big-ticket items to pay for and the Council needs to be ready to make improvements in the drainage system.