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Mayor/Council respond to ‘transparency’ charges

Tia Lynn Ivey News

The Madison Mayor and City Council fired back against accusations of secrecy and lack of transparency during Monday evening’s regular meeting.

Cathy Andrews approached the council, claiming to speak on behalf of numerous city residents, criticizing the recent approval of a C4 Text Amendment that paves the way for Love’s Truck Stop at the Highway 83 intersection with Amtico Road in Madison.

After chastising the council for approving a rezoning the Foster-Thomason Miller House property to accommodate a 19-house subdivision, Andrews took aim at the council’s public notice process for zoning and development applications.

“At the same time, it would seem you go out of your way to keep the public in the dark about other zoning issues that will no doubt have an enormous impact on us. How is it that no one, not even the most vigilant of us…were completely unaware?’ asked Andrews. “We watch your every move—but we were unaware until it was too late for the text amendment to zoning allowing truck stops and travel plazas in the C4 Corridor. You claim that it was advertised, and that it was, but other than that, there was nothing. Why was it done so discreetly? No one, and I do mean no one, in the audience at that meeting, even knew what the amendment was for. Do you all not consider it your responsibility as stewards of the community to bring things as momentous and invasive as a major truck stop chain coming into Madison to the attention of the public in a very public way? I don’t understand how or why this new truck stop, which will unalterably change the one remaining bucolic entrance to our town, was or is being completely allowed to slip on by us? It seems to me—and forgive me for being forward about this—but the best interests of the public are often set aside in this town in favor of lining the pockets of a small group of profit-minded individuals and I, for one, am very tired of it.”

Madison Mayor Fred Perriman asked Andrews to remain at the podium, prepared with counter remarks to Andrew’s criticisms.  Perriman read a lengthy list of public notices concerning the C4 Text Amendment released from the city in the form of online available staff reports, planning and zoning agendas, city council agendas, and newspaper legal advertisements during the two-month period prior to the city council’s vote approving the text amendment.

In the March 22 issue of the Morgan County Citizen, an article about the planned truck stop appeared at the top of page A2.

“It was very publicized. Staff did their job, if you didn’t read the paper, you didn’t do your job,” shot back Perriman.

City Manager David Nunn jumped in to defend the city’s procedural standards.

““How can we know that how you didn’t know? I can’t help you with that,” said Nunn. “I’m sorry, but I am frustrated. I have been at this for 30 years, and I never figured out how to tell the public other than through public notice that is required.”

“The state law is very plain. The zoning procedure law says we do it a certain way and that is the way it’s done. We cannot do any more or less than that,” said Nunn.

“I’m sorry you didn’t catch it, it was very plain in the newspaper. Planning staff or city staff was not trying to keep anything from anyone.”

City Planner Monica Callahan pointed out that state law only requires 15 days of public notice before a text amendment can be approved by the council, but that the city gave nearly two months of notice.

“I was disappointed, too. I love that bucolic entrance, but the text amendment went through the proper process,” said Callahan. “I was actually surprised there was no one at the Planning Commission meeting other than the applicant and the press. But let me be clear. This was not a city-sponsored text amendment. This was an applicant-sponsored text amendment. We don’t know who is going to pay attention to which ones and so we did the normal thing. We don’t specialize out for any specific applicant. And the process was so that the public could have a public hearing this time. The applicant went through the process and nobody spoke up—even at a city council meeting that was as full as this meeting,” said Callahan as she pointed to the packed audience.

Councilwoman Chris Hodges urged Andrews to sign up for the City’s text alert program, which sends notifications to citizen’s phones about applications under consideration.

Andrews insisted the public notification process was insufficient and warned the City of Madison was going the way of “Conyers and other cities in the area” that are being destroyed by development.

“This issue has already been resolved,” said Perriman. “We aren’t going to solve anything by going back and forth like this. But we thank you for your comments.”

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