Thursday, May 23, 2024

114 West Elm Street
Graham, NC 27253
Ph: 336.228.7851

Sesquicentennial Park, part 2

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First, the good news.  Graham mayor Jennifer Talley has stated, publicly and unequivocally, that she has no personal interest in ultimately buying the land on the northwest corner of Court Square where the Sesquicentennial Park now stands or in building or owning a structure there. We had speculated about that possibility in a previous editorial with which she publicly disagreed.  [See separate story in this edition.]

Now, the bad news: Talley is nonetheless still on a crusade to raze the 25-year-old park celebrating the county’s and Graham’s 150-year history in favor of selling it off for commercial development.

It continues to be our judgment that her position, and that of sympathetic fellow councilmen, is inexplicable.

Yes, the park apparently needs some work to shore up the foundation of the brick floor.

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However, what was originally a $50,000 cost estimate (although we’re not sure what it was based on) this week has been summarily escalated by the mayor to $200,000, even $300,000.  Talley’s figures are based, primarily it seems, on the fact she doesn’t want to spend anything on fixing the park – so she just tosses off absurdly high numbers to scare others to her viewpoint.

But the council shouldn’t consider demolishing the park just because it needs some work, any more than it would tear down city hall or some other city structure just because it might need a new roof or other repairs. The city spends millions on maintenance and repairs for other city-owned properties all the time.

We see no rational reason it shouldn’t do the same thing here. And how the option of demolishing the park and selling the property entered the discussion is still shrouded in mystery.

We keep trying to figure out what we’re missing.  It seems like there’s an unspoken agenda of some sort behind the scenes.  Here are two more possibilities, especially since one of them was alluded to during the discussion this week.

Is this really a desire by the mayor and some council members to get rid of the venue where protesters often gathered, especially during 2020?  Inasmuch as this is an election year, the possibility of renewed protests seems plausible.

Additionally, we know that the mayor and others have expressed concerns about the increase in homeless people  roaming Graham’s streets (often brought, according to the mayor’s previous pronouncements, on Link Transit buses from Burlington); they sometimes end up in the park, occasionally sleeping on benches there.

These are not sufficient justifications for razing the park, in our judgment.

We also note a few glaring omissions in the council’s discussion about the park.

The city has an engineering firm on retainer, but as best we can tell (at least there’s been no mention of it), they have not been asked to look at, evaluate, or make recommendations about the park floor.

The notion that the city would have to “dig up” the entire corner lot is also a rather simplistic and perhaps outdated idea that doesn’t incorporate the possibility of using more modern technology to shore up the sinking foundation.

Now a caveat: we’re not engineers, by any stretch, but we’re aware that for other foundation issues there are a host of more modern solutions that might address the problems – and at a far lower costs than the hundreds of thousands of dollars Graham’s mayor started throwing around this week.

For instance, one of the most common methods is the use of helical piers, which, from our understanding, would not require the total removal of all above-ground materials – i.e., bricks, walls, or the brick gazebo. It’s a more surgical approach that many homeowners and businesses have employed to address sagging foundations.

There are some local companies specializing in this approach and – who knows – perhaps they’d be willing to donate some services or at least do the work for a discounted rate. Companies have stepped up before: the steel beams of the current gazebo were donated by Buckner Steel 25 years ago when the park was built.

At a minimum, we bet they might offer some free estimates of the potential cost of repairs.

There’s also always the favorite, frequent government methodology of a phased approach to fixing the foundation.

And local governments are always searching and applying for various and sundry grants to finance all sorts of thing they don’t want to spend their own money on.

But fundamentally, we just don’t understand the mayor’s newfound obsession with abolishing the park, much less selling off the property in hopes of attracting what she terms a “boutique hotel.”

The mayor also takes umbrage at this newspaper’s critique that this issue came “out of nowhere” when it emerged on the agenda of the March 12 city council meeting.

Oh, she assures, this was discussed at an earlier budget meeting of the city council.

As we tracked it down, it seems she’s referring to a December 18 special city council meeting.  Since it doesn’t take much space, we’re reprinting the agenda of that meeting nearby.  It was scheduled as a six-and-a-half hour meeting.  Dear reader, see if you can find any reference to the park on the agenda?

No?  We couldn’t either.

And what is listed sounds like one of these typical, wheel-spinning government exercises with long-winded discussions of “vision,” “goals,” and other cliches, etc.  We don’t remember seeing the meeting notification (which the city did, in fact, send) but had we noticed it, it doesn’t look to us like something that would be very substantive for our readers.

Now that this December meeting is being used as the pretext for the discussion, we wanted to listen to a recording of the meeting – so we could understand the context of the discussion.

Oh, the meeting wasn’t recorded, say city officials.

And just why not, we were left to wonder.

Because it was held at the Graham Civic Center.

And that prevents the use of a tape recorder? How?

So, the next best bet was to peruse the minutes of the December meeting.

Needless to say, a six-and-a-half hour meeting produced a lot of written minutes, five pages worth.  Perhaps we missed it, but we’ve pored through those five pages and we cannot find the words “Sesquicentennial Park,” or anything remotely connected to it.

In an interview with the newspaper, councilman Ricky Hall says he solely brought up the subject the special budget meeting because he felt the city needed to put a priority on repairing the park.

But under his comments in the minutes, there is no mention of the Sesquicentennial Park.

All of which only highlights the point that public meetings should be public – accessible both at the time they’re held, as well as for posterity.

It shouldn’t take much to ensure that “special” meetings are recorded with the same diligence as “regular” city council meetings.

And, by the way, when will the public be allowed to weigh in with their views about the future of the Sesquicentennial Park?  So far, there’s been no mention whatsoever, so far, of a future public hearing on that topic.

Oh, here’s another anomaly.  Allegedly, this issue arose because city manager Megan Garner wanted the city council’s “guidance” on whether to include repairs for the park in her next budget, which she’s due to present next month.

Strange.

Or at least unusual.

We don’t recall Garner seeking the council’s advance opinion on how many new city employees to propose hiring in the next budget, what level of raises to give them (some level is almost always included), which new projects to include, or any other matter that will inevitably appear in her budget.

As we are told over and over again, city managers present their recommendations in the budget and then the city council – in Graham and every other municipality – will modify, amend, strike out, or approve subsequently.

Why is it that only in this particular case, does she need, or want, advance direction from the council?

All in all, Graham residents – and many outside the city who donated to the park during the sesquicentennial year – are not being well served by the mayor’s and the council’s current clamor on wanting to get rid of the Sesquicentennial Park.

Again, our thanks to councilman and mayor pro tem Hall, who, so far, has been the only valiant, dissenting voice on the city council – although we believe he represents the views of most citizens, in Graham and throughout the county.

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