Tuesday’s meeting of the Trenton City Commission would have been brief and bland had it not been for the last bit. As it was, though, attendees left with attention levels, respiration rates and in some cases hackles elevated.
Very little business adorned the agenda for the Dec. 19 meeting, which had been rescheduled from the regular meeting date of the 11th, which was canceled for lack of a quorum when only one of the four city commissioners showed up. On Tuesday, the entire commission was present except Parks and Recreation Commissioner Terry Powell, who had been detained on day-job business.
The main action item was adoption of the city’s 2018 budget. A proposed $1,641,100 budget had been presented at the November meeting and had met with no objection at a Nov. 30 public hearing attended only by The Dade Planet and a man in the back row who said he was there “waiting for somebody.”
Mayor Alex Case said he and City Clerk Lucretia Houts had discovered an error in their health insurance calculations—they had neglected to add in employee contributions in some category—which had the cheerful end result of making the budget a little roomier.
New sidewalks at Jenkins Park, on the other hand, had ended up costing a tad more than projected. It had seemed a shame to leave bumps and flaws in the old asphalt adjoining the new smooth asphalt, so Parks and Rec’s Terry Powell had paid $2156 more to pave 616 additional square feet. But that amount was within Powell’s power to authorize unilaterally so no further approval was needed from the city commission.
Police Commissioner Sandra Gray said police fines for November had been $12,501 for a year-to-date total of $200,034.49. She said the Trenton Police Department’s Silver Bells Christmas gift drive had collected gifts for 80 city residents and would distribute them the next day. Police Chief Christy Smith (right) thanked donors and volunteers, adding that a few more blankets and other such gifts had been amassed than were needed. “They don’t expire,” she said. “We’ll save them for next year.”
Commissioner Gray added her own effusive thanks to Chief Smith’s. “I feel so blessed we live in a community that can pull together and not only take care of little children but our elderly,” she said.
Fire and Utility Commission Jerry Henegar reported that the sewer plant was hard at work. “We’re still trying to get everything back from the lighting strike we had,” he said. Besides that strike, said Henegar, the plant is simply aging. “We’re now trying to install new alarms and get rid of the 30-year-old board,” he said.
Streets Commissioner Monda Wooten said her department was doing the usual seasonal work of gathering leaves as well as cleaning out a parking lot behind Lalito’s Restaurant.
On the subject of parking lots, Henegar asked Mayor Case where the city stood on the one it bought from Case Hardware in July 2016, and which still sits closed behind a No Parking sign.
Commissioner Wooten said her department had done some cleaning on the lot. Mayor Case said getting signs for it was the next step, and then: “We have to work on possibly getting it paved.”
Henegar also asked the mayor about the website for which the city paid local business Brikwoo an $1848 fee, plus a $60 monthly maintenance fee, also in July 2016. The website is established but not used by the city and does not seem to serve any purpose.
“We’re working on it,” said the mayor. He said the web designer had “canceled twice on me.” He said maintaining a website “took a lot of time” and mentioned farming the chore out to somebody with more expertise and time to spend on it.
No one from the Dade Chamber of Commerce or public library was there to report, but Tree City’s Eloise Gass reported her group had been industriously planting trees and clearing out flowerbeds.
Now. Citizen participation:
Citizen John Huffman (left), the selfsame Huffman who at the Dade County Commission December meeting earlier in the month had urged the county pols to get more of an online presence, stood up to urge the city commissioners to do the same. He began by asking the question: “How are you selling yourselves?”
Which met with blank incomprehension from the commission. “Why do we have to sell ourselves?” said the mayor. He and the commissioners had been elected by the voters, he pointed out. Anyway, he added: “We can’t sell nothing. We serve the community.”
Huffman contended that the commissioners should make more of an effort to engage their constituents, particularly online “They feel like you are not talking to them,” he said.
A recognition of the motif seemed to dawn among the commissioners. “Are you the one who called me?” asked Commissioner Wooten.
It emerged in the subsequent exchange that Huffman had contacted the streets commissioner regarding a problematic stop sign, but had not given her time to address the situation before “bashing me on the Village Idiot,” said Ms. Wooten.
The Village Idiot, a local-interest Facebook page through which Huffman had urged the county commissioners to begin communicating, became the subject of an animated discussion. Huffman said that at 1800 members it was the largest online presence in Dade, and had attracted his attention as he researched the place before moving here.
Commissioners Henegar (left) and Wooten.
“If you’re here selling the Village Idiot website, you’ve come to the wrong place,” said Commissioner Wooten. “It’s always negative, negative, negative.”
Indeed, local politicians, individuals, groups and institutions are so routinely vivisected on the site that asking the county and city governments to stream live on it might reasonably be compared to piping the Christians directly into the lions. Commissioner Wooten commented that she’d noticed criticisms on the site not just of the job she did with the city but of the way she wore her hair. “I have no desire to get into any controversy with a website that I consider garbage,” she said.
Commissioner Henegar commented that he did participate in Village Idiot discussions on the city’s behalf. “Somebody has to brave the storm and step in,” he said. The internet, said Henegar, was the way information was disseminated these days. “Nobody reads the paper,” he said.
Mayor Case said the city had tried to put up a Facebook page and bombed out. “We had it and we got kicked out,” he said.
Police Chief Christy Smith said the police department had a Facebook page and tried to post on it, but had lots else to do besides. “Give us a break,” she said. “We’re out there every day. We’re a 911 call away from any emergency.”
She invited Huffman and other interested citizens to visit the TPD and see for themselves what kind of day officers typically have. “Come see what we do,” she challenged.
They mayor pointed out the commission was made up of part-timers with day jobs and also had plenty on its plate. “We stay busy,” he said.
Henegar said the city commission would be also be pleased to have citizens come, and indicated the sparsely populated meeting room. “It’s like this every month,” he said.
“Nobody goes to meetings anymore,” said Huffman.
“Maybe they think we’re doing a good job,” suggested Mayor Case.
So spirited was the discussion that even the local press was unable to contain itself. Discover Dade said it had lots more than 1800 followers. When Commissioner Henegar said he read the online Dade Planet faithfully, and Commissioner Wooten pointed out he’d said nobody read newspapers anymore, and Henegar replied yes, but The Planet didn’t have a newspaper—
“I do, too,” said The Planet.
Just an online as opposed to a print newspaper, elucidated that entity.
Citizen Huffman said the city had better get used to the reality of cyberspace. “It’s not going away,” he said. “It’s just getting bigger and bigger and more powerful.”
And that, Gentle Reader (if anyone really does still read newspapers), is where we must leave it for now, at least until 6 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 8, the next scheduled meeting of the Trenton City Commission (if anyone really does still go to meetings).