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The Dividing “Wall”

By Allyson Dix, Managing Editor/Barren County Progress

Glasgow Mayor Henry Royse broke the  4-4 vote in Monday’s Glasgow City Council meeting. A divide that hadn’t been seen for more than a year but results mirroring the division Glasgow experienced in the prior three administrations as well.

A division not seen in over a year but plagued the prior three administrations with Councilman Patrick Gaunce and his lobbying for projects, those who routinely line up with him, and those who challenge him.

This time the split comes about because of accepting a property owned by Gaunce along West Main Street. The mayor’s vote was in favor of accepting the property and, throughout the hour-long discussion, he maintained his reasons were focused on accessibility to a city-owned retaining wall in need of repair, which borders the Gaunce property.

The Gaunce wall creating division within the city and the Glasgow City Council. Photo | Barren County Progress

Details on the wall’s condition were shared by Public Works Superintendent Jim McGowan, and although he has an engineering degree, he said a structural analysis would be needed to know more about the wall’s status and due to the overgrown vegetation on the property, it is difficult to get to.

The insight offered by McGowan indicated the wall section behind the Gaunce property, to him, appears to be in fairly good shape, adding if there was a problem with it, the wall could be reached without the West Main property but would be easier if the building was gone.

The issue has bounced back and forth, in at least open discussion, between the finance committee and council since last fall. Royse has said in open meetings the asbestos would require removal before consideration of accepting the property. In Monday’s meeting, he said this had been completed and at a cost to Gaunce of around $24,000.

Councilwoman Marna Kirkpatrick asked why the city is just now questioning the wall’s integrity. This was among a list of findings she openly addressed.

“Why are we just now hearing the wall is in bad shape when, in reality, the part needing the most attention is what the city owns behind the [vacant county lot], which we’ve had access to for three years?” Marna asked, and would later ask it again.

Additionally, as of last week, it became news that the new judicial center needed additional parking for their site plans and a variance was filed through the Board of Adjustments to utilize the city-owned parking lot for overflow.

Kevin Myatt, Director of the Joint City-County Planning Commission, said the judicial center committee decided against their initial request, but it was too late to cancel the meeting due to public notice requirements. The retraction removes a powerful need for taking the property. The variance was granted anyway, Myatt said.

Also, an apparent “pocket park” plan for the property, with claims the terminology was initiated last fall by City Administrator April Russell, has circulated in and out of discussions of the property; however, Royse said he was unaware of any certain plans for the property such as a pocket park.

Kirkpatrick shared her communications with Russell and Judge Byrd which didn’t support what Gaunce was saying in meetings and sharing on social media.

“When this happens, it looks like something’s being hidden and we definitely shouldn’t be doing that,” Kirkpatrick said. “We should be transparent.”

Councilman Max Marion said, after visiting the site, “If the wilderness that’s growing behind the building was removed, we would have plenty of room to make repairs to the wall that’s in question.”

“Council, this is not a need by the citizens, and in fact, I’ve had several citizens approach me…they do not want this, and as a representative of them, we should not either…There are a lot of words that begin with the letter P – pocket park, parking lot, property, but the one that should be on our mind that doesn’t seem to be right now – people.” Marion said.

He would later say, before a vote, “It’s a convenience for the county and Patrick, so I can’t vote this.”

Asked if this situation was a precedent or not by Councilman Freddie Norris, Royse said, “I don’t know that this is a precedent as much as it is an opportunity.” The cities’ history of demolition of dilapidated properties wasn’t discussed.

Royse would later explain if, in the future, the wall required repair, it could cost the city a lot more money, and accepting Gaunce’s donation now could mean paying less for the property when faced with it in the future.

“The price of that property, no matter who owns it, is going to continue to climb,” Royse said.

McGowan said, on the plans to demolish the building, the public works department “is more than capable” of tearing it down for the cost of fuel, which he estimates to be between $5,000 and $6,000. An estimate of their time was given in the finance meeting to be three to four weeks.

Norris pointed out, about the safety of the wall, if the wall were to cave in, it leaves the potential for injury or death.

“To me, that’s a scary part because it’s our parking lot so we have to be able to maintain it so it doesn’t do that,” the mayor replied.

After more discussion on the wall and access, he asked, “Can we deal with the wall for $5,000? Not after today.”

Councilman Terry Bunnell, who was present via Zoom, said if the property was a vacant lot, it would be easier to consider.

“If we got any cost in it, I don’t think it’s a gift anymore,” Bunnell said. “I appreciate Mr. Gaunce and his willingness to work with it, but I can’t do any favors for my fellow council members and citizens of Glasgow accepting it if we got to spend money to tear it down, closing costs, we don’t know what we’ll get into.”

Bunnell said he also feared setting such a precedent for future property owners to expect similar acceptances of properties.

City Attorney Rich Alexander, addressing a question posed by Councilman James Neal regarding a “tax credit” at the start of the meeting, said that terminology is “a little bit of a misnomer” because a contribution such as this would be a “basic tax deduction…Gaunce will be able to deduct from his taxes like any other charitable contribution.”

Kirkpatrick pointed out in her discussion that the term “tax credit” first appeared coming from the mayor in an earlier open meeting.

Councilman Joe Trigg called to question the vote, which procedurally halted discussion, after he said the information given by the city employees was just that. Council members had, throughout the discussion, thrown several questions and comments over the matter.

“We need to press on…and let it fall where it falls,” Trigg said, elaborating on how the matter could deter others from making similar donations to the city and/or county.

Council members Neal, Norris, Trigg, and Chasity Lowery voted to approve accepting the Gaunce property, with Marion, Kirkpatrick, Bunnell, and Marlin Witcher opposing. Gaunce abstained from discussing and voting before the discussion started.

Alexander said, after the vote, a contract between the city and Gaunce would need to outline the need for the contingency of a clear title. An “update” to the motion was had to include an updated appraisal after Bunnell questioned the property value, which passed unanimously.

“When it’s a gift deeded, it would be what the two parties deem the property is worth. It’s not cash consideration like you’re paying the purchase property,” Alexander said.

The full meeting can be viewed on the Glasgow EPB YouTube channel at:

https://www.youtube.com/@GlasgowEPB/streams

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