May city council meeting sees land deal finalized, council raises fail, ethics complaints addressed

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May Jackson’s city council meeting was jam-packed, with decisions — or lack of — jumping all over the place, from land deals to council pay to ethics complaints.

The start of the meeting was the finalization of the $8.7 million in revenue from the Georgia Pacific land deal, which closed in April.

The elaborate land transaction, which has started slowly since December, will enable Georgia-Pacific to purchase 257 acres of land from the City of Jackson.

The due diligence period, during which Georgia-Pacific was authorized to conduct ground checks such as soil testing, surveying, etc., ended on April 14.

On development related news, second reading approval of the $300,000 pre-construction architectural and engineering design of Great Wolf Lodge passed.

The funds will make it possible to develop the access road to the site that the city is committed to building.

At last month’s city council meeting, Conger called the road “essential”.

“I think this is an exciting step in the process as we move forward with our Industry Development Council and finalize our agreements with Great Wolf Lodge,” he said. “Our original agreement was that we would build the access road, so this is the start of that process.”

Construction of the site and the road can take place simultaneously, Conger explains, thanks to an alternate access road for construction machinery that already exists.

City officials and project managers hope to launch the project this fall, with the road and the entirety of Great Wolf Lodge due for completion in December 2024.

Also passed was the $99,200 second reading to help fix the storm drain under West Forest Avenue, a project in partnership with West Tennessee Healthcare, with the latter entity paying approximately $499,800.

The repair budget the 41 traffic detection loops mentioned at last month’s meeting were also passed, totaling approximately $112,750, which will be taken from the $5.8 million street resurfacing budget.

According to council member Paul Taylor, to whom the damaged sensors were initially reported by voters, investigators discovered that in 2019 some of the traffic sensors had been damaged during street surveys.

Work will “begin shortly” on repairing the sensors.

City looks to the future with Greenway Master Plan

The Greenways Master Plan, presented here in the process of being presented to City Council, is the proposed 5-year roadmap for the city's pedestrian initiative.

As the city enters the next fiscal year, new projects and initiatives are unleashed, one of which is particularly significant being the city’s new commitment to spend $1 million annually on lane improvements. green in the city of Jackson.

At Tuesday’s meeting, a presentation from the city’s planning department, Tennessee Department of Transportation and engineering firm KCI introduced council members to the “Greenway Master Plan,” the vision for the future of green space, cycling and pedestrian infrastructure in the city of Jackson.

“How would (this) not benefit us?” Conger said at Thursday’s agenda review meeting, of the plan. “We’re working on the Bemis greenway downtown – and you’ve got the Middle Fork Bottoms. So that’s going to provide us with the blueprint to see how we’re going to invest those dollars so that we’re not just helping whoever is screaming the most strong.

“It actually helps create a plan for how we’re going to spend money.”

The plan details current uses of the Jackson space, pedestrian safety issues, and realistic examples of different improvements that can be made to the city to improve the area’s infrastructure.

A study of Jackson's land use is a major component of the Greenways Master Plan, presented at the May City Council meeting.

The next stage that the public can expect to see, Conger says, will wait until July.

“We’ve had the ‘tactical urban planning’ process, which we kind of soft-started in the fall, and we’re going to push that and get some ideas and see what that looks like,” Conger said. “When we get there in July of this year, we will have the money for capital projects. And part of that is the land acquisition of the southern greenway.

Ethics complaints force board to rethink procedure

City Attorney Lewis Cobb (foreground) discusses ethics complaint issues before City Council.

In a story update from last month on the ethics complaints filed against Taylor, a whirlwind of change has gone through the board regarding anonymous complaints and how they will be handled in the future.

After facing an in-depth discussion about how to handle the two ethics complaints against Taylor in April – each relating to his use of his position as an adviser to benefit the family business Gary A. Taylor Investment Company – three more complaints were filed against city council members, including council members Marda Wallace and Ernest Brooks Jr, as well as Mayor Conger.

After:Councilman Paul Taylor faces ethics violations, investigation, reveals weakness in city code

The complaints against Brooks allege two separate issues: that he uses his “preferential treatment power” to “not pay his JEA bill for six months” and that Brooks would not help a voter solve his “problem” unless he ‘hires (Brooks) as a lawyer.’

The complaint against Conger alleges that Conger hired his stepfather “in a department for which he is not qualified.”

The lawsuit against Wallace, which in part targets the entire council, demands that every member of council who voted for Taylor’s investigation at the April city council meeting “be investigated for not asking him not to vote (on a contentious issue),” and that anyone on the board who owns property should be investigated for “not disclosing their stake before all votes”.

The new complaints were read to council before the amendment was passed to replace articles 1-410 and 1-411 of the Code of Ethics streamline the complaints process.

Essentially, the city will now create an ethics committee to investigate anonymous complaints before they are presented to council, instead of complaints being presented directly to the public at the council meeting.

This will reduce “political complaints of retaliation”, according to Conger, and save taxpayers money.

“It will be a better process,” he said.

Board members will likely be chosen at the next board meeting. After the passage of the members of the council, any complaint formulated against an elected official will go through this council.

The current five complaints will be incorporated into the new system.

Raise for mayor approved, council rejects changes

The deadline for approval of mayor and council compensation plans hit Tuesday, and while council members voted largely to approve the mayor’s plan, three new votes on the council’s compensation plan prompted Conger to declare “inaction was action” and reinstate the compensation plan. of the board to what it is now.

The plans, which were announced in February, were to be passed 12 months before implementation, meaning these plans will only affect the next elected mayor and council.

The mayor’s pay, which has been passed, includes what’s called a “staggered approach,” increasing 5% in 2024 to $136,500, with a subsequent 2% increase each year until it reaches $144,855. $ in 2027.

Board members, whose current salary is $500 a month, had to deal with the recommendation to change their compensation from a base salary to an attendance allowance.

Their current salary was set in 2003 and, according to Taylor, “does not match current rates of inflation” and is only about 50% of the average pay rate for city council members in the state.

The committee’s new recommendation was to adjust the salary to $350 per qualified meeting, which included:

Regular city council meetings

Special convened meetings of the city council

Board Business Session/Agenda Review Meetings

· Annual budget workshops and budget review meetings

Board members would have been capped at $1,050 per month.

The recommendations were met with mixed approval, however, with members rejecting three different motions on the matter.

Conger cut the fluctuating short, motioning to revert to the current plan since consensus could not be reached.

The May City Council meeting can be viewed here.

Do you have a story to tell? Contact Angele Latham by email at [email protected], by phone at 731-343-5212, or follow her on Twitter at @angele_latham.

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