It took all of two meetings for Bill Shirley to exercise one of his new mayoral powers.
Shirley cast the tie-breaking vote to end a 4-4 deadlock, thus rejecting a motion to hold the Iola City Council’s next meeting at the Allen County Courthouse.
Instead, all subsequent council meetings will remain at the New Community Building at Riverside Park, with one change. The council will begin meeting on the second and fourth Mondays of each month. For the past few months, the group had met on the first and third Mondays.
The meeting site issue became the first extensively debated issue for the new council members, who were seated last month.
The council members debated the pros and cons of both the courthouse and the community building, which also serves as the offices for the Allen County Fair Board and a site for various 4-H club meetings.
Council members Ken Rowe and Donald Becker both spoke in favor of holding the meetings, at least once, in the courthouse, “just to try it out,” Rowe said.
Rowe listed a number of other benefits to meeting at the courthouse, including its centralized location within Iola and close proximity to City Hall; pulling it from the New Community Building would relieve anxiety, frustration and concerns of other groups and organizations that cannot use the community building because of schedule conflicts with the council; and the opportunity to experience “welcome and encouragement from the Allen County commissioners.”
Added Becker: “I have no problem with trying it. We also own part of the courthouse” as county taxpayers.
Rowe, who previously had suggested meeting at the Iola High School lecture hall, said that idea should be dropped because of multiple potential schedule conflicts.
“They just have too much going on there,” Rowe said.
Council members Scott Stewart, Jim Kilby, Joel Wicoff and Steve French all spoke in favor of using the community building. Stewart said his constituents were unanimous in favoring having city council meetings in a city facility.
“This building is ours; we paid for it,” Stewart said.
Kilby, meanwhile, voiced concerns about liability issues if the city were to purchase audio and video recording equipment and then stored it at the courthouse.
“We’ve got a really nice building here,” Wicoff added, which fits in nicely with Iola’s newly minted council.
Two citizens, Sharon Boan and Linda Garrett, voiced concerns about continuing meetings in the park.
Boan recounted twice almost being mugged as she walked in the park early in the mornings, and said folks would feel more secure parking along the square to meet at the courthouse.
Garrett added that while the city has received the fair board’s blessing to meet at the community building, her concern was for public access to fair board office equipment.
Council members noted the fair board office would remain off limits to the public, and instead is used only for council members meeting in executive session.
Rowe was joined by Becker, Wicoff and Beverly Franklin in voting to meet next on May 16 at the courthouse. Opposed were Stewart, Kilby, French and Kendall Callahan.
The tie vote sent the matter to Shirley, who said he favored keeping the meetings at the park.
A second motion, to continue meeting in the park, but on the second and fourth Mondays, was approved unanimously.
French said he was troubled by Boan’s comments about feeling unsafe at the park, and suggested the matter be taken to Iola Police Chief Jared Warner to determine how security could be beefed up for park users.
SHIRLEY SAID he would appoint Rowe, French and Stewart to a committee to study the feasibility of having future meetings recorded and rebroadcast on the city’s public access television channel. Rowe said he checked into pricing and a system could be purchased for $4,000.
French said systems capable of producing a quality broadcast may be substantially more expensive, however.
Council members agreed the matter was worth pursuing further.