The Race to Build a City Hall

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CENTRAL FIRST BLUEb largerIt’s no secret that I oppose building a $5 million City Hall before we have a funded solution for our drainage needs. A lesser known fact is that eight years ago when City Hall was to be a $2 million building with $1.8 million being funded by the state, I supported the idea. I would love to see a City Hall for Central, but only when the citizens of Central know the time is right and support the project.
The concern that I and many have today, other than the building’s size and price tag, is that the process seems to be a race against the clock. Mayor Shelton and the City Council are pushing hard to get a contract signed before November’s election. If that happens, the taxpayers will be committed to funding an 18,000 square foot building regardless of who takes office in January as your Mayor and City Council.
Three things concern me about this race to build: public input into the process, City Center design, and whether there will be clear title to the proposed site.
Public Input: This whole process has been done with almost no public participation or input, and the bare minimum of legally required public notice. Although the current site is regarded by many as the logical placement for City Center, there has been no official process for the public to weigh in on the design of either City Center or City Hall itself.  The current design of an 18,000 square foot, two-story, $5 million building has been almost the exclusive project of Mayor Shelton, with the City Council’s approval.
City Center Design: Central’s Master Plan called for the design of a City Center Overlay prior to building a City Hall, with zoning restrictions and architectural standards to control the type and look of businesses in Central’s City Hall area. That plan was presented to the P&Z Commission last week and approved. There were no opportunities for public input on that design leading up to that meeting.
Clear Title to the Property: The $285,000 purchase of the two-acre site for the building has resulted in legitimate concerns, with citizens reviving the decades-old questions of over whether the property is deed-restricted for educational purposes. The Mayor signed the purchase documents before publicly addressing any of these deed concerns, and the explanation that followed appears to leave room for a legal challenge to the sale.
Almost everything that Mayor Shelton and the City Council have done and are still doing to rush this project to launch before the end of their term in office has been legal and the elected right of their offices, and the next steps of appropriating the $5 million and putting the project out for bids will likely be done just as quickly. In fact, a recent WAFB report said the Mayor plans have the bids out by September 1 and break ground by the end of the year.
I’m left with just one question for the Mayor and City Council. If this is such a good project, and if it is supported by the citizens of Central, why not make it your campaign platform and proceed with the project after your re-election on November 6? Then you will be able to say the voters supported it and the opponents were in the minority.  If a direct vote on City Hall itself is not an option, then at least let the taxpayers weigh in by voting for candidates who reflect their views on the project.  Instead, there seems to be a race to beat the elections, in order to push across something that will affect Central for generations to come. Why the rush?