Alongside recent summer temperatures, a new mural by Andy Griffith on Moore Avenue remains a hot topic at City Hall — not the mural itself, but the parking lot and sidewalk changes associated with it, which which, according to an official, was poorly done.
“We didn’t follow our charter,” commissioner Jon Cawley said at the council’s last meeting in an ongoing debate over an issue that began to heat up at his last meeting on June 16.
And the flame intensified last Thursday night when Cawley came armed with copies of the Mount Airy charter – the official document specifying the rights and duties of city government – documentation he had been asked to produce during the previous session.
Cawley, who has repeatedly said he loves the new mural, however, maintains that only the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners had the authority to alter the street’s infrastructure. This included widening the sidewalk to allow for a better viewing area for the public, which resulted in the loss of two parking spaces.
The often outspoken North Ward commissioner – who is running for mayor this year – said rather than the board, City Manager Stan Farmer authorized recent infrastructure work.
Cawley read a relevant section of the city charter, taking up about a page, which states that the city council has the power to authorize street and sidewalk changes and makes no mention of the role of the city manager. He focused on the loss of parking spaces, saying affected business owners should have been given the opportunity to speak out about it in a public hearing.
Guinea fowl, micromanagement?
Other city council members disagreed last Thursday with Cawley’s assessment of the issue, which arose in June in an unrelated request from a local body shop owner regarding a panel.
Frank Fleming, also known for his altered racing career, is seeking an amendment to a city ordinance that would allow him to have a taller sign in a new store location on Merita Street, which is not currently permitted. . A public hearing on the proposed amendment is scheduled for August 18.
Cawley reiterated a previous statement on Thursday that Fleming is doing this ‘the right way’ by following the rules, over what he believes is a lack of respect for city procedure regarding the mural site. .
“We didn’t do it the right way,” Cawley said of his stance that council should have allowed the work, while quickly adding that he wasn’t trying to call the city manager, who arrived on board in January.
“With all due respect, Stan, I appreciate and like you,” he told Farmer, who sat right next to him in the council chamber.
“We didn’t follow our charter,” said Cawley, who added that “I just throw my hands up” if other officials think there’s no need to follow that document.
Other city council members, attempting to counter Cawley’s argument, said there was a gray area involved in the work related to the mural and their interpretation of the charter. This was after Commissioner Marie Wood asked Cawley to read key passages aloud while presiding over the meeting in her dual role as acting mayor due to Mayor Ron Niland’s absence.
“I don’t understand,” Wood said of Cawley’s accusation while informing her that she sees nothing in the charter explicitly prohibiting the city manager from making such decisions. “I’m trying to figure out how it has anything to do with the mural.”
The board’s Steve Yokeley, who had asked Cawley to produce documents that led to the latter reading the charter, also weighed in on the issue.
“I just think if we’re going to nitpick to allow the city manager to do what he’s instructed to do,” Yokeley said, “it’s going to be a sad day for the city.”
Commissioner Tom Koch agreed, saying he could foresee problems “if the city manager has to come to us every time something is done in this town.”
“We just can’t micromanage,” Yokeley said. “We have to look at the big picture and come up with a policy.”
Yokeley disagreed with Cawley’s interpretation of the charter, saying he also didn’t see language prohibiting Farmer from removing a small section of parking.
“The question was whether the city manager had the authority to take two parking spaces.”
“Where does it stop?” Cawley responded by suggesting that a few parking spaces lost today could mean 24 would be taken later in the same scenario, impacting affected businesses.
The lawyer gives his opinion
Toward the end of the mural debate that took up most of the meeting, Commissioner Joe Zalescik asked City Attorney Hugh Campbell for his assessment of what had happened – “because none of we here only went to law school”.
Campbell agreed with Cawley that the council had the power to alter streets/sidewalks as stated in the charter, saying he could not recall a similar case of removing parking spaces without council action. Campbell has been a city attorney since 2002.
Yet he also believes the city manager did not overstep his authority in the matter or did anything wrong.
The scope of the mural project had been discussed and approved by the commissioners beforehand, Campbell said of the steps taken last year.
This finding only prompted further debate.
Commissioner Cawley recalled that the mural was originally intended for a wall at Brannock and Hiatt Furniture Co. on North Main Street. It was moved to the Moore Avenue location for reasons such as the high cost of preparing the Brannock and Hiatt Wall for painting.
“The council never approved putting the mural where it is now,” he said, mentioning that all the work had been done before this happened.
“I know it’s too late now,” Cawley said of such a decision. “It was too late when I spoke about it (last month).”
Yokeley said he was aware the mural site was going to be moved.
“I’m glad you know that,” Cawley replied. “I did not do it.”