Vincent mayor says space scarce for meetings

Published 12:57 pm Thursday, April 22, 2010

Since recent Vincent Town Council meetings have been overflowing with citizens concerned about a proposed limestone quarry, citizens have been requesting meetings be held at larger venues so more can attend.

However, it’s not that simple, said Vincent Mayor Ray McAllister.

“We try our best to accommodate our people so that they can be part of what’s going on,” he said. “When you start having to move your meetings to different places, it puts a real burden on everybody.”

The Vincent Town Hall can only hold 35 people in the council room and 40 inside the courtroom.

Anne Gibbons, a Vincent property owner who is staunchly opposed to the proposed quarry, said she feels citizens aren’t able to participate in government.

“By its adamant refusal to hold council meetings in any place other than the town hall, the council has furthered its design to limit citizen participation, stifle public speech, prevent the public’s first-hand knowledge of what transpires in council meetings and fuel the public’s perception of secrecy and favoritism,” Gibbons said.

McAllister said he understands the public’s concern, but there aren’t many other places in Vincent to hold such large gatherings. The Vincent Middle/High School gym is a possibility, but the school needs it many nights for athletic events or other happenings. Also, the town council feels compelled to reimburse the school for expenses incurred by keeping the gym open, he said.

“The high school is really good to work with us, but we just don’t want to wear out our welcome, and we don’t want to burden them,” he said.

Meetings have been held at the town’s fire station, but there are major inconveniences, according to McAllister: first of all, parking is limited, and citizens don’t want to park on the road. Secondly, there are not enough chairs in the fire station for a crowd, so chairs must be moved from another location.

Lastly, the building is not air conditioned, so it would be inappropriate for a meeting when it’s hot outside, he said.

Although some meetings are expected to be large and thus are moved to bigger venues, such as an upcoming public hearing on the quarry issue, most meetings will be in the town hall, McAllister said.

“We try to accommodate our people, and that’s why we put speakers into the courtroom. We even have a speaker upstairs that sits in the window up there, so that if we have an overflow outside, they can hear,” he said. “We’re doing the best we can.”

Vincent resident Judy Naugle said despite the speakers, it is impossible for those not in the council room to hear any discussion.

“Only the person speaking into the microphone can be heard by anyone outside the chamber room,” she said. “The discussion or motions by the council cannot be heard.”

McAllister also said there has been no favoritism towards White Rock Quarries, despite public accusations from citizens that White Rock officials have reserved seating at meetings.

McAllister said since White Rock was on the agenda at the last town council meeting, seating had to be reserved.

“We don’t reserve seating other than that. It’s first come, first served,” he said.

A public hearing on the White Rock zoning request, which would rezone the company’s 886 acres of land to a special district zoning status in order to accommodate a quarry, will be held at Vincent Middle/High School May 4.