by Peggy Mackenzie
The Lewisburg City Council meeting on Tuesday evening began with a statement from Mayor Beverly White who addressed the city’s business community by enthusiastically thanking them for asking customers and patrons to wear masks and for providing hand sanitizers.
She went on to announce that although City Hall’s doors are locked, the City is open for business. “We are here to serve you and help you in this age of the COVID lockdown,” she said. Correspondence and bills sent to City Hall can be processed in a variety of ways, White said, including by mail as usual, but also electronically, or as an auto payment or dropped off at a drop box located at City National Bank.
As a special request, White urged anyone intent on starting up a construction project or opening a business or even hanging a sign to, “Please, please, please call us before you begin. You need to know what’s permitted before you act,” she said. “Your neighbor’s advice may not be accurate. So, if you don’t know and want to be sure, give us a call. All it takes is a phone call for an appointment.” You can reach City Hall at 304-645-2080.
The Mayor also decried the recent acts of vandalism made at Dorie Miller Park. “It’s hard to believe anyone would damage the new playground equipment and the public restrooms at the park. These additions came about from hard-earned efforts and costs meant for the citizens to enjoy.” Later in the meeting, Interim City Manager Misty Hill stated the city public works crews will install electronic locking mechanisms for the restrooms at the park and camera systems for both Dorie Miller and Hollowell parks to act as deterrents to any future destructive acts.
In other City business:
Lewisburg Literary Festival promoter Greg Johnson was in attendance at the teleconference meeting to request funding from the City’s Arts and Humanities grant program. He said even though he had some uncertainty the festival will happen in this age of COVID-19, this year, the Literary Festival, which is held in August, was canceled and rescheduled for a one-day event on April 17, 2021. Johnson said the event will feature a return visit to Lewisburg by David Sedaris (with a ticket price of $50 per person). Another well-know author and cartoonist, Gary Trudeau, is also confirmed for the festival. Additionally, Jennifer Pharr Davis, an American long-distance hiker, author, speaker, and National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, and CBS Sunday Morning correspondent Conor Knighton, who has a new travelogue chronicling his journey through all of American’s 59 national parks will both be on the schedule for a very packed Literary Festival celebration. Johnson said although Carnegie Hall has been booked, event organizers are also looking at contracting with WVSOM to book the auditorium for a more spacious seating option. Cost to the city to underwrite the event was set at $8,000. Council confirmed that the April scheduling would not interfere with the Chocolate Festival, normally set in the spring, and approved the grant funding request, remarked by Council member Heather Blake as, “an appropriate expenditure.”
Eric McManamay, GEHS faculty promoter for a new soccer facility field project, requested funds from the City’s Video Lottery grant program. The high school’s new Spartan Soccer facility will support the rapidly growing soccer community in Greenbrier County, he said. Currently, the Men’s and Women’s Soccer teams utilize the Greenbrier East High School Football Stadium to host home games and conduct practices. With a facility dedicated exclusively to the soccer program, the burden on the football turf will be reduced, McManamay said, extending the life of the field, and give the soccer athletes dedicated space so that they are not relocated due to lack of fields. The Greenbrier East campus is being expanded to include a regulation size soccer field, field lights, bleachers, locker rooms, concession and other public facilities, which will put Greenbrier East on a level playing field with other high school soccer programs. “This is a totally community-funded project,” McManamay said, which will bring in substantial numbers into the area interested in holding additional soccer events. On the local level, thousand kids play soccer each year and are in need of supporting infrastructure dedicated for soccer. “Ninety-five percent of the away games the local teams play are all played on football fields. This is a one-of-a-kind project,” he enthused. “The only grass field that’s dedicated to soccer in the state.”
McManamay requested $10,000 from the City for the roof decking of the facility’s pavilion area. He anticipated the construction would be completed by mid summer 2021. As a funding project, the organization has 34 Ginko trees they were offering to donors at $1,000 apiece to plant alongside the fields to support the project. Council approved an amended motion for $4,000 after some budgeting discussions. “It’s important for us to lead as the primary municipality to benefit from the project,” said Council member Mark Etten. “I’d like to see more buy-ins from other communities,” Council member Aaron Seams added.
A long overdue Rte 219 North Sidewalk Project, dating back to 2011/2012, was outlined by Roger Kennedy, detailing a lengthy and detailed negotiation between the City and DOH efforts to resolve problems with two bid phases, one with a deficit, the other with a surplus. The project total came to $156,681 with a 80/20 match of $31,336. After a discussion, a motion to approve the match was made, with the provision that the construction begin in the spring and not conflict with road projects ongoing through the area. Blake said she was “thrilled” to finally have this much needed sidewalk project “come to fruition.
The water plant manager Greg Belcher gave an update on conditions at the plant in need of repairs, projecting a cost of $100,000. Facing approaching colder weather, Interim City Manager Hill urged the need to prepare ahead. The council agreed to set a special one-item meeting in the coming week to approve ordering parts.
Two proclamations from the Mayor: Child Loss Remembrance and Awareness Month and Arts and Humanities Month were approved, as was the Mayor’s appointment of Brandon Morgan to the Parks Commission. Morgan will replace Janice Cooley on the commission.
With the holiday season approaching, the shops, restaurants and merchants need to figure out how to be proactive with safety as a game plan goal. Hill’s monthly City Manager’s report offered to extend Lewisburg’s holiday season through November, with the kick-off date set for November 7, 2020. In this way, she said, patrons’ have more shopping time and less urgency to overcrowd shop spaces.
A topic for guidance came up, offered by Council member Seams, about how to maintain safe social distancing at the Christmas Parade and the Shanghai Parade on New Year’s Day, events that traditionally uplift community spirits. Council members thought parade viewers gathering in tight groups at street side were where the real risks of public safety lay. “We can’t stop anyone from viewing the parades,” said Council member Joshua Edwards, except to approach the situation as they did for the Halloween trick or treat event this year, which was to let people take responsibility for themselves and their children. The Mayor said, “We’re struggling to try and make these events happen, but we won’t do anything that would bring harm to anyone. That’s not who we are.”
Pickleball was the topic of a Parks Commission meeting, according to Commission Chair Sarah Elkins. A group of avid players are seeking to promote and upgrade courts on City park property to serve as Pickleball courts on a permanent basis. Funding approval is also being sought, she said.
Planning & Zoning Officer Marsha Cunningham stated in her report that building permits are increasing in recent months, up to 60/70 per month.
Police Chief Chris Teubert was approved to lease a vehicle from Greenbrier Ford as “an eye-catching D.A.R.E. program” vehicle with D.A.R.E. graphics installed on the car as a promotional means for use in parades and at the schools, but also to serve as a fully functioning police vehicle.
The Lewisburg Fire Department gave Chief Joey Thomas an official vote of confidence for his performance as chief since he took the position, said Mayor White.
A public comment offered by Jim Morgan requesting a response from the city council to four questions he had posed at a previous council meeting months back, referring to his objections to council’s revision of the City charter. The revamped charter switched out the old “mayor and council” template for a “mayor-manager” plan. No responses were offered by the council.