Manila council rescinds vote on crematorium
There was a full house at the Manila City Council meeting Monday, Jan. 20, when City Council members voted unanimously to rescind a November vote granting construction of a crematorium in the Costner subdivision area.
The council's unanimous November approval of a crematorium on property owned by the Byrd family followed a proposal presented by Susan Byrd Robertson, who lives in the area, along with her parents. After plans for the crematorium were published in the Town Crier newspaper, residents who live in the neighborhood started calling city hall and contacting council members objecting to a crematorium at that location. Council members indicated at the December meeting they would discuss the proposal and vote again at the January meeting.
Prior to discussion or action at the Jan. 20 meeting, Manila mayor Wayne Wagner apologized for any confusion in the matter, saying the November vote by the council was meant to be contingent on "how people felt, as well as looking into any restrictions that would prevent it."
"This is your city, and we represent you," Wagner said at the start of the January meeting. He noted that, as a rule, three meetings are conducted before a vote is taken. "As a rule, the council requires something in writing from neighbors," he added. "Once the objections began, everyone has had the opportunity to have their say.
"Sometimes in a small community we speed up the process and try to take a shortcut because we are dealing with people we know and we are all neighbors," Wagner continued. "I want to say the council tries to represent the people in their wards the best they can. I think they do a good job."
Alderman Tony Hawkins made the motion to rescind the November vote, saying he had listened to the public and spoken with the city attorney.
Wagner opened the floor for discussion before the council again voted on the measure.
Representing Robertson, attorney Scott Emerson of Jonesboro addressed the council.
"There is a difference in having the power to do something and the right to do something," Emerson said. "There is a difference in a reading, three readings as some councils do and having a vote. It is clear here the motion was made and seconded to approve. The minutes (November minutes) are clear; the motion was made in favor of the crematorium and approved unanimously. It was contingent on any restrictions from state, not on the fears of the people.
"We can't do away with the laws passed because people get mad," he continued. "There is a difference in a reading and a vote. It comes out in the newspaper and people get up in arms. This will be a well run, well operated business. There are no restrictions in this area. There is a funeral home down the block, Southworth and an industrial park down the street. At the least, it is a mixed residential/commercial area.
"Now Susan has gone to the trouble of getting approval from ADEQ (Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality) and the state funeral board," he said. "There may be some people afraid of ghosts, ghouls and hearses, but there is nothing to restrict this. There is no law to restrict this. This was voted in. This is a done deal. You can't undo something passed by the city council unanimously. We respectfully wish you would reconsider rescinding something that has been approved and voted on. You may have the power to do something, but ultimately, in the court system, you may not have the right to. Thank you for your consideration and time. Consider this with reason rather than with emotion. This will be a well run business people can be proud of."
Speaking on behalf of those opposed to construction of the crematorium at that site, resident Glenda Jackson noted she lives one block from the Byrds (Robertson's parents).
"They (the Byrds) are good neighbors," Jackson said. "I expressed my opinion in a letter to the editor. I don't feel Mrs. Robertson gave us notice beforehand of what she was going to do. We found out from the newspaper. No one approached us. When she (Robertson) came to the city council, none of us were aware of the plans for that piece of property. That is my biggest objection, along with future development of the area and property value."
"The city attorney and I have talked to Municipal League attorney Mark Hayes about the intent (when the vote was taken)," Wagner said.
"I have been friends with the Byrds all of my life," alderman Donnie Wagner said. "When Susan came to me I said, 'If your neighbors don't care, I don't care.' You can look around and see the neighbors do care. The vote I made last time went on what Susan had told me."
"The only thing I say if Mrs. Robertson, or any other citizen, comes to the city council with any proposals we will go to meeting number one and go through the full procedure with public hearings and vote later. There is nothing in the law saying issues have to be voted on at the third meeting, but the law is clear on giving the public a chance to react," Mayor Wagner said.
In discussion of a project underway to widen Highway 18 from Blytheville to Jonesboro, Wagner noted Manila is responsible for moving the utilities along the existing two-lane in Manila's city limits through the bypass from Towell and Son Auto Sales past Fred's Super Dollar Store. He noted the city's obligation for the project will be over $600,000.
"I am working on trying to get a grant," Wagner said. "We can get a loan from Rural Water to move utilities, but when we do that, they will tell us what our utilities will be and our utilities could triple. Give me time to work and try to find federal, state or even county money we can apply for. That much money is a burden on our residents. I am hoping the highway department will work with us. If you hear rumors, call city hall. I will show you the letters from the highway department. I don't want rumors that we are dragging our feet on the highway. I am trying to get it done in a way so we will not have to raise the rates to our residents. We have to come up with answers in the next couple of months."
State of the City
In a State of the City address, Wagner said the future of Manila is very bright.
"We are required to give a State of the City," Wagner said. "We continue with our cleanup efforts in the city. We have five more on the list this month. We are working with our county judge in this project. We have torn down almost 50 properties in Manila."
Wagner noted that Southworth, a Manila industry, continues to grow.
"They (Southworth) have purchased the building south of them," he said. "They are expanding into it as we speak. These are jobs here and people will not have to drive outside of the city to work."
He also noted the city swimming pool is now finished.
"We are looking forward to a full season," he said. "We had trial runs last year to work out the kinks and it was well received. We are fortunate to have it in the city of Manila. We need lifeguards for the pool and volunteers to help landscape the park and walking trail area. We certainly would appreciate help. We want people to say Manila has a great place for their seniors and their youth. If you go to any town of 3,000 people, you will find no better park and pool anywhere. We are doing quite well."
Wagner said the city's trash can project also has done well, and noted the Manila Airport is taking on a new look with a new administrative building to be finished by March 1.
"To summarize, the state of the city is quite well because our city council is unified and supportive of things we try to do," Wagner said. "We have a good working relationship with county government, the state legislature and our representative. We are from a very poor area of the state, but if you drive around, we are doing a lot of good things. We try to do what we do with as little burden to the taxpayers as we can. No means can we take a day off. We have plenty to do. We can see the results of our labors."
"It is all plus comments I am hearing about the city," alderman Dale Murphy said.
In other business the council:
* Set a special meeting for 4 p.m. Monday, Feb. 27, to discuss the budget. Wagner said David Hopkins will be in town regarding the sewer system on the west end of town and to finish up the grant. Plans for a grant for a walking trail will be finalized, he said, and Hopkins will meet with the council in the afternoon. The swimming pool also will be discussed.
* Noted the regular February meeting date may change due to Presidents Day.
* Unanimously approved continuation of a moratorium on placement of mobile homes and apartments without prior consent from the council.
* Approved reappointments of department heads: Jackie Hill, police chief; Keith Bennett, fire chief; Shannon Langston, city judge; Wes Wagner, city attorney; and Henry Ford, water superintendent.
* Approved paying the hosting fee for the city's website for another year. Wagner said alderman Jason Baltimore will help get someone trained this year to do the job.
* Went into a brief executive session but took no action.