Saturday, February 13, 2010

City and Renaissance hash out pressing issue, discuss problems in relationship

By Noha El Maraghi
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

It’s time for Midway Renaissance to be recertified as a state Main Street program. Three city council members and four Renaissance representatives met Monday night to iron out underlying problems between the group and the city and clear the way for the council to vote on the issue Monday, Feb. 15, the deadline for submitting the Main Street application.

In attendance were council members Sharon Turner (presiding in photo), Charlann Wombles (second from right), and Doris Leigh (in front of flag); and Renaissance members Randy Thomas, president (far left); Becky Moore, a former mayor (gesturing); Marci Christensen, executive director (between Thomas and Moore); and Bob Rathbone (far right). Also present was Assistant City Clerk Diane Shepard.

The purpose of the meeting was to get Renaissance and the city on the same page on a few issues, the top two being the Main Street application and the budget called for in the standard letter of commitment that must accompany the application. Council members felt the letter might make them obligated financially to Renaissance.

“We are not asking the city at this point for funding for a Main Street manager,” Thomas said. “Would I like that? Absolutely, and we would encourage the council to consider it.” The city stopped funding the half-time manager’s position about three years ago, and efforts to fund it on a shared basis with other local governments or local businesses have failed.

Thomas said the commitment letter cannot be changed, but a side agreement is possible. Later in the week, the city’s lawyer drafted an addendum to the agreement that specifies Renaissance is responsible for employing Christensen as Main Street manager and following its work plan, and the city will provide space for her during normal working hours if requested. Thomas said Saturday that he and Christensen will sign the addendum Monday morning.

Thomas told Turner, “I hope we can build a better working relationship,” and she replied that the ad hoc city-Renaissance committee appointed to work out the issue should continue. “None of it’s personal,” she said.

Wombles said she and Turner are “both distressed, as is probably the whole council, that there has not been a better working relationship. . . . It’s just a mystery to me why, with all the needs in this community, why we are spending energy not working better as partners.” She said the council represents “every citizen of Midway, and we need your support when we have to make hard decisions that are not popular with you all.”

When Christensen asked what she was referring to, Wombles said one example was “decisions regarding our insurance coverage.”

After the city’s insurance carrier expressed concern about people from Renaissance working on city property, sometimes with machinery, which could make the city liable to volunteers in the case of injury, the council voted to require volunteers to sign a liability release and report to the city every time they worked, including the time, place and machinery used. Renaissance opposed the ordinance, saying it required too much paperwork and would discourage people from volunteering.

Rathbone asked Wombles how Renaissance should manifest the support she was calling for. She hesitated and said, “I don’t think I want to go there.” But soon afterward, she told the rest of the committee, “I think we can make some improvements in this working relationship fairly quick.” She said they all share “deep love for Midway” and “If we keep that in mind we’ll get it done and we’ll do it with the civility and grace and the volunteer spirit that is Midway.”

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