By Lauren Brown
Burns Times-Herald

Locals will have a chance to let the City of Burns know how they feel about the possibility of changing Monroe Street from four lanes to three lanes on April 7 at a meeting with city officials as well as representatives from Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) and CH2M Hill.

At the March 26 Burns City Council meeting, Councilor Len Vohs, attending the meeting via phone, stated that he wants people to attend the meeting with open minds and base their opinions on facts, not rumor and innuendo. He said that while the state and CH2M Hill will offer up statistics and other information, they will not make the decision pertaining to three or four lanes. “The people of our area will make the decision,” he said.

Councilor Linda Johnson said she had heard from a number of local business owners who feel a change from four to three lanes would negatively impact their businesses along Monroe Street. “We really need to take our business people into account,” she said. Johnson also said that she felt there was a lot of misinformation being passed about regarding the decision. She said some business owners thought the city had already decided to keep the four lanes.  “There’s a lot of confusion out there,” she said.

Vohs said he hoped the April 7 meeting would help clear up the confusion and stated that the city’s main concern should be what works best for the future traffic flow.

The decision whether or not to change from four lanes to three lanes is part of a project, slated for 2010, to straighten out the intersection near Teague Motor Co. on Monroe Street, where a number of streets intersect. Grants from ODOT are paying for the majority of the million dollar project.

The April 7 meeting will begin at 6 p.m. at Burns City Hall.

In other business at the March 26 meeting:

• the council approved the “Use of Deadly Force Investigation Guidelines,” which was mandated for each county by Senate Bill 111 and created by a planning authority led by Harney County District Attorney Tim Colahan. The planning authority consisted of local law enforcement officials as well as city officials and a local citizen.

However, there was much   discussion leading up to this decision because most of the council members had not seen a copy of the document before having to vote on it.

City Attorney Steve Finlayson said he felt he should have been able to look over the document as well.

Councilor Johnson was the only Burns council member who attended a meeting with the planning authority regarding Senate Bill 111.

Copies of the document were made and the council took a brief recess to give members a chance to read it.

Because the county court and the City of Hines had both already approved the document, some of the Burns City councilors felt they should trust the approval of other local officials.

However, Councilor Yvonne Warden (who was sitting in pro-tem for Sean Wilson), noted that the Senate Bill 111 text gives cities an extra 60 days to review the document. She said she felt it was imprudent to take 15 minutes to read it when they could take more time to look it over. “I have never known a police officer to be an expert on all laws,” she said referring to the planning authority that created the document.

Councilor Bill Renwick also had some questions about the document and the definitions it provided.

In the end, the city approved the bill in a five to one vote with Warden voting against it;

• the council heard from Darwin Johnson, who said he was interested in filling the council position vacated by Jim Eshelby. However, Mayor Laura Van Cleave said that the position is not officially vacant because Eshelby has yet to send a letter of resignation.

At the March 12 council meeting, Eshelby verbally addressed the council and said he was stepping down. Johnson said he graduated from Burns High School, has lived in the community for a number of years and is a registered voter;

• Councilor Johnson asked how much the city is paying to keep its new Web site updated with meeting minutes and the like. City Manager Justin Boone said the city is paying Cindy Witzel of Design Journeys $20 an hour to keep the site up to date;

• Lee Williams, Kelly Edmonson, Fred Flippence, Sandy Whitmore, Darwin Johnson, Yvonne Warden and Jan Cupernall were appointed to the budget committee.

The next Burns City Council meeting will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 9, at Burns City Hall.

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