Council revisits variance request
Newt Skunkcap is now officially the new police chief for the city of Burns.
At the Burns City Council meeting Wednesday, April 8, the council voted unanimously to appoint Skunkcap to the vacant position, effective immediately.
A number of family, friends and fellow officers were present at the meeting to witness Skunkcap’s promotion and offer their congratulations.
Mayor Craig LaFollette presented Skunkcap with a new police chief identification card and badge.
On advice of their legal counsel, the council reopened the public hearing on an appeal filed by Ron Jones regarding the planning commission’s decision to deny his variance request.
At the March 25 council meeting, the council voted to deny the variance, but there was additional written material submitted by Jones prior to that meeting that may not have been considered in the council’s decision.
Mayor LaFollette then asked Jones to present his case as to how the additional testimony should change the council’s decision.
Jones began to tell his story from the beginning, and was reminded by LaFollette that he should focus on why the additional testimony should change the decision.
Jones stated his most recent submission contained photos of other businesses and residences in Burns that are in violation of city ordinances, and was told the photos have no bearing on his appeal, and that he should explain why the council should change their decision.
Jones stated he couldn’t understand why a business couldn’t get help from the city instead of opposition.
LaFollette once again reminded Jones that he was there to present new information. “I’d love to hear what you’ve got that’s new,” LaFollette said.
Jones said he had submitted a five-page letter that wasn’t included in the March 25 council packets.
Councilor Dan Hoke said there was four criteria Jones was asked to meet to have the denial overturned, and he hadn’t done that. “Do we throw all the ordinances out or do we put a stop to what is happening?” Hoke asked.
“The other buildings in the photos aren’t relevant to your case,” Hoke said.
“So there are others in violation (of city ordinances), but you’re going to start with me. Is that what I’m hearing?” Jones asked.
LaFollette said he was still waiting to hear new information and asked Jones to be concise.
Jones stated he turned himself in on the ordinance violation, and common sense should dictate to the council that the evidence should lead to overturning the denial.
Once again, Jones was asked for new evidence regarding the decision affecting his property.
“It’s not any different than any of the others,” Jones said. “I’ll just fold my hands and let you decide whatever you want to. I’m done.”
The public hearing was then closed, and LaFollette stated at the March 25 meeting, the council voted to deny the appeal on a 3-2 vote. He then asked if any of the council members who voted in the majority wanted to take a new vote, and none did.
A motion was then made to ratify the decision to deny the variance request and it passed on a 4-1 vote. Councilors Lou Ann Deiter, Charity Robey and Hoke and Mayor LaFollette voted in favor of the motion, and Councilor Jerry Woodfin cast the lone dissenting vote.
Councilors Terri Presley and Dennis Davis abstained from voting because they are on the planning commission.
With Public Works Director Dave Cullens planning to retire Sept. 1, the council discussed their options for filling the position.
LaFollette said they could ask Cullens to work part-time, 20 hours a week, or they could direct Interim City Manager Dauna Wensenk to develop a plan and time line to hire someone for the position.
Cullens said he would be open to working part-time after Sept. 1 if the council asked. “I don’t want to leave the city in a bind. I’ll help out,” Cullens said.
Councilor Woodfin asked if there was someone already in the public works department qualified for the position, and Cullens said no.
Cullens added that they could get the qualifications, but it would take some time.
Different scenarios were discussed, and it was decided that the council would sit down and talk with the members of the public works department to come up with the best plan of action, and a decision would be made following that discussion.
Burns Fire Chief Scott Williamson told the council that an airport crash truck they had received three years ago has been outside in the weather and, as a result, is no longer in serviceable condition. He asked for the vehicle to be put up for sale on the city’s surplus equipment list.
Williamson explained his plans for building a firefighter training facility out at the airport. He said the facility would be constructed using three 40-foot storage containers, and could also be used for police training.
Williamson discussed the plan with the city’s airport architect and the safety committee to address any concerns they might have.
Councilor Hoke asked about the aesthetics of the facility, and Williamson said the plan called for planting grass, shrubs and trees in the vicinity to make it “pleasing to the eye.”
The council waited to make a decision, pending an environmental study.
Williamson also reported the fire department would be sending a truck and two men to Rome to help with fire protection during U.S. Air Force training April 14-17.
In other business:
• the council approved Cullens spending $2,800 for a sewer pump part;
• the council approved Resolution No. 2015-597 declaring certain airport equipment owned by the city to be surplus property and indicating the intent and method for the disposal of the property;
• the council reviewed the items requested by Airport Manager Jeff Cotton through the General Services Administration program for the next fiscal year;
• Andy Lessar, owner of Enjoy, told the council he wants to be a part of the community, and the community does a good job of supporting veterans. “But there is one ordinance not supporting vets, and that’s the one that affects my business,” Lessar said.
He explained the ordinance doesn’t allow his business to be open on weekends, and he’s received numerous letters from veterans asking him to be open at least one day on the weekend so they can come in.
Lessar said cannabis has shown to be effective in treating post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and it helps the veterans sleep at night.
He added that he met with city officials recently and walked them through the facility, and noted they were surprised;
• Mayor LaFollette reminded the council the cities of Burns and Hines were holding a community clean-up day Saturday, April 18, and asked for volunteers to help out at C&B Sanitary Service during the day.
The next council meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 22, at city hall.