Statesville Council, on eve of election, resolves dispute over flag and approves funding for parking deck
BY STACIE LETT CAIN
Tempers flared Monday evening in Statesville City Hall as a divided city council revisted several hot-button issues on the eve of the municipal elections.
Flag-waving demonstrators stood outside of City Hall to show their support for Gander World RV, which has continued to fly an oversized American flag outside its store despite being sued by the city in May.
The issue was discussed in closed session before the regular council meeting and resolved, according to city officials. The council has signed off on an agreement in which Gander RV will pay more than $14,000 in fines and up to $2,000 in legal fees. The company will apply to fly the 3,200-square-foot flag that has been soaring above Interstate 77 since the inception of this issue. The cIty council agreed to approve the application, allowing the flag to continue flying.
As the demonstrators from Rolling Thunder motorcycle organization left the gallery, happy with their perceived victory, they presented the council with a new American flag and thanked them for doing what they saw as the right thing.
According to Mayor Costi Kutteh, the agreement was a win for both sides. But not all involved shared that sentiment and felt that the increased media coverage was the doing of one council member trying to push his own agenda.
“This council was not disfunctional until you came on it,” Councilman Roy West said, directing his remarks at Councilman John Staford. “You run to the people at Fox News and WSOC every other day to further your own personal agenda. That is harming this council and the job it has to do.”
The animosity between some council members continued when the issue of the parking deck behing the city-owned Vance Hotel was also brought back up for furth discussion. At that time, Staford asked councilmen Michael Johnson and Roy West recuse themselves from a vote to continue with the awarding of a contract for a proposed parking deck.
The issue, having come before the council before, was postponed and further information requested about less expensive options utilizing land the city already owns or could acquire for surface parking near the Statesville Civic Center.
“I want to know if this parking deck benefits the Civic Center only or the entire downtown,” Staford asked. “Because if it is the entire downtown, I believe that Mr. Johnson and Mr. West are both in a position to benefit from that decision and should be recused from the vote.”
City Attorney Leah Messick advised that unless the project is a direct benefit to the council members and to them alone then the recusal was unnecessary.
Staford remained adamant that the parking deck was not in the best interest of the city.
“This is a ridiculous idea and a waste of taxpayer dollars,” Staford said. “If you choose to go ahead with this project, you are placing the final nail in the coffin of the Vance Hotel and your only option is going to be to tear it down.”
But Michael Johnson disagreed, as he often does, with Staford, maintaining that having the parking deck in place will provide an incentive and access to anyone looking to revitalize the abandoned hotel.
“If you don’t have that parking deck in place, how are you going to handle the 18-month to two-year revitalization of the Vance Hotel?” Michael Johnson asked. “And if you choose to tear it down instead, you are looking at a fifteen-foot hole in the center of Downtown Statesville and what are you doing to fill that with?”
Partial funding for the new parking deck, equipped with an elevator making access to Center Street easier for those who need it, would come from the Occupancy Tax Fund levied on hotel guests.
“How do you feel about us robbing $800,000 or more out of your fund?” Councilman Steve Johnson asked Civic Center Director Kenny Roberts.
“We routinely exceed our parking and we are turning away business because we cannot accommodate their parking needs,” Roberts responded. “We understand that this is quite an investment but we truly believe that it is one that needs to be done.”
The council then voted 5-2 to award a construction contract for Phase I of the parking deck to Simcon Company LLC and approving a budget amendment providing funding for the contract.