Tinsley Issue Emerges Again at City Council
Poplar Bluff – The controversy over Council Member Peter Tinsley’s comments on Facebook concerning President Barack Obama and Obamacare again bubbled up at Tuesday night’s meeting of the Poplar Bluff City Council when Tommy Robinson, pastor of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church again appeared before the council.
“The last time I was here, I presented a concern about Councilman Peter Tinsley and comments he had made on Facebook. We requested that he apologize for his statements and that he take down the post,” said Robinson. He agreed those requests had been honored. “And I thought at the time, I would not need to be back.”
But the controversy continues to be a problem in Tinsley’s Ward 5, said Robinson.
“The community has said it has lost confidence in the councilman for our ward,” said Robinson. “We are asking for Peter Tinsley to step down.” Robinson said he agrees with many from his ward that “we cannot be represented appropriately” by Tinsley.
“This can stop with the council,” said Robinson. “My phone never stopped ringing. I heard both pros and cons about Mr. Tinsley, but mostly cons. This will not go away.” Robinson expressed concern that the comments that had been expressed by Tinsley perhaps represented a “learned pattern”.
The majority of the city council continued to stand by Tinsley. Johnny Brannum commented that Tinsley had recently complied with a request by the council that he attend a racial sensitivity class.
Tinsley stood his ground. “I have apologized for my actions, but I have also served my community for years,” said the councilman. “I would ask what I have done to break your trust? I stand on my service to the community and I don’t believe it is in my ward’s best interest for me to step down.”
Robinson countered saying, “The community has decided the trust has been lost. We have to pay for what we do. For appropriate healing to take place, this [Tinsley stepping down] needs to happen. This must be addressed.” Robinson added the next step in the controversy would likely be more legal.
Mayor Angela Pearson stood by Tinsley, though she admitted he made a “terrible mistake”. But she noted that mistake was made before he was even elected to his position.
“I’m not saying what he did was not wrong, but I have gotten to know Peter, and I don’t think he meant to hurt anyone, certainly I don’t think he intended to hurt anyone in his ward,” said Pearson.
She said she believes the decision as to whether or not to step down is Tinsley’s decision, and his decision alone.
“I will not ask him to step down,” reiterated the mayor. She suggested in order for community healing to take place, the bickering needs to end.
Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Jack Rushin also stood by Tinsley.
“I have known Peter for years. My grandmother always told me that people should not be judged by one single event versus their whole life’s work,” explained Rushin.
Rushin added that he has observed some hypocrisy in the whole situation.
“There are other leaders in the city who have made similar posts,” said Rushin. If any action is taken, he suggested, it should be to have an election recall for Ward 5.
“It would be an injustice to the people of that ward who voted for him for Peter to step down,” he added.
Another matter concerning equal representation of wards was brought up by new City Manager Heath Kaplan. He suggested the city’s current ordinance which determines street paving and street repair should be replaced by a system that offers greater equality for all areas of the city.
“When you look at a map of the city and its streets, there is a definite pattern that emerges,” said Kaplan. Currently the city requires that property owners pay 50 percent of the cost of paving.
“And I haven’t seen anything like that in my ten-year career working with cities,” said Kaplan. In his opinion, the current system insures that only the neighborhoods where property owners can afford their half of the cost are treated to paved streets. “The current way of doing this needs to be repealed because it is economically unfair,” stated the city administrator. “Everyone should have a level playing field when it comes to the quality of their streets.”
Councilman Brannum agreed Poplar Bluff has several miles of gravel streets, but questioned how these can be paved. He wondered if Surface Transportation Program (STP) Funds could be used for the paving.
Kaplan explained that the city has built up a reserve of STP funds over the past six years. He plans to present at a future meeting a map of areas in the city eligible for the STP funds. Tinsley agreed that he is also in favor of a more equitable system in which property owners are not required to pay for half of the costs of paving.
Kaplan noted that other than the economic inequality involved in the current system, there are also concerns about air quality in neighborhoods with gravel roads.
“Gravel roads are unsafe, there is a dust issue for people with breathing disorders, and having decent roads should not be based upon the residents’ ability to pay,” summarized Kaplan.
Mayor Pearson agreed, stating that constituents have asked her since she first ran for election to the council why Poplar Bluff has so many gravel roads.
Councilman Ed DeGaris was concerned about the fairness of the situation to residents that did have to pay their 50 percent of cost in the past. “So many people have suffered through those payments,” said DeGaris.
“They shouldn’t have had to suffer through it,” responded Pearson.
Kaplan agreed, noting he thinks the city owes those people an apology. “If I could pay them back, I would,” said the city administrator. But, at least a change would rectify the situation for the future, he said.
Kaplan said in order to spread the STP funds more equally through the city, his suggestion is that the council take another look at the Fair Street Bridge Project, which could free funds for street paving, a matter which he considers as more important.
Kaplan explained the city gets $60,000 to $70,000 per year from the state in STP funds.
In the other controversial topic of the evening, the council voted to delay action on a rezoning request.
At last week’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, the topic had been discussed, and the commission decided to recommend to the council that the rezoning request not be approved. However, City Planner Dennis Avery disagreed, and spoke to the city council in favor of the rezoning of the property at the corner of Northwood Drive and Westmoore Drive. Jared Beaird, owner of the property, had purchased the property and is hoping to use it for his family dental practice. The property is currently zoned residential, and the request was to rezone it as O-1, which would allow professional use of the property.
Beaird appeared before the council, hoping for their support. He noted much of the area surrounding him is already used for commercial purposes, and he said he has been very happy to work with his neighbors to address their concerns about keeping the neighborhood looking like a residential neighborhood, and their concerns about traffic and parking.
But several neighbors also appeared before the board opposing the change in zoning. They were concerned about losing their neighborhood identity, and the degradation of property values.
It was noted that the Planning and Zoning vote had been 6-4 against the requested rezoning.
John Scott, an attorney representing one of the families opposed the rezoning, explained that the issue is bigger than just allowing a dentist to set up his business in a residential neighborhood.
“Rezoning is forever,” explained Scott. “It opens the way to many kinds of businesses moving into a residential area.” He felt it is imperative to maintain the integrity of residential neighborhoods.
“To rezone this sends the wrong message to the community. Home owners are entitled to have reasonable protections of zoning,” said Scott. He said it also sends a negative image to commercial builders. “It undermines them and their investments. Why should they invest in a commercial area if they think they can get into a residential area? The purpose of zoning is to keep neighborhoods from deteriorating.” Scott feared neighborhood deterioration would be a consequence of rezoning.
It was noted that a 5/7 majority council vote would be needed to change the zoning. The council decided to move the motion for rezoning to the September 23 workshop meeting in order to give the council more time to study the issue.
Another item of contention to come before the council was an ordinance accepting a bid for consulting services with regard to the Kinzer and Cynthia Street Historic District Project. Two bids had been received for the consulting services, and a bid of $21,250 was chosen. Jim Chrisman questioned the wisdom of the money being spent in such a way. Even though the money comes from a federal-local match, Chrisman was concerned that local funds could be spent more effectively in other ways.
City Planner Avery explained that 55 structures in the district could be eligible for the improvement funds.
When the motion finally came to a vote, it failed because of no votes cast by Johnson, Brannum, Rushin and Pearson.
The final contentious topic of the evening came up when a citizen questioned City Manager Kaplan about new positions he had added at City Hall, including a grants coordinator, a financial consultant, and a personal assistant.
The grant writing position will cost the city about $60,000 per year, but Kaplan explained the position will actually gain the city revenue because currently “a lot of grant money is being left on the table” with no one helping the city take advantage of grant funds that are available.
When asked why he had not advertised the position, Kaplan explained he did not want to lose time in gaining that position and the grant funds that would come with it.
‘The truth is this city hasn’t actually followed a budget for many years,” said Kaplan. “And we need to start using our money more wisely.”