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Granite Shoals council delays decisions on disciplinary action, parkland

Granite Shoals councilors sworn in

Three Granite Shoals City Council members were sworn in by Municipal Judge Frank Reilly on Tuesday, May 24. New Councilor Aaron Garcia (left) takes his oath of office alongside returning councilors Steve Hougen and Phil Ort. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey.

The Granite Shoals City Council once again delayed action on two recurring and controversial issues at its regular meeting Tuesday, May 24. 

No action was taken regarding disciplining City Manager Jeff Looney for his conduct in interactions with Councilor Samantha Ortis. The council voted to form a disciplinary committee at the May 10 meeting. 

Also on Tuesday, the council reached a stalemate in a vote to have City Attorney Joshua Katz draft paperwork that would allow the city to sell a portion of Timberhill Park to adjoining landowners.

One reason given for the two delays was the addition of a new council member, Aaron Garcia, who defeated Bruce Jones in the elections May 7 and was sworn in Tuesday. Another was that Mayor Will Skinner was not present at the meeting. 

Also, according to Mayor Pro Tem Ron Munos, the disciplinary committee formed at the last meeting has not yet met. On the committee are Ortis, Looney, Skinner, and Councilor Eddie McCoy. 

“The mayor suggested that we postpone (the disciplinary item) to a future agenda until the committee has a chance to meet to be fair to all the people involved,” Munos said before making a motion to postpone the meeting. 

Before a vote could be taken, Ortis countered with a different motion. 

“I’d like to make a motion to keep it on the agenda for today so that we can share what we have learned in the last 11 days,” she said. 

The motion passed 4-2, and the council went into an executive session that lasted nearly two hours. No vote was taken after the meeting, but councilors indicated the item would be on the next agenda. 

Next up was the question of whether to sell a sliver of parkland that is separated from the bulk of Timberhill Park by an inlet of water. The piece of property in question is 0.143 acres. 

“Those filled areas are considered to be property owned by the city of Granite Shoals,” said City Attorney Katz, referring to a portion of Lot 51, which is technically a piece of the park.

The land in question was mostly created by fill dirt and lake dredging. It did not exist when Lot 51 was created. Katz cited city ordinance 584, which provides a mechanism for the city to sell filled-in areas that used to be in the lake to adjacent property owners. 

“The problem in this instance is that Lot 51 was deeded to the city as parkland,” Katz said. 

The rules for selling parkland are much more rigorous than any other city-owned land.  

“Ordinarily under state law, to sell parkland you need to first have a hearing under the parks and wildlife code to reach a finding that there is no practical use to this property as a park and that this sale of that property won’t have any effect on the rest of the parkland in the city,” Katz said. “The second part of the state law requirement is that, if it is parkland, you have to have an election before the city can sell it.” 

Some residents expressed concern that selling any park property, no matter how small, could lead to future sales of bigger acreage. 

“It is a piece of park property, and if it’s going to set a precedent for the sale of other parks, which it might or it could — and I think that is one of the concerns of people — then semantics are important,” said resident Robin Deberard.

Another concerned resident said the land was not in use by the public because people weren’t aware it was public property. 

“Had it been made aware that that is part of the park, there very well may have been boat riders that want to come and have picnics there if they knew that they could do it,” said resident Sydney Archer.

Councilor Steve Hougen commended the residents for their comments. 

“You’ve presented a different picture, and there may be a potential if it is not sold by the city,” he said. “I applaud your comments.” 

A motion to have Katz draft a resolution for the sale of the land tied with a 3-3 vote. The matter will be postponed until the next City Council meeting when all members are present.

IN OTHER BUSINESS

The council voted to order a new fire engine for Granite Shoals Fire Rescue. The current engine is a 1998 Spartan, which is beyond the guidelines set by the city for frontline and reserve use. 

“We have had issues with this engine pumping once we arrive on scene,” Fire Chief Tim Campbell said.

The new engine will cost $703,000 and take two years to be delivered. Massive demand, high costs, and slowed production were cited as reasons for the lengthy delay. According to Campbell, the price will only go higher the longer they wait, due to rising interest rates. 

“All three companies that I acquired bids from on their apparatus have all guaranteed a 4- to 6-percent price increase next month,” Campbell said.

The council unanimously passed the motion to order the engine. 

“Fire and police safety is just one of the basic responsibilities for a city to its citizens,” Munos said.

The council also swore in three members. Newcomer Garcia took his seat as Place 2 councilor. Re-elected councilors Hougen, Place 4, and Phil Ort, Place 6, also took their oaths of office. 

dakota@thepicayune.com