At the Aug. 14 meeting, the council voted to approve the project, but did so while shorthanded, as mayor Joe Barger was having hip surgery in Birmingham and vice-mayor Randall Franks was in Canada on a music tour.
With Barger and Franks out of town, council member Terry Crawford was elected to chair the meeting that saw council members Nick Millwood and Earl Henderson vote to approve the matter, while council member G. Larry Black was opposed.
With three votes in favor needed to ratify anything at a meeting, and the WiFi agenda item met with only a 2-1 vote, the council was prompted to put it back on the agenda for the most recent meeting, which was this past Monday, Aug. 27.
In that two-week time span, Crawford and city manager Dan Wright say that numerous citizens expressed their displeasure with the idea of equipping the park with WiFi, which is a wireless connection to the internet for mobile devices such as cell phones, tablets and laptops.
“At the last meeting, those of us that were here approved the item, but we didn’t have the three consecutive votes we actually needed,” Crawford said. “Since that night, I have been contacted by 17 to 18 people who have expressed their concerns about this project.”
Crawford said that in the two weeks since the last meeting, he has had time to consider the issue from both sides.
“Had I voted last meeting, I probably would have voted in favor of it, even though my wife stood up in the meeting and stated she wasn’t in favor of it,” he said. “But after talking with different people in the community, I can understand the concerns and I see both sides of the issue.”
One concerned citizen, Jenilee Lemmon, insists that installing WiFi would not only distract people from keeping a close eye on their children, but would also entice sexual predators to visit the park.
“The children should come first,” Lemmon said. “If people are on their computers, then they won’t be watching the kids. It would be the equivalent of texting while driving. It would also give sexual predators the opportunity to find and make friends with their next victims. The WiFi shouldn’t be in a place that could create danger for our citizens and children. … Having the internet there is just going to cause problems.”
Lemmon’s concerns were not lost on the council, especial Earl Henderson, who first brought up the idea.
“I never thought that this item would turn into what it has turned into,” Henderson said. “I really appreciate Ms. Lemmon’s passion. … All I ask is that we stay open-minded about this issue rather than fight about it. Maybe we can come to some sort of compromise.”
Mayor Barger and council member Black both avidly opposed the item, with the feeling that there isn’t a gray area with certain issues.
“Why should we compromise the safety of our children?” Barger asked.
“There are some things that you just can’t compromise,” Black added.
Millwood and Franks both seemed to be on board with Henderson in favor of the idea.
“Not everyone goes to the park with kids,” Franks said. “By not having it (WiFi) there, we would be eliminating a part of the city’s population from going to the park. Some people don’t have children.”
With the cons of the scenario dominating most of the conversation, the council’s two newest members, Henderson and Millwood, put a lot of effort into proposing a compromise or alternative.
“We’ve heard a lot about the negative aspects of this tonight, and I feel like we should think more about solutions instead of just focusing on the problems,” Millwood said.
“The more we choose to work together, the better we’ll be able to enhance our city moving forward,” Henderson added.
At night’s end, the council voted to table the WiFi item to allow time to conduct research on possible alternative public locations with the intention of putting the item back on the agenda in the future.
The council unanimously approved the following items during the meeting:
· The rollback of the 2012 millage (property tax) rate to 2.680 from 2.707.
· The mayor checking with the Methodist Church to see if the church still owns the cemetery at LaFayette and Church Streets next to Flora Lawrence’s residence.
· To accept the interpretive marker from the Georgia Civil War Commission to be installed at the Cleburne Monument.
· To approve the Ringgold Youth Athletic Association (RYAA) agreement.
· The intergovernmental agreement with Catoosa County for adding the city’s alcohol referendums to the ballot in the November election.
· The Downtown Development Authority (DDA) purchasing a Christmas tree to be placed in the downtown triangle park near the digital sign.
· The council voted to allocate $250,000 to the DDA and of that $250,000, $30,000 is to be used to hire a part-time person for the DDA.
The next regularly scheduled Ringgold City Council meeting will be held at City Hall at 7 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 10, with a work session slated to take place beforehand at 6 p.m.