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Culver's town council last Tuesday was urged by several in the audience to push harder to fill its vacant town manager position, even as council members explained some of the frustrations and intricacies of their search up to now.
At the council's regular meeting September 27, audience member Jim Hahn -- prefacing his comments with a reminder of his past compliments on all the council has been doing for the community -- cited several projects in recent months which he felt would have been less problematic had a town manager been in place. Specifically, he discussed replacement of curbs and gutters on South Ohio Street, sewer meter problems with Culver Academies, and a "pretty darn embarrassing issue" of an underestimate by $13,000 in costs of sludge removal in preparation for renovations at Culver's sewer plant.
"I think we need full-time project management," said Hahn. "I would encourage the board to find somebody as soon as possible."
He added he was disappointed in the council for not having its own town meeting regarding the controversial proposed wind farm in Marshall County.
Town clerk Casey Howard countered that she feels project management is going "wonderfully" in the absence of a town manager, noting she felt the problems Hahn cited would have occurred with or without that position being filled.
Culver's last town manager, Michael Doss, left the position in April of this year. Since then, explained council president Ginny Munroe, the town has been interfacing with town employees more, in order to monitor the several projects put into motion before Doss' departure, as well as working diligently to find a new manager.
"In the meantime," said Hahn, "the townspeople are paying taxes, and they expect a full-time town manager, and they and aren't getting one."
Audience member Russ Mason asked if rumors were true that the council is waiting until after elections are over this November, to which council member Ralph Winters replied he thought the council should do so, adding he didn't feel a delay would be problematic.
"Don't give the community the impression you're not committed to doing this," said Mason. "I don't feel that's the case, but a lot of people in town do...you can advertise (for a new manager)."
Munroe said council members were shocked that their top three picks for a new manager didn't work out, noting there were "very legitimate reasons" they couldn't hire the candidate they had expected to.
Audience member Patty Stallings suggested the council hire a "headhunter," or professional in charge of filling the position with the best candidate, but council member Ed Pinder said the last time such an approach was taken , "it didn't work out at all. We did a better job ourselves."
He said the council poured through 54 resumes, but none of the top choices worked out.
"I hear you out there thinking we don't want a town manager," he said, "but we do. We can't just hire any...person. Most people on this board would know more than some of the people who applied."
Munroe explained the council met and opted to make street supervisor Bob Porter utility manager, over the water, sewer, and street departments -- an action they voted into formal existence later in the meeting -- in order to get a better handle on the structural affairs of the town. She agreed to the notion of re-advertising for the position.
The council voted to advertise for the position, later in the meeting.
In other actions, the council voted not to reimburse Culver resident Anne Duff for the cost of removing a town-owned tree which fell onto her house last June. This followed an explanation from Mike Stallings of Culver's tree commission, who detailed what Culver's existing ordinances say about the matter.
Property owners aren't allowed to remove trees or prune limbs larger than three inches in diameter, when the trees are growing on town-owned property, such as the street-side right-of-ways throughout town, said Stallings. Owners bear financial responsibility for major trimmings or removal of such trees, he added. He noted that while Porter is given authorization for emergency tree removal, such as following last June's heavily damaging storms, neither his budget nor the tree commission's could begin to cover the cost of maintenance and removal of trees throughout town as needed.
Some 10 to 12 trees have been removed so far this year via the commission following a professional arborist flagging them as rotten or hazardous, Stallings noted. Winters added the vote to deny reimbursement was "with reluctance."
West shore culvert delays
Porter updated the council on delays in replacing a culvert at the Lake Maxinkuckee outlet on West Shore Drive, where multiple days' delays have caused traffic to be re-routed, to the consternation of some residents.
He explained a gas line placed across the old pipe was in a different location than expected, likely due to the sagging of the culvert itself over time, which has forced delays in the work.
Wind farm controversy
Munroe raised the issue of the wind farm proposed to be placed near Culver and surrounding areas by a Florida-based energy company, a matter about which some audience members had asked the council to take an official stand at a previous meeting, echoing Culver's park board's formal opposition to the proposal.
Munroe said she felt "pretty strongly" that municipalities and organizations should take a stand on the issue in order to send a message to members of Marshall County's Board of Zoning Appeals, which will vote on the project when and if it's formally proposed. Some had suggested the council shouldn't address the proposal since placement of the wind turbines would fall outside the town limits, and thus out of the council's official jurisdiction.
"It's a really important issue to Culver and at the county level," said Munroe, "and I personally am not thrilled about the fact these (wind turbines) could happen. Our number one asset in terms of the environment is the lake. If these can be viewed on the lake, I have a problem with that, besides the other issues that are related, one being they don't benefit Culver in any way. Though this is a county decision, we represent a segment of this county. In many ways, I feel we should speak for the citizens of Culver.
"I would encourage as many citizens as possible to speak to the county about it," she added.
Hahn noted an online Pilot News poll shows over 60 percent of respondents are against the wind farm proposal.
Pinder reasserted his opposition to the turbines as well. "I hate to see them take farm land away from the farmers and stick a monstrosity in place of farming with corn or soybeans."
He added government subsidies funding similar projects in other states appear to be drying up.
It was decided at the previous council meeting that there was not enough agreement on the issue among members for the entire council to take a formal position.
Outdoor food vendors discussed
Audience member Jean Rakich asked the council to consider an ordinance governing outdoor food vendors in Culver, most specifically two barbecue businesses which appeared here over the summer. She cited the presence of smoke "billowing through town" from the vendors, and the effect it must have on neighbors.
Munroe said one restaurant owner approached her from a business perspective about the vendors.
"They (indoor restaurant owners) have to fill out all these restaurant rules and permits...you can get health permits and so on to do this (sell barbecue outdoors, more easily). We have no ordinance not to do it, but we have to decide what we want to do about it."
Police chief Wayne Bean asked the council to consider the regularity of use in town of a company which rents out its port-a-pit equipment to local schools and charities for fund raising, before constructing the ordinance.
Howard noted the vendor regularly selling barbecue at the corner of Lake Shore Drive and Lakeview Street brought in his legal permits to show the town.
Also discussed was whether the town would follow up on properties in Culver -- specifically on South Ohio Street -- with multiple vehicles in the yard, something Culver police chief Wayne Bean said is being worked on.
Metering agreement and other matters
Howard updated council members on a proposed agreement between the town and Culver Academies regarding metering of its sewage outflow to the town plant. Changes requested at the last meeting regarding billing procedures were made, she said, and council members approved the document pending agreement from Academies Facilities director Jeff Kutch.
The council suspended second and third readings to pass on final reading an ordinance to change street supervisor Bob Porter's title to Utility Manager and increase his pay, reflecting his ongoing increased duties in the absence of a town manager.
Winters noted the position's pay will be split between the motor vehicle, water, and wastewater funds.
Approved was Porter's request for $7,000 for purchase of 50 more new water meters to replace older, more difficult to use meters gradually being phased out around town.
Also approved was $900 for recertification of a study of Culver's income conducted two years ago, in order to keep the town in the running for a water utility planning grant applied for via the town's grant writer Shannon McLeod. Munroe was also approved to sign a recently-changed form, also towards the hoped-for grant.