Council meeting draws big crowd
A packed American Legion showed in full force there were strong feelings on several issues before the Baldwin City Council Monday night.
Around 25 people pulled up folding chairs at the Legion Hall, which is about 21 more than usually attend meetings. They were mostly there to support Police Chief Mike McKenna, but others voiced their opinions on the proposed addition of Sunday liquor sales in Baldwin. The groups took turns speaking during the public comment session.
"I'm one of the officers who has been here the longest," said Lance Parker an officer with the Baldwin City Police Department speaking about concerns that McKenna may leave. "The morale is higher than it's ever been."
Baldwin resident Charlene Coates spoke up against Sunday liquor sales.
"I am definitely against such sales," Coates said. "Anyone who wants to drink alcohol on Sunday can surely get another bottle or two on Saturday."
Another officer, Kevin Henderson, also praised McKenna, who the council had scheduled an executive session at the end of the meeting to discuss as a result of a job offer from Concordia that the chief is considering.
"We've grown to love the guy," said Henderson. "We learn something from him every day."
The alcohol debate was also joined by Joyce Callahan, who, along with her husband, Mike, own one of two liquor stores in town.
"I am not happy with the Sunday sales," said Joyce Callahan. "Do I want Sunday liquor sales? No."
That set the tone for the meeting, but, ultimately, neither matter was acted on by the council. They voted to table the Sunday liquor sales question until the next meeting. After a 45-minute executive session concerning McKenna, Mayor Gary Walbridge suggested a meeting with him, City Administrator Jeff Dingman and McKenna for Wednesday morning to work out any "issues" that may be involved. That session brought progress.
"We're still in negotiations," McKenna said after Wednesday's meeting. "That's about all I can say right now. I'll meet with them at a later time."
Dingman called the Signal Wednesday at noon to announce a special meeting of the council set for 3 p.m. Thursday at City Hall to discuss the chief's contract. He also thought Wednesday's session was productive.
"I think it went well," said Dingman. "I'm positive about it."
The meeting wasn't all police and alcohol, however. The council was updated about the ongoing effort to establish new ballfields south of the Baldwin Elementary School Intermediate Center. Dingman told the council an early estimated price tag for the four-field complex is around $1.5 million. How the fields will be funded hasn't been determined, but could be a bond issue through the school district.
"I brought this to your attention so it wouldn't be a surprise," said Dingman.
Council President Amy Cleavinger, who along with councilman Tony Brown and Dingman have represented the city in discussions with the school district and recreation commission, said it's a matter of commitments.
"The feeling of the group of all three entities have committed to this," said Cleavinger. "It's about getting the ball rolling. Time is certainly an issue. Part of the discussion is to get some commitment from the council to get things started. We're not talking about the Taj Mahal. This is a basic design. Half of the price tag is streets to get in and out of there."
Council member Nancy Brown noted that extending roads into the area around BESIC has been a safety concern for sometime and needs to be done regardless of ballfields.
"An alternative access to the school has been a concern of the safety committee since the school was built," said N. Brown.
Alcohol again an issue
But, once that discussion was out of the way, it was back to alcohol, where the second reading of an ordinance approving Sunday sales was on the agenda. At the past two meetings where the subject was discussed, council members commented that they hadn't heard any opposition.
"This is honestly why we have this (information) in the paper is because I have not heard one comment about it," said Cleavinger.
That was until Monday. The anti-alcohol faction was represented and instead of the ordinance being passed, it was tabled.
"I hear economic issues. I hear moral issues," said T. Brown, summing up what the opposition stated. "I'm not in a hurry to pass this."
Councilman Ted Brecheisen Jr. calmed fears expressed that the matter had been "snuck" through. Sunday sales was first brought to the council in early August and it was asked that it be put on the agenda. At the next meeting, it was added to the agenda after it had been left off. Some in the crowd took exception to that.
"I was talked to by three businessmen," said Brecheisen. "We weren't trying to pull anything over."
"Since this was published, I have had some negative feedback," said councilman Doyle Jardon.
It was pointed out that alcohol is available for sale in Baldwin on Sundays currently at bars. Also, Sunday liquor sales are available as close as Edgerton and Lawrence. Steve Larrick, owner of the other liquor store in Baldwin, said he'd asked for the ordinance to be passed so he can have the choice whether to be open on Sunday or not.
"When I came to the council two or three weeks ago, I just wanted it on the agenda," said Larrick. "I don't want to work seven days a week, but I've had several people asked me to. If there isn't a place here for them to go, they'll go on down the road.
"I've talked to a liquor store owner in Gardner who said his sales were up 10 to 20 percent because of Sunday sales," he said. "What I'm asking for is a choice. If I want to be open on Sunday, I can. I don't khow what will happen, but I'll have a choice."
Ray Jones, D.O, who has practiced in Baldwin for 42 years, spoke against alcohol.
"I've seen the effects of alcohol," said Jones. "I've seen families destroyed, children harmed. I am here to stand with those against expansion of alcohol."
Brecheisen pushed for voting on the issue at Monday's meeting.
"If they want alcohol on Sunday they're going to get it," he said. "If we have retailers in town who want to try it, I think we should vote on it."
Brecheisen made the motion to approve the ordinance. It died for a lack of a second. It was tabled to the next meeting at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 19 which will be at the new city power plant at 1100 Orange Street.