Tensions flare about New Hope’s pool during police department, city hall vote

Tensions were high at the Aug. 28 New Hope City Council meeting after Mayor Kathi Hemken discontinued public comment regarding the outdoor pool during a vote on moving from the design phase to the construction document phase of the proposed police station and city hall.

The majority of the council approved moving to the next phase of planning for a new police station and city hall, with the caveat that the city would continue conversations with the public regarding the project.

Residents can provide public input of the construction documents phase at the Oct. 23 meeting. Wold Architects, the developer, plans to issue the documents and begin advertising for bids in November. The developer anticipates the city council will approve contracts for construction and sell bonds Dec. 11 with construction beginning shortly after that date.
The council previously voted to approve each phase of the project before authorizing to move to the next phase. The decision was intended to be routine.

Councilmember Jonathan London voiced his concern about the proposed new facility prior to voting.

“At some point people decided to stop taking care of this building and let the roof leak, let the air conditioning go,” he said. “Most people fix that. When you stop taking care of your equipment you should still continue to put money away for replacement but we’ve just spent the money elsewhere.”

Police Chief Tim Fournier said he believes a new police department and city hall is best for the public.

“As far as the building goes, since I started in 1993 we’ve had two interior remodels of the city hall and police department,” he said. “This is a 50-year-old building. In my mind you’ve got a pretty good bang for your buck for 50 years. Most police departments have remodeled twice since we’ve been in existence. There are inadequacies for sure, there are small things you could change, but I think one of the things we have to be aware of is this building is inadequate as far as its safety goes. The shooting we had in city hall two years ago taught us a valuable lesson in how inadequate this building is as far as modern safety.”

Councilmember John Elder responded to some of London’s comments.

“The fact that someone will have you believe that we’re all just happy people sitting up here rubber stamping whatever people bring forward to us because we’re afraid to have enemies, look back through the minutes. You’ll see that not only through our city council meetings but especially at work sessions there’s a lot of things that we say ‘no’ to. There’s a lot of things that we tweak or massage or work with the directors here. Make sure that when somebody’s telling you something as we sit up here that that information is correct because we’re all entitled to our own set of opinions but you’re not entitled to your own set of facts,” Elder said.

Mayor Kathi Hemken opened the meeting to resident comment for 15 minutes, even though the topic was not scheduled an official public hearing.

The individuals from the public that spoke said they wanted to keep the 50-meter pool, were previously uninformed about the project, frustrated that it is unknown whether $8.5 million will be enough to build the pool, upset that the decision for the project was based on 40 surveys, believe the numbers presented regarding these projects are unsubstantiated.

“I am appalled, frankly, by what has gone on with the pool committee and the seeming insistence that these two decisions, of the city hall being built over the pool and rebuilding a new pool, are disjointed,” said Matt Linebaugh, of New Hope. “You can’t treat these two decisions independently.”

When 15 minutes passed and Hemken attempted to move forward with the vote, residents began speaking out of order asking the council to continue allowing people to speak.

Hemken reassured attendants that the council has read and listened to the hundreds of emails, phone calls and people who visited their homes regarding the projects.

One man protested the city bonding for $6.5 million before excusing himself from the meeting.

Resident Joan Perko, who did not identify herself at the meeting but was later identified by the leader of the pool rally, Megan McClellan, stood in the back of the council chambers and expressed anger at the council.

“It is my understanding that the man who shot at the council came to the city over and over asking and pleading that they would not do certain things and the city council did not listen,” she said. “You want a secure building? Yes, that’s perfect. Remodel this building. But it’s insane to expect people to pay $5 million more for something that we don’t need.”

Perko left immediately after making her comments.