ETNA GREEN — After a heated discussion among Etna Green town council members and citizens, the council meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 13, ended with a purchase approval for the former Interra Credit Union building and the resignation of the town’s clerk-treasurer.
Town Attorney Jay Rigdon presented the proposed purchase agreement for the former bank building to council members Kevin Smith II and Keith Claassen. The town will spend $115,000 on the building, which it intends to use as a town hall.
Approximately 10 town citizens were present at the meeting to express their support or opposition of the purchase. Resident Jeff Klinefelter asked the council how many banks were contacted about interest in purchasing the building. Clerk-Treasurer Laura Baker said that five banks were asked about the property, with none of them showing interest in it.
“They’ve all been saying that the amount of foot traffic they would get is not equivalent to the minimum amount of tellers required to run a bank,” said Smith.
Smith said the utilities for the old building would run the same as the fire department, the current location of the town hall.
“It was never intended for the town council to share this spot with the fire department,” said Claassen.
Rigdon said that having the town council share the building with the fire department is in violation of the law and has been like that for quite some time.
Baker also said that the council has looked at other empty buildings in previous years to move the town hall to, but said that circumstances never worked out.
Resident Paul Sharkey then read a letter from Suzie Klinefelter. Klinefelter could not attend the town council meeting. The letter also included a petition with 154 signatures from Etna Green residents opposing the town purchasing the old bank building.
In the letter, Klinefelter discussed the importance of the town getting feedback from residents. She said that some residents expressed concern about expense and maintenance.
“Why do we need another building for the town to maintain?” asked Klinefelter. “That’ll be at least five town buildings that will need upkeep and maintenance.”
Klinefelter also said that she spoke with several towns and that none of them keep their documents in fire safes. This was a concern the council discussed during its October meeting regarding the location of town documents.
“Some of the questions I heard from residents were ‘Is the town hiding this from us?’ and ‘Why do they think we need that as a town building?'” continued Klinefelter in her letter. “I only did what the town should’ve done in the first place, and that’s talk to residents. This should be a community decision, not a decision made by a few people.”
After Sharkey finished reading Klinefelter’s letter, council member Smith informed the residents present that there will be no tax hikes. He also asked for clarification on who specifically was asked to sign the petition.
According to residents at the meeting, only property owners’ doors were knocked on, not renters’. Smith said the town population is about 500 and asked why renters were not contacted by the petitioners for their opinion.
“They should be listened to,” said resident Bev Carter. “And I won’t go into details, but what I’ve heard from Suzie about what people said about this town has shocked me to death. It shocked me to death.”
Baker asked if those in charge of the petition told residents that tax rates would go up. According to Baker, several residents came to the town hall building and asked if that news was true.
“Is it true that they were provided with false information?” asked Smith.
The residents at the meeting said that petitioners did not tell residents that tax rates would go up.
Jordan Ickes, another resident at the meeting, asked Carter why renters were not asked about the petition.
“I’m a renter,” said Ickes. “And I never got a knock on my door about the petition.”
After a heated discussion between Ickes and Carter, with Ickes accused of sticking up for the clerk-treasurer and petitioners accused of not asking all residents for their opinion, Carter angrily left in the middle of the meeting.
“This town is all just ‘gimme gimme gimme,'” said Carter. “It’s just a bunch of puppetry, that’s what this is.”
Smith acknowledged the petition but also said that it does not give an accurate representation of the town as a whole.
“Everybody needs to be given a fair shot,” said Smith. “This change that we’re making should’ve been set in place when I was born. These signatures are not the majority of the town population.”
Several residents continued to make comments, from asking the council members to resign to saying that tax rates will go up.
The council then approved the purchase of the former Interra Credit Union building. Upon asking for new business, clerk-treasurer Laura Baker read the council members her typed resignation letter.
“As of Dec. 31, 2018, I will be resigning from my position as clerk-treasurer,” said Baker. “Eileen Hall [deputy clerk] will continue her position with the town.”
“Thirty years ago, I went into this position to help the town of Etna Green become better,” said Baker, becoming emotional. “But all the lies that have been told about me … all the hatred put towards me … it gets to you after a while … I’m done.”
Shocked by the announcement, Smith and Claassen thanked Baker for all of her hard work.
“I don’t think the townspeople realize all the work that you’ve done,” said Claassen. “You’re the face of the town, and I think that’s why you got the brunt of all this.”
“In all my years, I don’t think I’ve ever found a clerk-treasurer who is as devoted and hardworking as Laura Baker is,” said town attorney Rigdon.
“Know that we all appreciate you,” said Smith. “As much as I don’t want to accept this letter and as much as we hate to see you go, we understand.”
Smith then addressed those present at the meeting.
“This has not been a happy council meeting for me,” said Smith.
In other business:
- The council approved wastewater adjustments totaling $455.34.
- The Etna Green Fire Department is collecting toys for Toys for Tots through Dec. 15. Contact the fire department for more information, or drop off toys at the Etna Green town hall.
- The council’s next meeting will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 11.