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Contentious Debate, Divided Vote as Dayton Moves Council Meetings

Mayor Ken Rankle cast the tie-splitting vote Tuesday night in favor of relocating all future city council and planning & zoning meetings to the Dayton Independent Schools (DIS) Central Office building.
 
It was proposed on Tuesday night that the meetings be relocated, and that the Dayton Police Department take over use of the space after large crowds at recent meetings forced many in attendance to go without seats. The River City News first reported the move on Wednesday when it was also noted that the field of candidates to be Dayton's next city administrator has been narrowed to six.  
 
The cramped space will now serve as additional room for the police department as Mayor Rankle voted with Council members Jerry Gifford, Penny Hurtt, and Cathy Volter to make the move.
 
Council members Bobby Allen, Virgil Boruske, and Bill Burns voted against it.
 
In Dayton, the mayor only votes to break a tie.
 
The school district offered the city rent-free use of a meeting room in their central office building, located at 200 Clay Street, in response to the high attendance where recently some attendees have had to sit on the floor and out in the hallway.
 
Some members of council and community members said that recent attendance at meetings may show an increase in the number residents who want to be involved. "If people have the courtesy to come to a meeting, they at least deserve a seat to sit in," Councilman Gifford said in a post-meeting interview.
 
Councilwoman Volter echoed that sentiment, adding, "I'm quite surprised it was such a hassle to approve, honestly."
 
Dayton resident and recent appointee to Dayton's Planning & Zoning Commission Catherine Hamilton Hicks also sees more people wanting to participate. Frequently in the audience herself, Hicks said, "I love going, and the fact that more people are coming to meetings, it shows that people know change is coming."
 
Hicks also reminded Council Tuesday night that at January's meeting, she had to sit on the floor due to a lack of available seating. Hicks was nine months pregnant at the time.
 
Councilman Allen, who voted against the measure, wondered if high attendance is a result of this being an election year and suggested that it doesn't represent a long-term issue. 
 
He wasn't alone in that thinking.
 
"I think there's some animosity right now with sixteen people running for city council this year," Gifford said.
 
Councilman Boruske is challenging Mayor Rankle while the other five members of council are all seeking reelection. There are eleven challengers. Twelve of the sixteen council candidates will advance past the May 20 primary.
 
Councilman Burns, who also voted against the move, expressed concerns about how changing locations would incur extra utility costs to the city and, by extension, the taxpayers. DIS Superintendent Jay Brewer, who attended Tuesday's meeting, explained that they already keep the room heated and cooled, and that the cost for lighting would be nominal.
 
For Hicks, though, a Dayton homeowner for four years now, the writing is on the wall. "When people can't participate because there's no room, that's a problem. Hopefully with a better venue, we'll get even more people in attendance. People want this city to do well," she said.
 
Written by Pat LaFleur, RCN contributor