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Future of Old Greenline Trolley Property Creates Intense Debate in Park Hills

A battle between old and new members of council was on display in Park Hills, both literally and symbolically as the new members were sworn in during the outgoing council's final regularly scheduled meeting.
 
At issue: The proposed creation of a conservancy to preserve the land historically used by the Greenline trolley car system that is now used by the public. The sudden nature of the creation of the conservancy and its motivation to block a suggested bike trail have caused tension in the city.
 
Residents packed the Park Hills City Council meeting on Monday night to question the need for what some members have called "an emergency".
 
"There is no emergency," resident Sheila Dean said flatly. "I went up to the city building to buy luminaries and I find out about this emergency, and we must do this. We can delay this. Nothing is going to be done in the next few weeks. Council should do their damn jobs, do their due diligence and listen to the new people! Let's figure out what we're doing!"
 
Another resident complained about what she saw as things being done in secret, and that the nature of the emergency was not correct, and the city could be held to account for inappropriate use of emergency ordinances. She attacked the conservancy, saying it has no tax ID yet and no fiduciary history. She announced that she didn't care if there was a bike path there or a pig farm, as long as it is done with a public discussion.
 
The issue came to light when Councilwoman Pam Spoor's husband, attorney Richard Spoor, drew up the plans for a conservancy. Councilman Mark Cooper, who will not return to council in January, sent an email urging opponents of a bike trail to support the emergency ordinance because there are enough votes to override a veto by Mayor Matt Mattone. That won't be the case in January, he said.
 
Most of the residents who came to the meeting on Monday spoke against the emergency ordinance, with at least one referencing the difficulties that surrounded the previous mayor's administration, which ended up being defeated in 2014 by a rare victorious write-in campaign that put Mattone in office.
 
"I am disappointed that we didn't learn our lesson," resident LuAnn Holmes said. "Listening to the will of the people and a lack of communication is still there. It really stinks. I am not really sure where this emergency comes from. We need to think about this. I am proud of Matt (Mattone). We were a laughing stock, and he turned it around. He should be allowed to do his job, the way we elected him to do."
 
Karl Oberjohn, who was sworn in for the first time along with fellow first-timer Jason Reser, and four other council members on Monday night, said that he understands some people don't want a bike trail on the old trolley line, but also argued that Park Hills is behind on a 5-year comprehensive plan, something he wants to fix. He proposed a 6-year moratorium on deciding anything on the trolley line property.
 
Resident Andrew Smith agreed, saying they should have a "needs before wants" list, as well as a long-term plan. He said he is not against a conservancy specifically, he is against the emergency.
 
Resident Philip Ryan questioned the compilation of the conservancy, saying he didn't like the fact that Richard Spoor was the incorporator, and the address of the conservancy was Pam Spoor's address. He then suggested that the city didn't have to give away the land, that they could put it into a conservation easement and still retain control.
 
Resident Greg Johnson argued that the issue came down to whether people want a bike trail or not and he thought the conservancy was a excellent alternative. He encouraged everyone to quit personal attacks and to come together as a community.
 
But Councilman Mark Cooper argued that he knew that Mayor Mattone was trying to put a bike trail in. Mattone clarified his position, saying he could not make a bike trail happen with an executive order, and council would have to make that happen.
 
As it turns out, council had been leaning towards eliminating the emergency element of the ordinance, even though City Attorney Todd McMurtry told them there was no set law on the matter. After listening to the people's opinions, however, council amended the ordinance to eliminate the emergency. However, since it was on the agenda, McMurtry had to read the ordinance, and though council didn't vote on it, they did vote to reject a motion by outgoing Councilman Monty O'Hara to table the discussion.
 
O'Hara said he wanted to avoid having other council members call a special meeting to push through a second reading before the end of the year.
 
Residents were uncertain as to what happened, listening to the first reading of the ordinance with the approval of most of council when they had just heard many opinions that the issue should be postponed and taken up after the first of the year. McMurtry assured the residents that the second reading of the ordinance would have to be at a public meeting, whether it was a special meeting or a regular meeting, and they would have notification and could come and voice their opinions again.
 
Reluctantly, the residents trickled out as the meeting continued. 
 
Council approved the second readings of several ordinances; 
*to amend the budget to increase the legal fees from $355,000 to $375,000,
*to leave the hours of operation for alcohol sales the same, beginning at 1 p.m. on Sundays,
*to change the location of council meetings to Notre Dame Academy starting in January,
*to establish monthly caucus meetings on the fourth Monday of each month.
 
Two municipal orders reappointed David Gray as a representative for the joint Code Enforcement board for a term of three years, and reappointed Richard Lange as cluster respresentative to the Telecommunications Board of Northern Kentucky for one year.
 
Police Chief Cody Stanley reported that he had two bids or estimates for the new phone system, since the old one is antiquated. He said Norcom was lower, but had more work on the front end, whereas Verizon was a little higher, but had less work on the front end and included two lines. Council will discuss the issue in January.
 
Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor