City Council met Monday to further discuss the Baileys Trail project and ultimately table an ordinance regarding the city’s role in financing the project.
Councilman Jeff Risner, D-2nd Ward, made the successful motion to table the ordinance on the funding for Baileys Trail until the next regular session of city council, which will be on Nov. 18. The justification for tabling by the four members who voted in support of the motion surrounded on the uncertainty and complications with the language of the agreement between Athens and Quantified Ventures.
Four members voted in favor of tabling, with two, Kent Butler, D-1st Ward, and Sam Crowl, D-3rd Ward opposing the measure. Peter Kotses, D-At Large, recused himself from the vote consistent with his recusal on all official discussion of the issue at Council.
Mayor Steve Patterson acknowledged the project has been pondered over for quite some time and made it known that the city will work with a third party to review the details of the agreement. Patterson said he wants answers and would like to move quickly. He stands by his belief that the project will help diversify the local economy, while at the same time, he respects council’s cautiousness.
Members of Council both in favor of and against tabling made their thoughts known before the floor was opened up to audience comments and the subsequent vote.
“I would like to have some more information concerning the financial burden it will place on the city,” Risner said.
Councilman Pat McGee, I-At Large, backed Risner’s motion.
“It may be unpopular, but I don’t think we have the information we need on this yet,” McGee said. “When we finally get the information, it could benefit everyone in Athens.”
McGee went on to say he does not believe anyone on Council is against Baileys Trail, but they need to table the ordinance to make sense of the language and of the numbers.
“The city can opt out. What does that really mean?” McGee said.
Councilwoman Sarah Grace, D-At Large, agreed with McGee and his cautious approach.
“I absolutely support Baileys Trail,” Grace said. “This is a significant ask for the city and I think we need to be absolutely certain before entering into an agreement.”
Butler spoke out against tabling and was one of two members who voted against Risner’s proposal. Butler pointed to the opt out clause of the agreement and his comfort with it to move forward with the funding.
“I am not in favor of tabling and am optimistic about moving forward,” Butler said.
Council members also said they have received a significant number of emails from citizens in recent days regarding Baileys Trail.
Butler said he received more emails about Baileys Trail than anything else in recent memory. Mayor Patterson also said he has received at least 42 emails leading up to the City Council meeting.
McGee said he has received many emails from residents of Athens County who pay city taxes.
“I’ve read every one of them,” McGee said. “Your voice is not being discounted.”
Auditor Kathy Hecht said she has mixed feelings on tabling. She is in favor of the project but feels like some of the actual language in the agreement is contradictory. She also brought up the point that the trail will be constructed outside the city limits and will be receiving significant funds from the city.
“We need to be able to justify why we are using city dollars for this,” Hecht said. “I’m conservative when it comes to our city dollars.”
Julia Paxton Pagan, a professor of economics at OU, spoke in favor of the trail and its economic impacts.
“(The project) has all the hallmarks of best practices in economic development,” Paxton Pagan said. “It is a sustainable use of our beautiful natural resources. It attracts and retains citizens that would like to live in an area with a high quality of life.”
Danny Twilley, assistant professor of recreation and sport pedagogy at OU disagreed with Council’s decision.
“There are many reasons to say no, but it takes guts and courage to say yes,” Twilley said. “What else do we have coming down the pipe that’s going to bring people here?”