Wanted: Input On City Hall Proposals

Wanted: Input On City Hall Proposals by David Lias In the months since the Vermillion City Hall Advisory Committee was formed, the group has developed a clear definition of the tasks it must accomplish.

It has made progress, and has information to share.

This coming Tuesday, however, the committee will take an important step � a move that won't be effective without strong public support.

The group will hold a public meeting a 7 p.m. Nov. 16 at the William J. Radigan Fire/EMS Station.

The public is encouraged to take part, to join discussions about selection options for a new or renovated city hall, and to bring ideas about where city hall should be located.

"One of my personal concerns is that the citizens be as engaged and informed of our committee's group as possible," said Richard Braunstein, chairman of the committee. "I want to make sure that we engage people and inform people."

Braunstein said the committee has had two meetings that have not been as well attended as hoped.

"We want to make sure that what we're doing is out in the public," he said. "If people can't attend Tuesday's meeting, we would at least like them to share their views through e-mail or some other means, to make sure that any decisions we make are consistent with what the community makes."

Braunstein said the committee's goal is to make a recommendation about city hall to the city council early next year.

"We don't want anyone in the committee to say, 'why didn't they consider this,' or 'why didn't they do that,'" he said.

"I think that's a frustration of elected officials as well as committees like this," Mayor Dan Christopherson said. "You only hear about some of the things after the fact. People don't come forward with their thoughts until after a decision has been made, even though you ask for it up front.

"We want to make it known that that's the time to give it � before decisions are made or before recommendations are made, so that we have all of the public opinion possible," he said.

Braunstein said citizens should feel welcome to go even one step further.

"We're not a government agency," he said of the city hall committee. "We want the public to participate in our meetings, to contribute, criticize, evaluate with us.

"We want public opinion, we want to share information with the public, but we also want participation," Braunstein said.

"We're all sitting at the same table, and we're all participating in this process," Christopherson said.

The committee, made up of Braunstein, Laurence Brady, Bob Fuller, Jim Green, Jill LeCates, Neil Melby, Ted Muenster, Nikki Peters, Lloyd Rowland, Howard Willson and Alderman Dennis Zimmerman was formed last March.

Approximately a year ago, the city attempted to purchase the Community First bank building to use as a new city hall.

That idea was referred to a public vote, and failed by a wide margin at the polls.

"We've all done our fair share of second-guessing or speculating about why the vote went the way it did, or what would have made it different," Christopherson said, "but we really need to hear that from the majority of the general public."

"We need to hear what the people would have the city of Vermillion do," Braunstein said, "in no kind of indirect way.

Christopherson voiced confidence that, eventually, the committee will make a recommendation to the city council that will be widely accepted.

"I've had people tell me that whatever the committee decides, they are going to support, because they've never seen a group work as hard as this one," he said.

Braunstein said the committee has talked about whether it had enough of a cross section of the city population to represent the city well, and discussed the process to use as it explored various city hall options.

"We contemplated various ways to

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collect information," he said. "Initially, a lot of committee members went out and just talked with folks, just to engage people and find out what is important to them."

All of this has been done, Braunstein said, and the committee has not yet made any decisions.

"I've had citizens ask me what buildings or what locations are in the mix now, and I've been able to tell them they absolutely haven't talked about that," Christopherson said. "It's all been needs assessments and process and the physical part of it hasn't even been discussed."

"In fact, we have rejected discussion of any sites or locations until we understand fully what needs and preferences there are in the community," Braunstein said. "We labored long and hard, over four or five meetings, over the question of whether we should do anything."

The committee has explored these options:

* do nothing.

* renovate the existing location.

* move to a different existing location.

* build a new structure.

"We have decided that are justifications for doing something, but I can't tell you what that something is, because at the Nov. 16 meeting, we want to carry on that discussion."

After hard work at several meetings, the committee has reached an understanding that there are many needs of city government that are unmet in the current city hall, Braunstein said.

These needs include a lack of security for public records, insufficient working space for personnel, and Americans with Disabilities (ADA) violations.

"My view is if we're going to hold other businesses in the community to ADA standards,and then not be compliant ourselves, even with the principle of it, we're making a mistake," Braunstein said. "We ought to be leaders in the public sector in Vermillion, and think of it in terms of fire codes and life safety codes."

The present city hall, he said, doesn't have sufficient fire exits, corridor space or office space. "These are, if not legal violations because of grandfathered clauses, you could never build a new building with those kind of capacities," he said. "We have worked long and hard to see if doing nothing is a viable option ? and we've come to the conclusion after careful review that it is not an option. But still, we haven't made any decisions on which of the remaining three options are the best for our community. We are going through a process of evaluating that, and we will spend the next several months considering that."

That's why, he said, that it is so important for citizens to show up at the Nov. 16 meeting to discuss such options.

"We want every idea," he said, "accepting the fact that we must do something."

Christopherson and Braunstein stressed that Tuesday's meeting will be highly informal.

"There won't be any evaluations or critical assessment of suggestions," Braunstein said. "This is what I would call a listening meeting."

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