Mayor’s Summary of the August 13, 2020 Virtual Town Council Meeting

Greetings Montreaters,

We had a milestone Council meeting: it was our first meeting in the new Town Hall. Admittedly, it was not quite what any of us anticipated since it was just the Council and staff, with Montreaters joining in via Zoom. But, we look forward to the time we can all be together in the same room, and it will be quite a homecoming for all of us.

Because the meeting was closed to the public, participants logged in via Zoom. There was no Public Forum in advance of the meeting. Instead, community members sent in their comments/questions and those comments were read by Town Clerk Angie Murphy during the Public Comments portion of the agenda. Here’s a summary of the meeting:

  • I called the meeting to order with all Commissioners present. We approved the minutes of the May 28 and 29 Special Council Meeting as well as the June 11 Council meeting and the June 30 Special Council Meeting.
  • In my comments, I reminded everyone that we will need to continue with the virtual meetings until the Governor and/or the county lift restrictions for limited participants. I also stated that as of now, there are no reported cases of COVID-19 in Montreat. For quite a while, the Buncombe Health Department reported Montreat with Black Mountain in the 28711 zip code, but is now reporting Montreat independently. We need to continue to be safe and smart about protecting ourselves and being attentive to our increased population with the Montreat College students being on campus.
  • In Town Administrator’s communications, Alex Carmichael reported on discussions with property owners on two private roads, Salem Road and White Water Road, about dedicating (handing over) the roads to the town. Much work has to be done on this issue before action is taken, but initial discussions have taken place.
  • We had some discussion about the Administrative Reports:
    • Commissioner Fouche asked if some form of comparative reporting could be reinstated so readers have a basis of comparison. Alex said he would look into adding it back into the reports
    • Commissioner Widmer asked Finance Officer Darlene Carrasquillo to review the financial report for the Council.
    • Commissioner Otto asked Public Works Director Barry Creasman about the status of fixing the retaining wall on upper Texas Road and installing the guard rail on Greybeard Trail. Barry said the Texas Road project will be the first priority when we receive reimbursement funds from the state. He said materials for the guard rail will be delivered next week and he expects work to begin the following week.
  • Three Public Comments were submitted in advance and read by Angie:
    • Bill Roberts inquired about the address issue as it relates to COVID-19 tracking and reporting and that it has a new level of importance because of the pandemic. As I mentioned above, the Health Department is now recognizing our 28757 zip code and reporting data appropriately.
    • Mary Standaert thanked Alex and Commissioner Widmer for responding to her inquiries about deadlines for the submission of Public Comments under these virtual conditions. Henceforth, the deadline for submitting Public Comments will be at noon the day of the Council meeting.
    • Martha Campbell urged the Council to adopt a resolution engaging Montreat’s participation in the county-wide Community Reparations Committee. The Committee will determine funding and give other recommendations for investments in education, home ownership, health care and other areas with large racial disparities.
  • Under Old Business, Alex reviewed a new procedure and form that he proposed be used to track the response to questions posed by the public during Public Comment sessions. After discussion, the Council agreed to initiate the procedure on a trial basis for a few months and will review its effectiveness before year end.
  • Under New Business, the Commission discussed and acted on the following:
    • Approved the purchase of replacement computer servers in the amount of $12,250. The budget for the replacement was $14,000, thus we saved $1,750. Good work, Alex!
    • Approved the renewal contract with the Land of Sky Council of Governments for the employ of Adrienne Isenhower for three days per week as the Zoning Administrator in the amount of $54,810, no change from last year’s contract.
    • Discussed developing some form of a fiscal tracking tool to monitor both revenues and expenses in this uncertain time of pandemic. After a lengthy discussion primarily centered on the uniqueness of government accounting and reporting, it was determined that a traditional report would not be effective. Instead, we will monitor revenues and expenses on an ongoing basis, particularly watching for trends in the revenue categories.
    • Approved a contract to repair a damaged fence in the amount of the $1,000 insurance deductible.
  • In Commissioners’ Communications:
    • Commissioner Fouche reiterated that the County Health Department COID-19 report added the Montreat zip code to its ongoing reporting.
    • Commissioner Widmer gave several communications updates, including Zoom meetings will be improved next month with video and audio upgrades; thanked Angie for publishing the 2019 Water Report, which is available on the website; thanked Mary Standaert for inquiring about the deadline for Public Comments, which brought about the change I mentioned above
    • Commissioner Lentz announced that the Montreat Landcare Committee continues to meet regularly along with continuing many activities including Flat Creek quality monitoring and planning for future events; She also mentioned that the Hemlock Restoration Project requested approval from the Tree Board to add information on its website about the success of Montreat’s hemlock restoration efforts
    • Commissioner Otto reminded everyone about the Montreat College students, many of whom have arrived already with the largest groups coming this weekend. Classes start on the 18th. He emphasized that the College has instituted extremely detailed logistics to protect students and citizens from possible coronavirus exposures. I commented that Alex, Tom Widmer and I have been on monthly conference calls with President Maurer, who detailed the many provisions they have developed for the start of school. We are grateful to the College for their preparations and concern for the needs of everyone here.

If you have any questions about this meeting summary or any topic, please write me at [email protected] or call me at 828/669-3852. We look forward to all of us being together face to face.

Mayor Tim Helms on behalf of the Town Council