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On March 11, Lebanon Mayor Gary Crenshaw issued a memo stating that city employees should no longer do any work on private property, acknowledging that city employees have assisted homeowners and business owners with minor matters in the past.
“While these acts may have been performed with good intentions, they must not continue,” Crenshaw wrote.
He added that going forward, the city would follow the letter of the law.
During the March 11 Lebanon City Council meeting, Councilman Jay Grundy said it would be fair for the city to send a bill out for backhoe work recently done by city employees.
“That’s only fair,” Grundy said. “If I’m going to get backhoe work done on my property, I’ve got to pay for it.”
In a phone interview, City Administrator John O. Thomas explained that the city had received a request a few weeks ago about removing concrete next to Lebanon Car World, which was planning to expand its lot. Thomas said his initial thought was no, but when he asked the public works administrator how long it would take, he estimated it would take an hour or two.
Thomas acknowledged that the city should not have done it, but it’s not anything they hadn’t done at other times. At least, that’s what he thought at first.
When he drove by the property more than four hours later, he saw the city workers were still there and didn’t seem to have made much impact. At that point, he told them to stop.
Thomas said they didn’t give any more thought to it until a citizen, Debbie Higdon, posted a message on Facebook on March 7.
“It's my understanding that city employees were working on private property this week and wondering WHY? It's not the first time I've heard of them doing work on private property while getting paid from the city budget. Can any city counsel members on facebook comment on this and hopefully assure the people that live in the city and pay city taxes that this is not happening. Just askin?”
Higdon probably wasn’t alone in raising those questions. In light of her concerns, Crenshaw issued his memo.
Now, I understand those concerns, especially with regard to businesses, but this issue isn’t black and white. After the ice storm, city workers went on private property to help remove fallen limbs. I don’t recall anyone complaining at that time. Maybe in that case, the public benefit was obvious.
Councilman Darrin Spalding had his own concerns — about the rigidness of the policy.
“So we want to stop salting at the hospital and everything, too?” he asked at last week’s meeting.
“That’s what it says,” Thomas said, referring to the memo.
“No exceptions,” City Attorney Kandice Engle-Gray added.
Spalding suggested that the change was going too far.
“I think it’s petty — petty, petty grievances myself,” he said. “It’s cutting off your nose to spite your face.”
He indicated he wouldn’t want an ambulance to wreck if he was in it while he was going into the hospital.
“Shouldn’t the hospital make sure it’s salted?” Grundy asked.
I do wonder how far this new policy goes. Is a city worker on his lunch break prohibited from helping a senior citizen by carrying an old piece of furniture from her house to her garage? As a citizen myself, I hope there can be some compromise on this issue.
The city certainly shouldn’t do work strictly for the benefit of an individual or business, but I hope this new policy doesn’t prohibit the city or its employees from being good neighbors.