Councilman Ray Ferris and Dr. Nancy Dye talk after Monday’s city council meeting.
Councilman Ray Ferris withdrew his motion to dissolve the Mill Mountain Advisory Committee Monday but did not concede his assertion that it is an “ad hoc” committee. “City council has failed to give it any particular assignment – that’s certainly not the fault of the committee,” he said.
The MMAC will continue in a contradictory status deemed “a permanent ad hoc committee.” Ad hoc being temporary and permanent meaning a “standing committee.”
This makes their status technically unclear. According to Councilman Dave Trinkle the applications to fill expired terms on the committee will be filled at the next council meeting in January. The appointments have been held up since at least October 8 when Ferris began disputing the validity of the committee.
Withdrawal of the motion by Ferris stymied speakers who were waiting in the wings in support of the MMAC. Gail Burruss, a Mill Mountain advocate, in her unread statement planned to say, “that it is time to formalize the MMAC as a standing committee.” She recounted the language in the Fishburn deed gifting it to the city – “to be developed and forever preserved, improved and maintained for the use and pleasure of the people of the City of Roanoke and vicinity as a public park.”
Burruss contends that every so often there are proposals to develop on the mountain even though the conservation easement has left only eight acres available. “Just because there hasn’t been one in five years doesn’t mean that there’s not one in the works. There will be another,” read her statement.
At the November 19 council meeting Ferris questioned why the city was “continuing to perpetuate the existence of the committee?” In a back and forth with the Chair of the MMAC, Dr. Nancy Dye, Ferris was skeptical on what exactly the committee could advise council on – “what have they done?”
Ferris was more conciliatory Monday saying that he had contemplated wearing his “Grinch” necktie to the city council meeting but his wife told him that everyone already knew that he was the Grinch. “The cat is out of the bag,” he recounted her saying.
He admitted that “in this situation I got down in the weeds. It might not be in the best interest of the city to abolish the ad hoc committee.” He told council colleagues that he regretted “dragging you all into the weeds with me.” Media has targeted him and exposed him to public scrutiny.
Ferris said he had heard conspiracy theories suggesting there were development proposals at the ready if the MMAC could be swept out of the way. Though he couldn’t speak for the other council members Ferris adamantly denied that there were any proposals.
Councilman Dave Trinkle backed him up saying it was an exercise being applied to all committees. Trinkle wanted to “make sure the mission fits what we need here today – Ray Ferris is not the Grinch.”
Ferris asked that council “be more definitive in what we expect them to be.” He asked that the vision statement be revisited. Trinkle thought that the mission statement devised in 1997 was written very well – the park is unique. “If there comes a time where we need more people or more organizations or need to specify the tasks for the MMAC we can certainly do that,” he said. “It is important to have the stakeholders meet on a more frequent basis than just an ad hoc committee.”
Councilman Bill Bestpitch thought that the MMAC should be structured like a private voluntary group of citizens coming together to promote Mill Mountain.
Ferris concluded saying, “let them continue doing great work.”
Burruss said after the council meeting that the 219 page Mill Mountain Park Management Plan that was adopted in 2006 as an amendment to the city’s comprehensive plan was “totally ignored.” The plan was completed by the Department of Landscape Architecture at Virginia Tech and submitted by the MMAC. It contains a fire prevention and wildlife management plan as examples. “It’s loaded with recommendations. That is what council should charge them with,” she said.
Still the uncomfortable “ad hoc committee” designation lingers. Dr. Dye believed that since they had formed bylaws and established member term limits as requested by city council in 1998 that they were already a “standing committee.” Dye was not on the committee but guesses that follow up was expected. She and several other committee members have been appointed without questioning in the interim. “I don’t want to have to go down this road again 6 months or a year from now – I think it needs to be clearly established that we’re a standing committee and vacancies filled.”