Black Mountain Town Council votes not to approve Babe Ruth memorandum of understanding

Karrigan Monk
Black Mountain News
The Black Mountain Town Council held a monthly meeting March 13.

The March 13 Black Mountain Town Council meeting saw members of the public advocating for a full-time town position, a continuance looking for a new town attorney and a memorandum of understanding not being approved.

One item of new business involved the passing of memorandum of understanding for the Owen Babe Ruth youth league.

Recreation & Parks Director Josh Henderson said, in the past, prior to his working in the department, the town had provided $5,000 to the league, and the league agreed to a review of their financial records.

The policy eventually changed, requiring organizations to apply for grant funding. Henderson said since this policy changed, Babe Ruth had not applied for funding. However, Henderson said, the town provides approximately $25,000 each season in waived facility fees and services. He said no other organization gets these fees waived.

Though he did not stay for this portion of the meeting, Black Mountain resident Frank Cappelli said during the public comment period he had previously emailed members of the council to speak about the memorandum of understanding. He said he was concerned that the memorandum of understanding was on the agenda for the night.

"We know that we've got a situation that we're currently dealing with right now," Cappelli said. "We've come to you, we've let you know about it, it's getting investigated. We did the right thing."

In February, a report was filed with the Black Mountain Police Department alleging embezzlement of $17,856.84 from the organization. The incident occurred in September of last year.

Cappelli said the memorandum of understanding presented to the council was different than the one presented to the league. Henderson said he reached out to a representative from the league in January, but did not hear back and moved forward.

Council member Pam King said there was "incident where the funding was mishandled."

Council member Doug Hay said it "saddens" him that some members of the community may believe the council is not as supportive as they could be toward town activities like Babe Ruth.

When asked by Hay how often the council revisits memorandum of understanding's for similar organizations, Henderson said it is done on an "as needed" basis.

King said it was "really unfortunate" that it seemed like there was a miscommunication and she hopes a better job is done to improve relationships.

Council member Bill Christy asked how the town would know if there was anything amiss with the bank statements, and Harrold responded that Henderson looks at the statements.

"I can tell you based off of the previous ones," Henderson said. "The issues are glaring."

He said he can "confidently" say the town has never gotten a "complete picture" of finances in the past.

Christy made a motion to amend the memorandum of understanding to add a line saying Babe Ruth is welcome to apply for funding. This amendment was passed.

Council member Alice Berry said the situation felt "messy" and she did not feel right moving forward without the league being able to see the updated version of the memorandum of understanding.

"It feels like the negotiation should be between the parks department and Babe Ruth," Hay said.

King moved to approve the amended version of the memorandum of understanding and was the sole "yes" vote. The league will have until the end of the month to respond.

More from the meeting

Five members of the public spoke at the meeting, advocating for the creation of a full-time garden manager position at the Dr. John Wilson Community Garden.

Among those who spoke were Ali Casparian, founder and executive director of Bounty & Soul.

"Since Bounty & Soul started nine years ago, the Dr. John Wilson Community Garden has been an essential partner in the critical work that we do for and with those in our community facing food and nutrition insecurity," Casparian said. "They not only provide impactful educational experiences for youth and adults in the garden, but they also grow and donate a significant amount of the local fresh food that we distribute to the over 850 families that we serve each week."

Casparian said having a full-time position is "critical" for not only Bounty & Soul, but for the Black Mountain community in order for the community garden to continue to provide resources and education for residents.

More:Bounty & Soul founder on organization's origins, personal struggles

Julia Weatherford, chairperson for the Active Mobility Commission, gave a report to the council. She thanked the council for their support of greenways and walkability of the town. She gave recommendations and asked the council to consider several areas around town for improvement. These areas included an encouragement to add a sidewalk by the library and adding the Ventures Trail to the Greenway Master Plan, as well as adding a new rain garden by the 18th hole of the disc golf course.

Planning Director Jessica Trotman gave the council an update on Elevate Black Mountain, the town's comprehensive plan. She said all local governments who deal with zoning are required to have a comprehensive plan.

Trotman said the town has a "remarkable" 53 tasks in progress and 32 tasks awaiting action from Elevate Black Mountain.

In unfinished business, council voted to approve a permanent sidewalk easement for Charlotte Street. Town Manager Josh Harrold said this would cost the town approximately $65,000.

More:Tremendous public input for parks & rec master plan; $8.5 million estimated cost

Town Attorney Ron Sneed announced in the February meeting that he would not be returning to the role, which he will be in until June 30. An item to appoint a new town attorney was on the agenda under unfinished business, but after discussion, council voted to table the appointment until the April meeting, when council will have a chance to ask the applicants questions in person.

Council members had several questions, including what each firm would be covering under the provided flat rates.

Christy said four law firms applied for the role, including Roberts & Stevens, Allen Stahl & Kilbourne, Teague Campbell and Van Winkle, all with offices in Asheville.

"You're down to dollars and cents now," Sneed said. "You have the good fortune of having qualified firms bid."

In new business, the council voted to approve a new traffic ordinance that prohibits vehicles exceeding 48 feet in length from traveling on Midland Avenue, effective April 1. This ordinance does not apply to vehicles entering on the south end of the street to make delivers to Black Mountain Bistro.

In the final item of new business, the council voted to partially reimburse the Cheshire neighborhood for new streetlights. The town will pay for the pole, while the Cheshire Homeowners Association will pay for the decorative adornments on the streetlights in the area.

In communications from the council, King acknowledged Women's History Month by naming each woman who had served on the council starting in 1971 with Margaret Slagle.

The council closed the meeting by going into closed session to discuss an acquisition of real property.