Approximately 50 people attended the petition referendum meeting organized by former city councilman Hal Brown Thursday, April 12, at the Salida Community Center, and the meeting became contentious almost immediately.
The referendum petition needs 227 signatures to force Salida City Council to reconsider the ordinance approving the proposed Salida Crossings mixed-use development, and Brown said the petition has already garnered 246 signatures. If council again approves the ordinance, a special election will be required.
Brown opened the meeting by stating, “The purpose of this meeting is to allow people who are seeking information to get the information they want and make up their minds whether they want to sign the referendum petition that’s being circulated or not sign it.”
Danny Stotler, a Salida Crossings investor and fourth-generation Salidan, said 42 people had already committed money for units in the development, all local residents in the 81201 zip code.
“I think Mr. Brown has painted a picture that is probably not true,” Stotler continued, “but he’s also asked some questions that I think are viable questions that I’d like anyone to ask so that we can address those. … Duane and I’d be happy to answer any questions you have.”
Brown interrupted Stotler, saying, “Okay Danny, now, this was not intended to be speeches so …”
As Brown attempted to take the microphone from Stotler, several attendees urged Brown to “let him speak,” and when Stotler tried to continue, 2017 city council candidate Monika Griesenbeck raised her voice above the background din, “You’re taking over a meeting you did not pay for or schedule!”
As Stotler offered to reimburse all costs, Griesenbeck said, “Schedule your own meeting.”
Brown then asked, “Is there anybody here … who is completely undecided about whether or not they would like to sign the referendum petition? Anybody undecided at all?”
Getting no response, Brown said, “Then I don’t see any point in being here.”
Stotler said, “We’ll be happy to stay and answer any questions. If you’ve already signed the referendum, we really respect the reason you’re doing it.”
“Total waste of time,” Griesenbeck said.
As Stotler described meeting with multiple groups and individuals about the project, he noted, “Interestingly enough, the only two people we didn’t meet with are the ones who … are initiating the petition (Brown and former mayor Jim LiVecchi).
When Stotler encouraged attendees to visit LiVecchi’s website to see the former mayor’s campaign platform regarding affordable housing, Griesenbeck shouted, “How dare you! … You’re turning this into a political assault!”
Brown then talked over Stotler, saying, “That’s enough speech-making.”
“It’s not your meeting!” Griesenbeck emphasized.
As the meeting became more chaotic, Brown said, “I rented this hall. I paid for this hall to open it up to people to come and get their questions answered.”
Multiple attendees said they had questions, and Stotler said, “We’d like everyone to hear the answer so we don’t have to answer (questions) 10 times.”
When attendees reiterated that they had questions, Griesenbeck said, “You’ve already made up your mind. Why do you have any questions?”
When Brown again asked whether or not attendees had made up their minds about the petition, Salida City Councilman Harald Kaspar asked, “So it’s not about getting the information …”
Griesenbeck interrupted, “No, you’re just here to argue.”
Brown reiterated, “It’s about whether or not you want to sign the petition.”
As the meeting deteriorated further, one attendee chimed in, “thanking” Brown for his honesty in acknowledging “this is just a bullshit meeting.”
Salida Mayor P.T. Wood spoke up, “I really came just to listen, but I think it’s important for our community to have a civil discussion,” and encouraged attendees to discuss the perceived benefits and drawbacks to the development.
When asked whether another location would work, Stotler began explaining that having retail space is crucial to the project, but he was repeatedly interrupted.
Mayor Wood eventually spoke up, “No one else is running this (meeting) so I will.”
With Wood moderating, individuals were allowed to express concerns and ask questions, including Denise Wentz, who said, “I’m losing a great employee. We pay well above national average to our employees, and she is moving to Arkansas because she can’t afford a house here. …
“I need employees … and it upsets me that people who are not employers are coming through with this (petition) who don’t understand the burdens that employers have in this market.”
Later in the meeting, Wentz apologized for “being emotional,” saying that she is losing “a wonderful employee. I love my employee. My patients love my employee. … She’s leaving because she could not afford a home. … We have employees that are getting paid a decent wage in town …”
Griesenbeck interrupted, “What are you paying your employee? Tell us, what are you paying your employee?” As Wood attempted to refocus the meeting, Griesenbeck again raised her voice, “What do you pay?”
It should be noted that answering Griesenbeck’s question would have violated the employee’s right to confidentiality.
Find out how the meeting ended at https://arkvalleyvoice.com/petition-meeting-highlights-salida-political-divide/.