Councilor conflict dominates discussion


FURA meeting filled with controversy on budget, public art

June 29, 2019 — The June 26 Florence Urban Renewal Agency (FURA) meeting was short on action and long on acrimony. The often-displayed personality conflict between Florence Mayor Joe Henry and City Councilor Joshua Greene took center stage at the meeting, which devolved into a series of comments questioning the leadership of Greene as chairperson of FURA and a call for new officers for the group. There were also heated exchanges that questioned the truth of public comments recently made regarding the city’s public art funding by Harlen Springer, chairperson of the Public Arts Committee (PAC), and Greene.

As has been the case since the seating of a new city council in January, the issue of public art and FURA’s contributions to the purchase and placement of art was at the crux of the discussion.

The meeting began with Director Bill Meyer asking for a clarification of the procedures for selecting chair and vice chair of the agency. Florence City Manager Erin Reynolds explained the process, indicating that the July meeting was customarily the time new officers would be selected. Meyer accepted the explanation and the timeline for electing new officers.

The agenda for the meeting was the first sticking point of the evening as Henry questioned the last-minute addition of an item listed as No. 6 – Public Art Grant Funding: “Discuss and consider directing staff to amend the FY 19/20 budget to transfer the $20,000 of public art funding from available funds to future public arts projects.”

Henry took exception to the inclusion of the item on the docket saying, “I have some comments on the agenda, specifically item No. 6, which magically appeared on the agenda at 5:30 this morning. … I actually think this item should be removed from the agenda and I will make that as a motion. … It is my personal belief that FURA does not legally have the right to make this decision about the $20,000. It was specifically stated in the grant that the money was to be spent on the mural project artist stipend, which it has, we’ve already paid the artist $20,000, so that money is spent, and I will challenge any decision you make.”

Greene explained his reasoning for the inclusion of the item and brought up his belief that the process for funding art had been truncated by the budgetary actions taken earlier this year by the Florence City Council.

Henry answered by reminding Greene the city council had not included the PAC on its list of priority objectives during the next budgetary cycle and was no longer an appropriate topic for FURA to consider.

Henry’s motion to remove item No. 6 was passed on a roll call vote of 5 to 4. However, that did not prevent the issue from dominating the remainder of the meeting.

Coincidentally, the main presentation made to FURA was an update and recap of the work done by the PAC.

Springer shared little new information as he reiterated the history and public outreach efforts undertaken by the PAC, as well as the benefits brought to the community by tourists viewing public art.

Henry then made a statement that was directed at the manner and words used by Greene in the most recent PAC committee meeting and at Springer, criticizing comments that aired on local television.

 “I am speaking to you first as your mayor but also as only one member of the city council. So many of the things I say may be my own opinion, but there are certain things that need to be said between the City of Florence, urban renewal and the PAC,” Henry said. “Councilor Greene was appointed and is supposed to be the liaison from the council to communicate council goals and provide guidance on behalf of the city council. How is screaming, ‘We got defunded and we got screwed’ by your council liaison acceptable?”

 Springer’s recent appearance on a Eugene news report was another point of contention for Henry, who pressed him on the truthfulness of his comments during the interview.

“Harlen, you going on television and saying the city council defunded public art, number one it’s not true and second, I’m not sure that you were within our guidelines to actually go out and speak on behalf of the PAC without their approval and without stating it was your opinion,” Henry said. “These things reflect poorly on the city, the PAC and FURA, since you funded them.”

Springer denied making the comments attributed to him by the mayor, eventually responding with, “Somehow we (the PAC) have gotten caught in a crossfire of a personality or political conflict, whatever it is, and we seem to be the victims of that in spite of the fact that we have done what we were tasked to do.”

Following this, the discussion went to social media use and attacks against city councilors, including, said Henry, “accusing two members of the council, by name, of being financially supported by right-wing extremists.”

The mayor concluded that there are other options available to those wishing to separate PAC from the city’s processes.

“The council could theoretically disband the PAC so it could form a 501(c)3 and be independent of the city council, or you could become a committee of the urban renewal agency,” he suggested. “Or you could behave like our other committees and then you would get the support of the city council.”

FURA directors Patricia Riley, John Scott and Ron Preisler, also a Florence City Councilor, expressed confusion surrounding the budgetary process that had resulted in the defacto defunding of the PAC in the 2019-21 City of Florence Biennial Budget. All three directors insisted the result had never been their intent.

Director Ron Caputo attempted to end the heated discussion.

“Can we move on?” he asked. “We thank Harlen very much and I think the art committee is on the right track. They are going after grants and they are looking forward to having more public art in our community, and we can let you two argue together privately and away from the people in the chamber.”

Greene took a moment to compose himself before responding to Henry’s words and Caputo’s request.

“You may not be happy with my actions or my activities and I understand that, but that’s not the issue. … The council is against having public art funded and the way we did it was by changing the priorities as opposed to coming out and voting on it. This is why this whole thing has gone south,” he said. “The issue is that now that public art has finally gotten up to speed, did the job it was meant to do and is ready to throw down four to six new projects that would happen in the next two years, … and there is no funding and no opportunity to have a grant writer.”

Greene concluded his remarks by saying, “I am going to stay on as councilor for a period of time, but I am probably going to resign. Before I do, I am going to do some housekeeping and take care of some things that I need to do so that I feel comfortable with stepping down.”

This announcement was met with silence.

Afterwards, Greene thanked those in attendance for their support and adjourned the meeting.

Earlier in the meeting, there were some house-keeping actions taken that were unanimously approved by the FURA directors.

City Administrative Services Director Anne Baker asked for Council approval of Resolution No. 2, Series 2019, which requested adopting the 2017-2019 Supplemental Budget. Baker’s request was approved after a brief discussion. Minutes from the previous FURA meeting were approved and City Projects Manager and Public Information Officer Megan Messmer provided an update on the ReVision Florence Streetscaping Project.

The next Florence City Council meeting will be held at Florence City Hall on Monday, July 15. For more information, visit ci.florence.or.us.

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