Candidates for Hendersonville City Council and mayor differ over whether the city should have sent out water bills promoting the proposed Berkeley Mills Park as "a nice, safe place to talk, ride bikes, take dogs, play ball ... or enjoy the scenery."
The city printed the 8x2½-inch banner in the middle of water bills that went out after the City Council authorized the bond issue.
"That was a city manager decision and I expressed my displeasure with it," said Councilman Ron Stephens, who is running for mayor. "He said this was informing. You're not supposed to be advertising."
"Let me tell you what's missing," added Stephens, who opposes the $6 million bond issue. "There is no place on there that says how much it will cost and how it will impact the tax. I frankly let him have it."
City Manager John Connet said he thought the City Council had authorized the staff to develop material to inform voters about the bond referendum.
"We had a special meeting back in August or September where we talked about were we going forward with the bond issue, and they said yes," he said. "If we're going forward we need to talk about letting people know that we're having the bond issue. They said yes, we're going forward, and then we talked about if we're going to do that we need to develop educational materials and do a website, put some educational materials together."
The city administration hired Summit Marketing to develop a flier.
"We developed a simple banner that basically says this is Berkeley Park, this is what we want to do if the voters approve," Connet said. "The idea is we were going to drive everybody to the website. We also mailed cards on card stock to every registered voter that had the same FAQ on the tax increase. It's all been staff driven," not developed by the council. Large letters say: "Visit BerkeleyMillsBond.org to learn more."
The Q&A says that the $6 million debt means "the City tax rate could be increased by three cents per $100 of assessed value."
Under state law, the council can't advocate for a bond issue but individual members can express their opinion and the city can tell voters what the borrowed money would buy.
Stephens called the water bill banner a "bad decision" by Connet.
"A friend of mine called me. He said there's an ad in there for the park and I said, 'You've gotta be kidding me,'" Stephens said.
Councilman Jeff Collis said he had no problem with the city staff decision to put the bond information in the water bill.
"It says to visit the website, and that's basically all this thing was," he said. "I support what was done. I'm not against what they did because it does give the link to go to and that's all basically it says. I do support what the city manager did and I disagree with Ron if they think there was some type of impropriety."
Council candidate Jeff Miller said the water bill banner did not strike him as neutral.
"I thought it was very inappropriate," he said. "The water bill is for the water bill, it's not to be a veiled attempt to endorse a city project. I think best thing would have been to leave it alone. It gives a very inviting story about the proposed park when it's finished. ...That was not good judgment. It was wrong."
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