04/27/11 — Who closed Park Avenue?

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Who closed Park Avenue?

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on April 27, 2011 1:46 PM

In contrast to Councilman Chuck Allen's explanation at the City Council's April 18 meeting, former Parks and Recreation Director Ruben Wall said not only did he not request that the Park Avenue roundabout be closed, but that the gates were never open during his time in Goldsboro.

Before the public hearing for the street closing, Allen said Wall approached the council in the past year because he wanted to close the street for safety reasons. Interim City Manager Tasha Logan said the minutes from the March 15, 2010 council meeting show that the discussion about closing the street predated Wall's arrival, though that discussion was concerning a two-week trial period for the gates to be closed.

The minutes from that March 15 meeting indicate that, after coming out of closed session, Allen voiced concerns about speeding through Herman Park, and, following a discussion, the council agreed to close Park Avenue for a two-week trial period to gauge public opinion. Allen said he didn't remember talking about closing the gates for two weeks, and certainly didn't believe that the gates have now been closed for more than one year. Minutes from a Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission meeting suggest that the gates were closed prior to April 13, 2010 meeting and Wall said when he began his job, the gates were closed.

"When I got to Goldsboro last April 5 that road was already closed, so I inherited that road closed," he said. "It was not a decision that I made. I was told that it had been closed about a month before I got there. I don't know who closed it, but it was closed and I continued to keep it that way."

The idea of installing bollards, which would allow for pedestrians and wheelchairs to pass through, was first suggested by Bill Simms in a Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission meeting on April 13, according to minutes. Wall said he saw keeping the gates closed as a safety precaution, but said he didn't approach the council until December 2010 and then it was to ask about installing bollards which would allow pedestrians and cyclists to pass through after receiving complaints.

"I did tell them that we were going to put bollards up. I told them about seven months in. That made it more accessible for people in wheelchairs and the middle barrier is removable," he said. "The gates stayed locked until January when we put those bollards up."

But that explanation contradicts much of what Allen said before the public hearing. Allen said he dissuaded Wall from trying to close the road, as his venture to close the road attracted the ire of the park-loving community almost a decade ago, but that Wall returned the next month asking again for it to be closed.

Allen said this year, when the Park Avenue renovations were noted as part of the street renovations project, he suggested there be a public hearing, since the city can't legally close a street in that manner without gauging public input.

After Allen spoke on the subject before the hearing, Mayor Al King said his monologue was a disclaimer, joking to the gathered crowd that it was his way of saying that the proposed closing wasn't his fault this time.

When asked about Allen's version of the events, Wall said he would rather be left out of the situation.

"I'm not in Goldsboro any longer and I would prefer to leave all that behind me. I enjoyed my time there and wish them the very best, but I just want to move on with the next phase of my career."

Allen, however, insisted that Wall closed the gate.

"I don't think that's true," he said of Wall's assertion that the gates were closed prior to him arriving in Goldsboro. "I think he's wrong. I'm 98 percent sure that Ruben's the one that closed that road and it wasn't closed when he got here. I remember Ruben coming to our work session. I'm not disputing him, but I don't think anybody closed it before him. It's been a while ago and maybe I'm wrong but I don't think they were closed before he came in."

Allen said he thinks there was another instance when Wall came to the council during a work session to propose the closing of the street between April and the end of last year. City Clerk Melissa Brewer said she was looking for minutes indicating such a meeting occurred, but had not found any as of presstime today.

Regardless of where the idea began, Allen said it was clear that the public did not want the street closed after the outpouring of voices against Park Avenue's potential closing.

"When I try to make a decision I look at what's best for the citizens in general and then my district if it happens to be in my district," he said. "What I see happening now is I see commissions going back to square one and saying 'How can we leave this open some and still look after the children? Very rarely do people come out in that kind of force for anything."