Village Council reexamines priorities under new administration
- Published: September 9, 2023
At the outset of the most recent Village Council meeting, Tuesday, Sept. 5, Yellow Springs Public Works Director Johnnie Burns was officially sworn in as interim village manager.
Burns succeeds Josué Salmerón, who announced his resignation from the position in July, and will begin his new tenure as city manager for Greenbelt, Maryland, this week.
In his new role, Burns will continue to serve as the public works director — a position the Xenia resident has held since 2018 — as well as take on the additional responsibilities of village manager.
In an effort to ensure a smooth transition from one manager to another, as well as to mitigate Burns’ workload in his dual positions, Council reviewed a list of ongoing projects and discussed which of those projects should be paused temporarily or stopped altogether — as well as which may continue and which can be initiated.
The 85-item list — which can be viewed in full here — was compiled July 29 when Salmerón publicly announced his resignation. As Burns told the News, the list was an attempt to “divide and conquer” what Salmerón was leaving behind.
The projects listed are wide-ranging. They include such matters as widening the municipal broadband network, pursuing a remediation plan for the Vernay property and building more housing throughout the village — all of which will be “continued” under Burns’ administration — to creating downtown bike parking, restocking Ellis Pond with fish and setting up a municipal composting service — projects that will “stop.”
“But just because it’s listed as ‘stopped,’ doesn’t mean that it’s forgotten,” Burns told Council. “We just don’t have the staff at this time to continue some of these projects. We can still pick them up at any time, but for now we need to prioritize.”
Some notable projects listed that Burns and his team intend to “start” include working with Habitat for Humanity to create more housing at Glass Farm, amending the zoning code, upgrading Channel 5 capabilities and improving the process by which downtown and event vendors register with the Village.
Burns, Salmerón, Planning and Zoning Administrator Meg Leatherman, Finance Director Amy Kemper, Police Chief Paige Burge and Administrative Assistant Erica Thomas contributed to the list.
Council member Gavin DeVore Leonard said he appreciated the transparency of the list, and noted the importance of resetting municipal priorities under the new Village administration.
“It’s healthy for us to communicate how many projects we have going,” DeVore Leonard said. “I very much support getting our capacity in line with the number of projects we do. Sometimes that means saying ‘no’ to things.”
Council Vice President Kevin Stokes added: “We certainly ought to put our shoulder to the wheel for the projects that are already happening — especially in terms of housing.”
In other Council business, Tuesday, Sept. 5—
Green space fund to change in 2024
By a unanimous vote, Council passed a resolution to authorize the retention of up to $205,000 in the Village’s green space fund through Aug. 31, 2024.
Following that date, Village Council may choose to move some or all money from that fund into the general fund to finance other municipal expenses, should the group vote to do so.
The green space fund was established in 2017 when Council voted to move up to $205,000 from the general fund “to provide financial support and technical assistance” to Tecumseh Land Trust, or TLT, when the local nonprofit sought to buy and establish a conservation easement on a 267-acre farm on the western edge of Yellow Springs — a purchase TLT successfully secured.
According to Finance Director Amy Kemper, who spoke on the same topic at the Aug. 21 Village Council meeting, the fund currently has nearly $210,950 and has not been used by any organization — including TLT, Glen Helen or Agraria — in nearly three years.
“The [Greene County] auditor highlighted that if funds are sitting idly, then it’s best to move them to the general fund,” Council President Brian Housh said at the Aug. 21 meeting. “That doesn’t mean we can’t pull them back out if we need them.”
But as TLT Executive Director Michele Burns told the News in an interview this week, the initial proposal of moving money from the green space fund and into the general fund, and then the 2024 expiration date for the retention of the money both signal a perceived “change in priorities from Council.”
“If that [green space] fund wasn’t there, it’d be a big diversion from what Council has committed to in the past,” she said.
Burns noted that the $205,000 Council voted to retain on Tuesday may soon help the organization purchase another large tract of land outside of Yellow Springs — a privately owned farm that could potentially go on sale within the next year.
Owing to the confidential nature of a potential sale, Bruns was unable to say which property Tecumseh Land Trust is eyeing. It is, however, a property worth preserving, Burns said.
“This property is important for a lot of reasons,” Burns said. “One big reason is that it has a long stretch of the Jacoby Creek going through it, and it’s crucial to protect the source of the village’s drinking water. It’s also prime farmland.”
Burns added that while she was relieved the $205,000 will remain in the fund for the next year, she was dismayed that her organization may face a similar dilemma when the Aug. 31, 2024, expiration date comes.
“That money has been ready and available for use in emergency situations, and it would be a huge disservice if it wasn’t there,” Burns said.
To date, TLT has preserved around 36,000 acres of agricultural land in Clark and Greene counties and the areas surrounding Yellow Springs through conservation easements.