BRISTOL, Va. — The Bristol Virginia City Council remains sharply divided about fixing its schools but came together Tuesday to approve a $100,000 appropriation to improve elementary school buildings.
The 5-0 vote followed a spirited discussion where Councilman Kevin Mumpower said the city, not the school system, should manage the construction process — something Mayor Neal Osborne termed “micromanaging.”
And Councilman Kevin Wingard urged formation of a city maintenance team to handle some projects rather than bidding all work out.
The council voted 3-2 in May to give the school system $200,000 — half from the previous fiscal year and half from the current year — to create male and female restrooms that comply with federal Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines and to increase safety at school entrances at city elementary schools. Tuesday’s vote completes that funding.
Afterward, Osborne said the council shouldn’t manage such work.
“That’s why you have an independently elected School Board,” Osborne said. “We give them the money, and they have responsibility to spend it appropriately. That’s why they’re elected — they’re held responsible by the taxpayers. It’s not up to us to micromanage every nail they put up in their buildings.”
Mumpower took umbrage at Osborne’s use of the term “micromanage” and called the current process “backwards.”
“I don’t think its micromanaging, I think it’s the fiduciary responsibility of this council,” Mumpower said. “When you’re spending taxpayer dollars, you better be responsible for how that money is being spent.”
Superintendent Keith Perrigan told the Bristol Herald Courier on Monday that the school system has retained an architect to design the specified changes at each school and has issued requests for proposal to get bids on the cost of the work. All work is expected to be completed this year.
Mumpower and Wingard said the city, not the schools, should be issuing and reviewing those RFPs and choosing the firms. Wingard also said the council should have a discussion about taking control of the RFP process and called for going a step further.
“The city really needs to look at the option of a three- or four-man crew that does nothing but doing maintenance and repairs on city-owned buildings,” Wingard said. “When the city sends out an RFP, the cost comes back at much, much greater cost than if you were just a private person trying to have something done or a business having something done. … The cost just grows out the roof.”
Vice Mayor Bill Hartley disagreed, saying the council’s responsibility is appropriating funds to the school division.
“They are an elected body just like we are, so I don’t know that we need to be doing that,” Hartley said. “That’s why we have a School Board. We appropriate the money to them, and they allocate it. In this particular case, they tell us what this particular appropriation was for. As far as RFPs and management of all that, I think that’s overstepping our bounds.”
The council and board met last week and agreed to study the feasibility of building a centrally located elementary school and closing two older schools that are in poor condition, but that would not occur immediately.
Osborne said the $200,000 appropriation was the right decision.
“I’ve had concerns with throwing good money after bad money if we’re going to replace the schools, but these are immediate needs,” Osborne said. “It’s a good first step, but it’s not the last step. We need to do a lot more than we’ve done.”
In other matters, the council held first reading on an ordinance to make it illegal to feed ducks and geese in the city, particularly at city parks. Council saw a lengthy presentation about the problem, especially at Cumberland Square Park and the Eastern Little League baseball field.
The council also gave final approval to a set of regulations for establishing a private RV park in the city.