Coalition’s request draws mayor’s ire
by Clay Neely
Tempers temporarily flared at the Grantville City Council Monday when the Grantville Coalition of Concerned Citizens petitioned for permission to use city facilities as a place to conduct its meetings.
The GCCC is an open Facebook group that states it was created in order to “address the interests of all citizens of the community in order to promote the integrity, welfare, and safety of all citizens.”
Mayor Jim Sells openly voiced his displeasure with the group, citing them as “partisan” and saying that they engage in blatant lies and slander.
“It’s clearly partisan,” Sells said. “If you support the candidates they’re against, you’ll be slammed and ostracized. The Facebook page administrators are promoting these allegations by not controlling the content. It’s detrimental to Grantville moving forward and those who engage the most within the group are those who are primarily failed politicians or who are no longer in power.”
Speaking on behalf of the GCCC was Doug Jewell, who once served as Grantville mayor.
“The mayor says we’re a partisan group. We are not partisan,” Jewell said. “Mr. Sells, you are welcome to come just as all people who have an interest in this city are welcome.”
Jewell then deferred to City Attorney Mark Mitchell, who spoke on “law of past practice,” citing that the building has been used for public assemblies in the past.
Mitchell then advised the council that it would be solely their responsibility to decide which groups would be allowed to use the city facilities and suggested that it would be in their own best interest to create guidelines that would determine if a particular group would be eligible to use them.
“There is nothing illegal about a group using the facilities. But it’s up to this council whether or not you want to allow this group or any group to use your facilities because if you open that door you open the door for everyone within the parameters you set,” Mitchell said. “Do you want to allow some groups to be able to use these facilities and what restrictions do you want to put on them? Do they need to be a 501c3 non-profit? There are all sorts of ways you can structure that.”
Mitchell advised the council that they should consider what would be needed in order to allow groups to meet in city facilities – citing the fact that someone would need to oversee the facility, opening and closing if the events are held after hours, and that the building is used properly.
“The threshold question is, ‘Do you want to allow this building or your facilities to be used by different groups?’” said Mitchell.
Sells then said the city had allowed the Kiwanis Club to meet in one of the city’s buildings.
“The GCCC would like to compare itself to the NAACP, but the NAACP was here using the building in a bipartisan manner, having both candidates fielding questions,” Sells said. “That’s entirely different than what this group is proposing.”
“I object to you speaking for me,” Jewell said.
“I’m not speaking for you, I’m speaking for the GCCC that I’m very familiar with,” Sells said. “We have opened the door for nonprofits, not political groups.”
Councilman Johnny Cooks addressed the need to establish a criteria in order to avoid similar issues in the future.
Councilman Barham Lundy made a motion to allow the GCCC to use the Grantville city hall as a meeting place. Cooks seconded the motion, recommending that the council should identify who and what organizations can come before the council to request the use of their facilities.
“Couldn’t disagree with you more,” Sells said. “This is city hall – a government building. Political campaigning shouldn’t be done inside this building, not by me or anyone else that wants to get elected or re-elected and I’m especially against this group. You can call yourselves nonpartisan if you want, but it’s vulgar, offensive and slanderous. You can do your own thing, but you won’t do it at city hall.”
The motion to allow the GCCC permission to use city facilities to meet was ultimately denied, with only Councilman Barham Lundy voting for the measure.
“By voting against this, you have denied me my civil rights,” Jewell said.