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Joint committee to discuss Butler St.

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A joint committee meeting of Marietta City Council scheduled for today will discuss Butler Street: the portion that cuts through the heart of Marietta College’s campus.

Officially, the agenda item marked on the Planning, Zoning, Annexation and Housing Committee combined with Streets and Transportation Committee is a discussion on “update on Butler Street- Increase student safety crossing Butler.”

In a joint statement written and posted to the city’s Facebook page, Mayor Josh Schlicher and Safety-Service Director Steve Wetz purported to “value all input and consider all before making a final decision.”

But that same announcement also defines when the public is allowed to participate, according to its authors.

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“The public is invited to participate and attend public meetings when posted on public bulletin boards, the city website and Facebook” it reads in the final sentence.

“This reflects a very different philosophy of governance than could be used to speak for me,” reflected PZAH Chairman Geoff Schenkel in response to the statement Wednesday.

The announcement stated that the city administration (unclear number of participants) and Marietta City Council (seven voting members and its non-voting president) “are working with officials at Marietta College to continue discussions about Butler Street between Fourth and Seventh streets.”

PZAH committee member and Police and Fire Committee Chairman Bill Gossett also stated Wednesday that the letter doesn’t reflect his interactions or position.

“I’ve never been in a meeting with anybody from Marietta College for the administration to be able to say that,” Gossett said.

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Gossett questioned who the letter reflects in participation, as multiple constituents have questioned alleged secret meetings in 2020 concerning the college’s purchase of city-owned streets and/or right-of-way in the Butler Street corridor after a “confidential” letter was circulated among members of the community in May 2020.

That letter is titled “There will be no closure of Butler Street unless MC buys it.”

Included in bold beneath the red stamp of “confidential” is a written premise:

“MC will not acquire the street without paying good money for it; a matter of fairness and political necessity. However, the money paid will be well worth: (1) The cohesive and presentational functionality it will provide to the campus, and (2) the bold, forward-looking posture it will demonstrate — to students contemplating enrollment or return to campus during this virus era — and to alumni deciding whether they will participate in the upcoming capital campaign. Our offer: XXXXXXXXXX will donate up to $250,000 to the acquisition of that segment of Butler connecting Fourth and Seventh streets. This gift will only be made if the acquisition is completed.”

Nowhere in the letter addressed to Marietta College President Bill Ruud is the name of “our” or another naming of a donor included.

The three-page donor letter explicitly describes the commitment as dated to May 18 of last year and that the donation would be “dedicated specifically to the purchase of Butler Street and no other purpose.”

This, alongside neighboring reports of “secret meetings” between an alleged four members of council left Gossett resolved Wednesday to seek definitive language and descriptions of proposals to be discussed today.

Gossett named Council President Susan Vessels, Streets Chairwoman Susan Boyer, Streets Committee Member Bill Farnsworth and Finance Chairman Mike Scales as reported attendees of such meetings and questioned the “behind closed doors” appearance of the legislators’ deliberation to sell off a city asset.

Boyer declined to answer the Times’ request for comment as to her participation Tuesday and instead, is credited with a statement on the city’s Facebook page on Wednesday in the replies section noting that discussion of closure will not occur today.

“I anticipate that (today’s) streets meeting will set up a timeline to address these issues so we can hear from the administration, the college and the public,” she is credited with saying.

She did not answer whether the secret meetings had occurred with her knowledge or involvement but instead stated that “there is no reason to allow people to worry about that which is not being considered.”

Public response to the mayor’s letter saw 97 comments by press time on the city’s social media and 21 shares of the letter, with the majority advocating against change on Butler Street.

“Within the mob ranting there are clues that point to their legitimate frustration — they say things like, ‘fix our street, too, not just their’s,'” noted Schenkel. “They lead us to potential solutions if we’d pay attention.”

Schenkel said he hopes discussion today can instead turn to inclusivity and fixing the whole Butler Street corridor from Seventh Street to the Historic Harmar Bridge “for students, residents, businesses, motorists and tourists alike” which he has brought up frequently in meetings concerning economic planning initiatives like Enrich Marietta.

“I really think that could handle this,” he said. “If in fact there’s a real commitment to making it better for all of us.”

The meeting begins at 4 p.m. and will be broadcast via Facebook.

Janelle Patterson may be reached at jpatterson@mariettatimes.com.

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