Woman booted from board after expressing opinion

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 2, 2007

FRANKLIN—City resident Jennifer Bernocco feels she is qualified to serve on the city council’s newly formed Historic Preservation Commission.

At one point, the city council thought so, too, as she was appointed to serve in July along with six other members. The council vote was unanimous.

Bernocco, founder and president of the Franklin Historic District Neighborhood Association, was then removed from the commission at the next council meeting.

She said she was neither notified that she was appointed or taken off of the commission.

&uot;(Initially) I was asked by (Councilman) Mark Fetherolf if I’d be interested in being on the commission,&uot; Bernocco said.

She said she and the members of the Neighborhood Association wanted her to serve on the board.

Bernocco feels that the reason she was eliminated was because of a letter that she wrote about the city that was printed Aug. 12 in The Tidewater News.

Her letter stated that she was &uot;very concerned with the downward direction our city is headed.&uot; She cited that she was uneasy about historic district issues, writing, &uot;Our historic district is severely abused by everyone, which is the cause for so many issues: retaining/recruiting businesses in the downtown [area], environmental issues, increases in property taxes and utilities.

&uot;Our city services are becoming over-extended, there are zoning issues, education/school issues, city council/school board conflicts on many different levels, budget issues urban sprawl.&uot;

She said the city was losing good teachers and citizens because of school issues and that the city council makes poor decisions without listening to constituents. Bernocco also stated that the city needs to prepare for a time when the paper mill closes, since there are few major employers in Franklin.

She concluded her letter with &uot;I leave you with this: elections for mayor are coming upon us. Let’s see who really cares enough to make a difference.&uot;

The motion to remove Bernocco was presented by Ward 2 Councilman Charles Wrenn. All were in favor except Mary Hilliard and Vice Mayor Raystine Johnson. Rosa Lawrence was undecided.

Board appointments and personnel issues are discussed in closed session, although voting takes place in open session.

Wrenn said he recalled the letter to the editor and thought that a lot of Bernocco’s concerns could have been quelled by talking with council members or the city manager.

He added, &uot;Did it influence what happened? I really can’t say.&uot;

Wrenn said that board appointments were treated as personnel issues, remaining confidential. He also explained the voting process in such situations.

&uot;If you make a decision at one meeting on one thing and at the next meeting, reverse it, you don’t have to make notice of it in the newspaper,&uot; he said. &uot;It goes by a two-third majority vote.

&uot;Or you can put (a notice) in the paper and then put the item on the agenda and there would be a simple majority vote.

&uot;We were anxious to move on when we came out of closed session and we had everyone there. I made the motion, we got a second and there was no discussion.&uot;

According to Wrenn, Betty Moore of North High Street was appointed in lieu of Bernocco. He said she is well qualified and used to work for the local Chamber when the original historic district was established.

As for Bernocco, she first wants to know why she was voted off the commission, and would then like to be reinstated. She and resident Don Blythe, who spoke on her behalf regarding this issue at a recent town meeting and during a citizen’s time, think it has everything to do with the letter she wrote to the newspaper.

&uot;To me, this says that (I was removed because) I am a nonconforming person,&uot; she said. &uot;I’m going to tell them the way I feel.

&uot;If it is a situation of conflict, that’s something (council) would have to deal with anyway with anyone on the board.&uot;

She said she has worked hard just to convince the city that a historic preservation ordinance is needed.

&uot;The entire historic district is downtown and residential. It is a valuable part of the city,&uot; she said. &uot;They are missing out by allowing improper rehabilitation to go through and by not taking advantage of the tax credits and funding sources that are available to citizens of the city.&uot;

Blythe said this was just another case of the city being inconsistent with its personnel policy. Among other issues, he cited the two firefighters who were hired, then almost immediately fired in January after discovering it was against city policy to have employees working under the direct supervision of their relatives, and the current situation with Dave Howe, director of Franklin Power & Light, whose job was advertised before he resigned or retired.

&uot;There’s lots of policy,&uot; said Blythe, &uot;Why doesn’t personnel policy pertain to all city employees?&uot;