Citizens turn out to protest ordinance

Lee Ann Murphy
Community Editor
In a special proclamation, Anna Turney, Neosho, was recognized for her efforts in forming a Friends of the Parks group in Neosho and for her ongoing volunteer efforts for the parks.

It was standing room only on Tuesday evening at the regular session of the Neosho City Council as a large number of community members turned out to protest a proposed ordinance that opponents said excluded churches from gathering exemptions. Residents gathered outside prior to the meeting and some remained on the sidewalks due to the crowded conditions. Although a recent city mandate requires masks be worn in any city building, many of those who attended chose not to mask.

The proposed ordinance that dealt with measures to combat the spread of Coronavirus in the community did not come to a vote.

"The thing (the ordinance) that got everyone riled up was not what we asked for," Neosho Mayor Carmin Allen said as the meeting got underway. On June 30, the city council met in special session and the ordinance was the result. It called for limiting the number at public gatherings to 16, with exceptions made for schools, daycares, and some businesses. It also called for a 50% occupancy for retail businesses and for large events to seek a letter of approval from the Newton County Health Department in advance. But Allen said that the ordinance that was posted was not in agreement with council direction from June 30.

Churches were not mentioned in those exemptions, which caused the uproar. At an earlier meeting, both Allen and Councilman Tom Workman had suggested a 50% occupancy for churches.

In a statement issued late Tuesday, prior to the meeting, the city apologized for the misunderstanding:

"The Neosho City Council and City Staff would like to openly apologize for the events that have transpired over the last 24 hours. The proposed Ordinance, Bill No. 2020-993 amending Bill No. 2020-980, that is on the July 7th Council Meeting, does not reflect the requests that the City Council made during the June 30th Special Session Meeting on COVID-19. The City Council did not desire to discriminate against any entity, church organization, or group. This was simply a misunderstanding between City Council and Staff."

Allen stated, "We're not here to fight our community, we're here to help our community."

Instead of a vote, the proposal was tabled. A meeting was planned for Thursday evening at 7 p.m. at the Neosho Civic Center. Concerned citizens will have the opportunity to speak out and the ordinance will be discussed line by line. There will be the opportunity for both questions and comments.

Another objection with the ordinance as written was a provision to make violations a misdemeanor, with anyone found guilty liable for fines or jail time.

Two individuals were honored for their service to the city, former Neosho City Attorney Steve Hays, who resigned his position last month and Anna Turney, Neosho, who formed a Friends of the Parks organization. Turney has volunteered within the parks, organized some public volunteer work dates, and maintains a Facebook page for the group, which continues to grow.

Allen, who met Turney for the first time in recent weeks, said, "I wish I had a thousand more people like her."

Bids were accepted for a replacement roof for the Neosho Senior Citizens Center and a new 16 foot dump bed for a city truck. The Neosho Fire Department received a thank you for the Restoration Life Center for their actions in the recent fire at the organization's thrift store.

A special use permit for Body Art Pros presented by owners Bob and Kathie Hutchinson of Neosho, asked to operate a private tattoo parlor from their home, instead of from their long term business location. The owners specified a desire to offer their services only through private appointment. Body Art Pros will now operate from their home on South Jefferson Street in Neosho. The council granted them the special use permit.

Another special use request to offer a flight school operated by Bruce and Brett Dance at the Hugh Robinson Memorial Airport in Neosho was not approved pending obtaining a formal agreement with the city for use of hanger space.

In other businesses, the council voted to continue with plans for the annual Neosho Fall Festival, scheduled for Saturday, October 3. Discussion about forming a possible Events Board was also made.

The council voted to approve separating the roles of City Attorney and City Prosecutor into two s positions. With the resignation of Steve Hays, the City Attorney position is now held by local attorney Jordan Paul.

On advice of City Manager David Kennedy, the decision was made not to fill the position of Events And Communications Director. Kennedy noted that in eleven months there have been three individuals who fulfilled that role and he feels its' the best interest of the city to utilize current staff members. The City has also retained former employee Paul Richardson for the upcoming Neosho Fall Festival.

The Neosho City Council will next meet in regular session on Tuesday, July 21 at 7 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall.