Senior citizen advisory group launching work

By LARRY C. BOWERS larry.bowers@clevelandbanner.com
Posted 4/21/17

The first ever meeting of the new Cleveland Senior Citizen Advisory Committee Wednesday was an invigorating session of discussion related to a number of issues of concern for residents of all …

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Senior citizen advisory group launching work

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The first ever meeting of the new Cleveland Senior Citizen Advisory Committee Wednesday was an invigorating session of discussion related to a number of issues of concern for residents of all ages.

Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland coordinated the meeting, enhancing the dialogue with his expertise on city and state government, and how it relates to seniors.

Four of the seven appointed members attended this first event, including semi-retired attorney Roger Jenne, and semi-retired teacher/businesswoman Jo Benjamin. Retirees Ron Williams, who previously worked with Maytag, and Hugh Hogeman, a former environmentalist with the Olin Corporation, were the other two.

Unable to attend the committee’s first meeting were Shirley Knight, Jimmy Armstrong and Charlie McDowell.

City Manager Joe Fivas and District 3 Councilman Tom Cassada were also on hand, and contributed to the discussion. A guest for this initial meeting was Cele Curtis of Cleveland State Community College, a member of the Tennessee Commission on Aging.

The committee was the brainstorm of District 5 Councilman Dale Hughes. Rowland was appointed chairman of the panel, with the seven members representing Cleveland’s five districts, and two serving at large.

Members must be at least age 62 old, a resident of the city and serve without compensation.

Curtis emphasized she is a native of Bradley County, and as a member of the state’s Commission on Aging she advocates senior citizens’ right throughout the Southeast Tennessee region.

Rowland emphasized to the members that “There are a number of things you (as a committee) can assist us (the city) with.”

He then discussed Cleveland’s government, of which he has more than a little experience, and then talked about how the city and the community have gotten to where they are today.

Rowland went over the city’s election process, saying the Council appoints all committees but three. The mayor appoints the Cleveland Housing Authority, but members only have to live within 15 miles, and may live outside the city limits.

Rowland also appoints the Municipal Planning Commission and the Shade Tree Board. Under the Shade Tree Board, Cleveland as been a Tree City USA for 25 consecutive years.

The mayor also pointed out that he is the only city official who can call for a curfew, he can have automobiles removed from city streets for snowplows in wintertime (Snow Ordinance), and he can address a situation of civil unrest as the city’s CEO.

He introduced Fivas, adding that the city also has two assistant city managers. He said all city meetings are open, and all planning commission issues are recommended to the Council. All ordinances must be approved on two readings before Council, while resolutions can be approved in one session.

“We receive a lot of grants for our community,” Rowland continued, touching on some that benefit the community’s senior citizens.

He also discussed the city’s contract with the Life Force medical helicopter service, which provides free service (flights) to city residents in case of an emergency. The city pays $134,000 each year for the service, and Life Force now has facilities at Cleveland’s new Jetport.

The mayor asked committee members what they feel the city needs to work on, from a senior’s prospective.

Jenne said, “I think you’re doing a great job on (improving) sidewalks, but we need to work more on that.” Rowland said the city is encouraging walking, and the local Greenway is a great asset to the community.

“We are encouraging the developers of new subdivisions to put in sidewalks,” the mayor said.

Rowland told the seniors the city is continually annexing new residents and areas, despite the fact the state limits this action. “They have to ask to be taken into the city, and they do that at almost every Council meeting,” he said.

The mayor pointed out that the city’s unemployment rate is relatively low. “Last year we were the No. 1 community in the nation for job growth,” he said with pride.

Hogeman said the city could look at sponsoring some educational program to educate seniors about money matters.

“We also need to tell them about hoaxes and scams, although the [Banner] newspaper does a good job with that,” he said.

They also discussed the need for continued computer training for seniors, and curtis said they might look at partnering with CSCC on this.

“We need to educate people as to what is available,” said Jenne.

Benjamin mentioned the city bus service (CUATS) which is a huge benefit to seniors. “It a good service, and it’s growing,” said the mayor. As it grows, it will get better.”

Rowland also mentioned the city’s Taylor Spring Committee and the development of a new city park at the city’s birthplace on 1st Street. He also pointed out the spring is also the birthplace of Bradley County.

“We’ve also got to do something in this community to handle the increased traffic, for seniors and everyone else,” added Jenne.

Rowland talked about how the community is blessed major industries, especially Wacker in Charleston and its latest $150 million investment. Committee members said they would like to tour the Wacker complex at some future time.

The group also discussed the city’s property tax rate, and the possibility the Council may soon vote for a tax increase.

“In my opinion, we’ve got to raise taxes,” said Jenne. “That’s the only way we can improve services.”

The city manager said that between 40 and 60 percent of respondents in a recent community survey campaign said they would be willing to pay more (in taxes) for specific improvements.

“People must realize that if we continue to progress, they’re going to have to pay for it,” added Jenne.

“I don’t see how the city can maintain our services now,” contributed Benjamin.

“If it’s well presented, the majority of people will go for it,” added Hogeman.

“Money is the biggest problem in government,” said Rowland. He then paid tribute to the city’s Public Works Department. “They do a great job, but are under-appreciated,” he said.

The committee then touched briefly on other revenue options, such as a wheel tax, the sales tax, and even the possibility of package stores.

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