Hanging baskets downtown given a 1-year trial period

Published 7:57 pm Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Hanging baskets will grace parts of Main Street and Market Street in downtown Washington for at least a year.

During its meeting Monday, the Washington City Council voted 4-1 to give the beautification project a chance. Council members Doug Mercer, William Pitt, Larry Beeman and Virginia Finnerty voted for the project. Councilman Richard Brooks voted against it. The vote came after the council and Mayor Mac Hodges discussed a memorandum of understanding concerning the project.

The one-year trial period begins once the hanging baskets are placed downtown, which could take one or two months.

During the Washington City Council’s June 13 meeting, Harold Robinson, executive director of the Washington Harbor District Alliance, informed the council about the offer from a woman who does not want to be identified. After expressing some concerns about the offer, council members asked city staff to evaluate the offer and develop the memorandum of understanding.

The memorandum calls for the donor/WHDA to furnish 15 to 18 plants, pots and the brackets for the utility poles. It also requires the donor/WHDA to groom the plants, when needed, on a monthly basis and replace plants and pots when damaged. The memorandum requires the city to water the plants, assume liability related to the hanging baskets, take them down when needed because of approaching storms or inclement weather and replace any plants and pots damaged by the city while watering the plants.

Monday, some council members expressed reservations about approving the project, particularly Mercer, Brooks and Beeman. Mercer said, “We have always had some difficulty with the idea of hanging things on the poles. In this case, we’re saying the city’s going to be responsible for putting them up. Then if we have a storm come through, the city’s going to have to take them down. … In all that process, if there’s any damage to the materials, then the city’s going to be liable for replacing them. It seems to me that it’s taking on a lot of responsibility, and I don’t know that we would derive that much benefit from it.”

Finnerty disagreed with Mercer’s assessment. “There’s thousands of cities throughout the United States that do this. I can’t believe we can’t figure out how to do it ourselves. There’s got to be a way,” said Finnerty, reminding her council colleagues they agreed earlier this year to find ways to keep downtown clean and improve its appearance.

“It’s a great opportunity. … Let’s not turn this donor down,” Robinson said, adding the project would help downtown businesses. Delaying action on the offer could result in the offer being withdrawn, he said.

Beeman told Robinson that when the offer was first presented to the council, the city’s liability would be limited to replacing any pots damaged by the city. The memorandum added items the city would be liable for, he said.


Brooks said he believed the project would require the city to spend money, money that could be better used elsewhere. He also noted the equipment the city would need to water the plants is not in the city’s budget. Brooks noted the city budgeted $32,000 this fiscal year for an employee dedicated to keeping downtown clean and neat. “Now you want the city to invest some more money in equipment to water the plants, to do whatever … and replace what needs replacing. I think we shouldn’t do it. I think we have spent a lot of money downtown, and we need to back off for a while.”

“I can’t believe we’re sitting here debating this,” Finnerty said.

City Manager Bobby Roberson told the council the equipment needed to water the plants — a golf cart and watering apparatus — would cost about $8,500.



About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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