It was standing-room-only at town hall Tuesday night, and by the time the town council meeting was over, the countdown clock on how long the Preventorium Road facility will host such meetings had started to tick down.
With a 4-1 vote, the mayor and council executed a contract to relocate town hall to the Global complex on Route 9. The lone "no" vote came from Councilwoman Pauline Smith after residents on both sides of the issue got another chance to voice their opinions.
After several meetings discussing the issue many of the same arguments were brought up as to why the township should, or should not go forward with the purchase. They ranged from the sentimental attachment residents feel about the current complex, to concerns that not enough money had been allocated to do everything the town needs to do for the move.
One of several residents to express the emotional side of the argument was longtime township resident Petra Murray. While the current buildings may not be up to code in many respects, Murray said that was not as big of a concern to her as it might be to other people. "What was code 30 years ago is not code today and will not be code 30 years from now," she said.
Even beyond the buildings themselves, residents also raised questions about some of the landmarks that are part of the complex. That includes the 9/11 memorial and other tributes that are placed around the circle in front of the building.
It was also clear that people felt very passionately about their beliefs on the issue, including Cochise Doucette, who was against the plan. He expressed concerns about the economic implications of the move and also said he believed several council members had run for their seats while expressing their opposition to moving town hall.
While he admitted those members had the right to change their minds, Doucette said he did not think they should. "Is buying this building really a just thing?," he said. "Is it a moral thing? I realize that it's perfectly legal but you people are held to a higher standard," he said of the council members.
Not everyone at Tuesday's meeting was opposed to the purchase. Zig Panek said he had originally been against the idea but changed his mind after what he referred to as "due diligence." He added that not going through with the Global plan would just be further delaying a problem that he saw as facing the township now and in the past. "To try to renovate the building would be a huge problem and just kicking the can again," he said. "We owe it to the people of this township to have a safe and healthy environment."
Also speaking on Tuesday was Steven Johnson who had a display showing the three plans the township had been presented with and agreed with the decision they made. He was one of three straight speakers to support the purchase and move.
The public comment portion of the meeting began with resident Barbara Dixel, who discussed the that was circulated around town opposing the Global purchase. Dixel said 1,115 signatures were collected. After her presentation Dixel got a round of applause from many of the people in the crowd.
In the end, the matter was decided by the elected representatives, who voted as they have in the past. Smith, the lone negative vote, has been outspoken in opposition from the start of the discussion.
Smith implored her fellow council members to not sign the contract, believing that there were better options, including getting a better deal on the building. "If it's such a good deal we can get a better deal," she said.
Smith said she has an "affection" for the buildings on the property and said she would rather see the work put in to maintaining them rather than going somewhere new. "I am concentrating on the costs to the people of Howell Township of buying what I consider to be a white elephant," she said.
In the end, Smith said she knew she was outnumbered when it came to the deciding vote. "I know I'm talking to these walls and these walls have heard a lot of things," she said. "I know you're going to do what you're going to do, I know it's wrong, and I'm just getting on the record that it's a big gamble, and we're all going to pay for it."