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May 21, 2014

MOSS: A plea for ‘green peace’

— Two groups commit to making New Albany cleaner and prettier. Beats having none, for sure.

One group would be better.

That way, everything is shared, not split. There’s only cooperation, not competition. One vision, one budget and one set of volunteers ready to work up a sweat better leads to the one ideal.

I count on a merger/peace treaty/meeting of the dueling green thumbs. Please.

Swept streets and flowers along the sidewalks matter not like streets and sidewalks themselves, of course. But they matter. They impress. They reflect a proud community with its act together.

However, otherwise on a roll, New Albany still lacks enough of that wow factor. Keep New Albany Clean and Green, one of the organizations determined to gussy up things, agrees.

“We want to make it more cosmopolitan, more attractive to visitors,” Letty Walter, active in that group, said.

Jeff Gahan, New Albany’s mayor, said he is similarly drawn. He won’t quibble a bit that the city needs a high priority on its appearance. His administration begins to organize volunteers for a smattering of missions, including one to spruce and polish.

“We want New Albany to be a very beautiful place to be, no question,” Gahan said.

Yet the Gahan administration has removed 31 of 60 planters set out downtown by the Clean and Green people, and has reportedly ordered the other 29 moved. Clean and Green asked for permission to place others and the city said no.

“I just think he [Gahan] just wants control of every aspect of New Albany,” Irv Stumler, president of the Clean and Green, said.

Stumler’s deep involvement is key. He ran against and, obviously, lost to Gahan in the 2011 Democratic primary. Stumler since has been arguably both a good citizen and a sore loser — I don’t buy the sore-loser part — by continuing to spearhead Clean and Green and by routinely pointing out way after way after way he insists city government should be doing more.

Stumler told me he probably will not run next year for mayor, while reminding that his cleaner-city fight goes on because it must.

“He doesn’t want us to succeed — or for people to believe we’ve succeeded,” Stumler said of Gahan.

Gahan realizes the community needs all the volunteerism it can get. Gahan is encouraged that 40 to 50 people have answered the city’s recent calls for enlistees in its Volunteer Services corps.

Meanwhile, Gahan tightropes how the city seems to have become a nemesis to Clean and Green. Be that unintentional or not, it is unfortunate.

“They’re acting like a bunch of little kids on the playground,” Walter, a longtime community leader, said of city officials.

Those taken-away planters ended up in a park, which is nice. Wouldn’t they be nicer, though, downtown as intended?

“I will not criticize anything any volunteer does,” Gahan said. “I commend them. I will support them any way we possibly can.”

However, that does not include allowing planters in spots where, according to the city, they could hinder pedestrians or otherwise cause problems. The city’s Board of Public Works decides what can go where. It decided.

“We don’t want to discourage the volunteers,” Gahan said. “We do want to encourage them to take direction from the Board of Public Works. That’s the accountable board.”

Clean and Green weighs in on dilapidated buildings. It picks up trash and has put up welcome signs at city entrances. It claims a membership similar to the city’s new volunteer group, Stumler said. Clean and Green earns respect and deserves a chance to be a city friend instead of a thorn.

“It’s a waste of time and energy,” Walter said of conflict instead of partnership.

“They could be using us.”

Or as Gahan put it, “Their [Clean and Green] heart is in the right place. I don’t see any reason we can’t act together. [But] they have to be aware of where the responsibility lies.”

— Send column ideas to dale.moss@twc.com

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