WINFIELD - The Winfield City Council voted to pave and stripe 250 feet of Woodvale Street, located off of Highway 118, next to Abby Nicole’s retail store, in an effort to cut down on shoppers parking on the sides of the street. The action took place at the Tuesday, Dec. 4, meeting.
The suggestion received criticism from councilman Chris Ballard, mayor Randy Price and Winfield Police Chief Brett Burleson, along with Abby Nicole’s owner Brandon Webster, who believes the issue to be personal instead of a public concern.
Councilman Tim Garrison brought up the issue, stating that he had received multiple complaints about vehicles parked in the street next to Abby Nicole’s blocking or partially blocking the street in question.
Woodvale Street has been the center of a conflict between Webster and the city council for well over a year.
Synopsis of the conflict
Abby Nicole’s owner Brandon Webster approached the Winfield City Council in March 2017 to stating that Woodvale Street, which runs beside his business, was causing a safety hazard to his customers who must cross the small street in order to enter the business.
Webster told the council that he believed he owned the property that the street was on and asked the council to close the road. He also presented the council with diagrams of his plans to expand his business once the road was closed.
According to Journal Record articles written by former news editor Tracy Estes, an hour-long discussion followed Webster’s request, in which council members were divided on whether to close the road.
Garrison, along with councilmen Jimmy Hayes and Anthony Hallmark, were against closing the road. Ballard was open to the idea of closing the road, as a business expansion could draw more sales tax. No comments were recorded by Estes from councilman Rusty Barnes.
Estes records that a vote was taken at this meeting and the vote was 3-3, although he does not name which counselors were on which side of the vote.
Minutes from the council meeting at city hall do not mention a vote.
On May 6, 2017, Webster had a frame-house that he owned torn down and the debris piled on Woodvale Street, effectively blocking the street, as well as placing barricades around the debris.
City attorney Todd Atkinson, according to reports from Estes, attempted to negotiate with Webster in order to open the road again, but was unable to without legal proceedings.
Former 25th Circuit Judge John Bentley issued a temporary restraining order against Webster, which would prevent him from blocking the road again and allow the city to remove the debris six days later.
The issue has been wrapped-up in litigation since then, but the court did issue a permanent injunction, giving the city an easement on Woodvale Street. This action, according to Atkinson, supports the city’s position that the street is city property.
Previous stories written concerning this conflict and its litigation can be found online at www.myjrpaper.com.
During the Tuesday, Dec. 4, meeting, Garrison told the council that the city had worked diligently to ensure that Woodvale Street stayed open. He read a statement he had prepared to the council regarding the issue.
“As a city, earlier this year, we spent several thousands of dollars in litigation fees to keep this section of Woodvale Street from being closed,” said Garrison.
Garrison said that the litigation proceedings determined the street to be city property.
The parking issue, according to Garrison, is most likely due to the street being unmarked and shoppers are not clearly differentiating between the parking area and the street.
Garrison proposed that the city pave and stripe a 250-foot section of the street, which would run beside Abby Nicole’s, in order to make a clear distinction between the road and the parking area, as well as installing “No Parking” signs along the road.
Garrison said he believed that this project would help cut down on the parking problem.
“This will visibly and physically define Woodvale Street and should not be mistaken as a parking area,” said Garrison. “Then after Woodvale is well-defined and if the blockage continues, our city police force, while patrolling in the area, can see with no question that this is a violation and has the responsibility to address the situation at that time.”
Garrison told the council that if the motion passes, that he would request that the work be performed quickly.
In his address, Garrison told the council that he had already spoken with Central Alabama Construction from Alexander City and received an estimate for the project at $12,750 for the asphalt and striping.
According to Garrison, the work could be completed between Monday, Dec. 17, and Friday, Dec. 21.
City attorney Todd Atkinson provided some clarity on the litigation proceedings concerning Woodvale Street for the council.
“The permanent injunction we got, it’s two-fold: It prevents the property owners from doing anything to block the road and the other thing is that it gives us a public prescriptive easement,” said Atkinson.
This easement means that because the road has been used as a city street for a long time, the city will continue to be allowed access to the road.
“We’re talking about the asphalted area of the road--asphalt-to-asphalt, edge-to-edge. It’s a public street, as prescribed by the court. It’s owned by the city and the public,” said Atkinson.
Price questioned why the street needed to be paved if there was nothing wrong with the asphalt. He suggested a paint job for the small street instead of paying the cost to asphalt the road.
“There’s holes there. They’re not very big ones,” responded councilman Jimmy Hayes.
“Why do you want to asphalt that?” asked Price.
“That’s the problem area, so if you asphalt it, it’s clearly defined to keep people from parking there,” Garrison responded.
Price suggested that patching the few holes and striping the road could accomplish defining the road without the larger expense of paving.
“I’d rather pave it so it’s well-defined,” said Garrison. “No mistaking about it. Well-defined, asphalted, outer-edge (lines), signs.”
Councilman Chris ballard asked Atkinson whether the state Department of Transportation could eventually close the road.
DOT District Manager Robert Spiller issued a report identifying potential hazards concerning Woodvale Street to the council, listing safety concerns on Nov. 13, 2017.
Ballard expressed that he could not understand spending $12,000 on the street if there is a chance that the street would be closed by the state.
“In the letter they sent us, they stated three safety concerns. That is my issue with paving the road if at some point (the DOT) would come back and close the road,” said Ballard.
“They could do that with any road if they wanted to,” said Garrison.
“We’ve got a street that gets blocked in the middle of the city and we’re not going to do anything about it?” Garrison.
Ballard said he could feel differently about patching the road or striping it, but he could not see a point in spending the $12,750 to pave the road.
During this discussion, Price told the council that the state had closed an entrance to Highway 129 off Bob Lawrence Road, next to Huddle House.
“They told us if we used it, they would close it and that’s what they did,” said Price.
Regarding the state Department of Transportation’s role in the matter, Atkinson said, “They can’t do anything to the road. They could tell us that they think it’s unsafe to enter and if it came to the point they thought it was unsafe, they could block that entrance to (Highway) 118, so the road wouldn’t have an entrance to 118 anymore.”
“I can understand marking and signs and things, but I don’t know about paving it. It hasn’t been that long since we paved Continental Street and that’s already turned to gray (already dulled). I understand if it’s darker, it would be easier to patrol it,” said Price.
Hayes told the council that the holes in Woodvale Street had to be filled multiple times a year as it is.
Price said that the council had not finished paying for its paving projects that it had just completed in November. According to city clerk Angie Oliver, the city still owes around $66,000 on that project.
Price said he did not want to go against the council, since when he proposed a project, he would need council support, allowing the recommendation from Garrison to be put to a vote if it received a motion and a second.
However, the mayor’s actions did not come without a warning.
“If the council by this recommendation wants to pave this road, stripe it and put up signage, the next thing that you’re going to have to understand is that when people get a parking citation or a tow, you’re going to have complaints.
“We need to represent the many and not the few when we make our decisions,” warned Price before asking for a motion.
Garrison made the motion and Hayes provided a second. The council voted 4-1 to pave and stripe the street, with Ballard voting against the measure.
Garrison, Burleson clash
After the vote, Garrison asked that the newspaper clarify that he did not say that he wanted the police department to necessarily write tickets over the issue.
“I didn’t say we should write a bunch of citations, I just said that if we could educate people, we don’t have to run out there and start handing out citations, we can just say, ‘I know you haven’t noticed, but this is a street and you can’t park here,’ said Garrison.
“I just wanted to make sure that the newspaper remembered that I didn’t say I wanted people to start getting locked up or get citations, I said we need to address this and educate people,” said Garrison.
At this point, Winfield Police Chief Brett Burleson spoke up.
“With all due respect, how are we going to do that?” said Burleson.
Burleson indicated that he had received messages from Garrison asking Burleson to visit Abby Nicole’s and correct the parking issue.
Burleson told the council that when he had received the requests, he had visited the business and asked those shoppers who were illegally parked to move their cars.
“Once this (paving) is done, I would pull in there and ask whose car it is and explain that they can’t park there. I believe most people are educated enough that they can say, ‘I understand now and I won’t do it again,’” said Garrison.
Burleson explained that it’s not the same people parking in the road each weekend. Because shoppers likely only park in the area for around 30 or 45 minutes, Burleson told the council that he would need to station a police officer in that area in order to continually monitor the situation.
Garrison and Hayes disagreed that an officer would have to stay there in order to fix the problem.
“Surely we patrol that side of the city and all you have to do is look to the side and if you see a car parked in the city street, then we stop and address it because that’s our responsibility if I was a patrolman,” said Garrison.
Burleson pointed out that there are many other times cars are parked in a city street and that policing one over another did not make sense to him.
“So we do the same thing for the football games?” asked Burleson.
This sparked a heated response from the councilmen.
“This ain’t got nothing to do with the football games,” said Hayes, as Garrison said, “I don’t know, I’m addressing the city street.”
Burleson rebutted, “A city street is a city street, if a car is parked in a city street...”
Burleson was interrupted by Garrison, who said that he was not addressing any other city street other than Woodvale.
“That may be something you need to bring up. That’s not what I’m addressing, I don’t know,” said Garrison.
“But I’m the one that’s going to have to deal with it,” said Burleson, heatedly.
“Well I’m not talking about a football game, I’m talking about this area right here. I don’t even know where that come from,” Garrison argued.
“We’re talking about parking in a city street,” said Burleson.
“In THIS city street,” Garrison specified.
“This specific city street...” said Burleson pointedly.
“Yes, right at this moment, yes, sir. At this moment, we are,” said Garrison.
The mayor asked whether the parking issue was a marking issue, where customers did not know they were parking on a street, or if it was a patrol issue.
“I think it’s just...be aware,” said Garrison. “I think this should clear up the situation.”
Hayes said he does not believe that marking is the problem.
“I think the marking and the signs should clear up a lot, but when you pull in there, you know whether you’re parking in the road or not,” said Hayes.
“Pretty much without it being marked,” Price said, adding that the vote had already been made to pave and mark the road.
Garrison commented that paving and marking the road would give the city some credibility if they do have to write tickets for shoppers parking on the road.
The discussion ended on a somewhat uncomfortable note, as the meeting moved to other issues.
Hayes appears to flip-flop
According to Estes’ article from Webster’s original meeting with the city council, Hayes pointed out to the council that traffic from the local flea market blocks a city street also leading to the same residential area as Woodvale.
The following is an excerpt from Estes’ story titled, “Council split on closing busy street.”
Hayes reminded council members that one small street which serves as a point of entry to the residential area is virtually blocked on weekends as a nearby flea market serves to bring in customers to the area. He said not only does the flea market all but block the street, but it serves to make entry into Alabama 118 from this point very dangerous.
This excerpt appears to show that in 2017, the council was not concerned with shoppers blocking a city street.
It is not recorded that Hayes, nor any other council members, requested that the police department enforce no-parking laws on shoppers parking in the road outside of the flea market.
To determine the level of public interest in the parking near Abby Nicole’s, a Journal Record reporter called Winfield City Hall and the Winfield Police Department asking about the number of complaints about the parking on Woodvale Street.
According to city clerk Angie Oliver and Winfield Police Department Office Manager Lauren Bozeman, neither department had received any complaints.
In a followup conversation with Burleson, he emphasized that, if he is going to enforce parking on the road, he would have to enforce it everywhere, not simply on one road.
“It’s the same offense, no matter what road it’s on. (Garrison) says he is not concerned with other streets, but I’m the chief of police and I have to be,” said Burleson.
Burleson said that there should be one standard related to parking on the street. “It doesn’t seem fair to me,” he said, regarding enforcing the law on Woodvale Street and not enforcing it on occasions like yard sales and ball games.
Prior to the vote taken at the meeting, Burleson said the only time the police department enforced the law of not parking on the street was if the vehicle had been abandoned or if it posed a safety hazard.
Burleson said he had only received complaints about the road traffic from Garrison--no other residents had contacted the police chief about the parking.
In a followup interview, Price said he had not received any complaints about the parking near Abby Nicole’s.
Price said he was disappointed that the city could not work with a retail business in Winfield.
He stressed that the city needs sales tax and that he wants to work with any business in the city.
Conflicts appear to exist between the council and the vote to pave the road and have police enforce no-parking laws.
One of those possible conflicts of interest could be that councilman Anthony Hallmark, who voted to pave the road, has an open case that has been referred to the Attorney General, in which he was accused of attempting to solicit a bribe. That accusation was made by Abby Nicole’s owner Brandon Webster.
The investigation is still underway and Hallmark is presumed innocent of any wrong doing, but the councilman chose to vote on an issue involving the business of his accuser.
The definition of a conflict of interest, according to the Alabama Code of Ethics is:
A conflict on the part of a public official or public employee between his or her private interests and the official responsibilities inherent in an office of public trust. A conflict of interest involves any action, inaction or decision by a public official or public employee in the discharge of his or her official duties which would materially affect his or her financial interest or those of his or her family members or any business with which the person is associated in a manner different from the manner it affects the other members of the class to which he or she belongs.
When asked whether he believed himself to have a conflict of interest regarding the matter, Hallmark declined to comment and referred the Journal Record to the city attorney.
Atkinson says no conflict
Atkinson, when speaking with a Journal Record reporter, said he did not believe that there was any conflict of interest related to Hallmark voting to have Woodvale Street paved.
“The reason they’re paving it, based on what councilman Garrison said, is because it’s being blocked and he understands that it may not be a clearly definable street,” said Atkinson. “And then tell the people, ‘Hey, you don’t need to be parking there.’
“I don’t understand why there’s a conflict of interest on voting on paving a street.”
Atkinson also said he does not view parking in a city street during a football game or Mule Day to be the same as parking in the street during Saturday sales at Abby Nicole’s.
“I don’t think a Friday-night football game or Mule Day are synonymous with what’s going on down there,” said Atkinson. “A football game is an event. For events, you can basically choose not to enforce other commonly enforced laws to accommodate that event.”
Atkinson said that the city allows individuals to park throughout the city in the streets on Mule Day, when that generally would not be tolerated.
“It’s totally different if it’s an everyday occurrence and if part of the reason is that we don’t have a clearly-defined street,” he said.
The reporter also asked whether Atkinson believed there was any conflict of interest regarding the fact that three council members--Hallmark, Hayes and Garrison--live in a subdivision behind Abby Nicole’s, connected to Woodvale.
“That’s a heavily-traveled street that, at busy times of day, people are traveling through there and cannot get through there and have made complaints about not being able to get through there because of the parking at that business,” said Atkinson. “That’s different than parking at a ball game.”
Webster says it’s personal
Abby Nicole’s owner Brandon Webster said he has never received a complaint about parking at his business until Burleson came to his business on or around Nov. 24.
According to Burleson, he was responding to a complaint made by Garrison about the parking.
“I think it’s childish. This is a personal vendetta and not what’s good for the people of Winfield. There are many more needs in Winfield that $12,750 could be spent on to benefit the people,” said Webster.
“The customers who come to the store are sales tax paying customers.”
Webster said that when Burleson came to his store to ask vehicle-owners to move their cars, the road was not blocked.
Webster brought up that, during Black Friday, cars park in all kinds of unconventional places, including the streets and other business parking lots. Instead of getting policed, he pointed out that these drivers actually had police assistance carrying their purchases out.
He also said that customers to the flea market have parked on the side of the road for decades without any issue.
“This is a common occurrence in a small town,” said Webster.
He voiced concern about the city choosing to do construction around his business during the holiday season.
Webster told the Journal Record that he believes Abby Nicole’s will have its grand opening at its new Gu-Win location in March. Webster said that once his new store is open, he will close his Winfield location.
Garrison says it’s good for the long-term
According to Garrison, the issue of parking in the street around the business has been going on for years, but becomes especially problematic around the holidays.
Garrison said that he believes that the city should have taken action after the injunction was issued to make the street look like an actual street.
“It’s no personal agenda--absolutely not. There’s just several complaints and concerns,” said Garrison.
According to Garrison, he and Webster have never had a personal issue, despite Garrison not wanting to close Woodvale Street.
When asked what he thought about Burleson’s questions--namely about enforcing the law on all city streets and at all times, instead of selectively doing so--Garrison said he did not know.
“I don’t know, I’m not going to elaborate on that. If he’s got a problem, I don’t know what he meant by enforcing that on other roads...absolutely, I think he would enforce it if he drove through the city and there were cars parked in the middle of the street where you had to get off to the side or you had less than one lane, I think he would investigate it,” said Garrison.
Garrison said that he believes there is a difference in events like football games and the sale parking at the retail business.
“That’s a special event. I don’t know. I haven’t had anyone complain to me about a football event parking.”
About the complaints he has received, Garrison said that he has steadily heard from residents over the past few years, complaining about the parking. He said that these complaints have escalated recently as the blockages have been worse this holiday season.
Concerning Webster’s claim that his business would be moving, Garrison said that although he did not know the business was planning to move, he still believed the project would be useful if another business were to take its spot later on.
“I don’t know anything about a move and it’s not my business to know. I don’t want to see any business leave our city. It’s nothing personal to me.”
See complete story in the Journal Record.