By Nathan Prewett, For The Tribune
LEEDS – At a meeting on Monday, August 15, of the Leeds City Council at City Hall, a resident brought up a doorway near the room being used by the Leeds Main Street program that was found to have been barricaded with plywood and then later completely bricked off.
The Leeds Water Works Board owns a building close to where they lease a room in the rear for office space. The board has allowed those involved in the Main Street program to use the room of the building, which is adjacent to the city hall’s annex.
The doorway led to a space where restrooms and a kitchen are located. The walling now blocks access to these from the meeting room.
The Water Works Board released a statement saying they did not build a wall there. They further stated that the City of Leeds erected the barricade.
“The fact is we did not build that wall,” Water Works Board Chairman Eddie Moore said. “As a matter of fact, we voted to give money to that initiative (the Main Street program). We had space to donate because we think that this is good for our town.”
Councilman Eric Turner confirmed that the board did not build the wall. He stated that when the wall first appeared, he received a complaint from the board and reached out to Mayor David Miller to ask why it had gone up, though he received no reply.
When it was brought up at the meeting on August 15, Turner asked Miller why it had been done. Miller said that it was a matter of security and that it had not been for the purpose of walling off access to the restrooms.
“It was a matter of business security and really had nothing to do with shutting anybody off from the restroom,” Miller said during the council meeting on Monday, August 15.
But Turner did not agree that it had anything to do with security.
“The way I look at it is that the city hall is owned by the community,” he told the Tribune. “And those people are citizens, and they’re not going to pose any kind of security threat. They’re only going in there to have Main Street meetings.”
The City of Leeds sent out a statement regarding the situation and said the following:
- The City sold property at 1408 9th Street to Leeds Water Works Board (LWWB) on April 10, 2020.
- LWWB subsequently gutted their property, including the removal of bathroom and water fountain.
- Recently, the LWWB leased its space, which is adjacent to the City Annex, to a third party, thus giving the third-party full access through an open adjoining corridor to working City offices and meeting spaces without informing the City of the third-party rental so that proper steps could be made prior to the rental occupancy to address security issues and city liability.
- The Leeds City Hall Annex building is a working area of the City where occasionally taxpayer data, citizen data, and other privileged information is kept and discussed.
- Employee data and other records are held in this same area on occasion.
- The granting of third-party access to the City Hall Annex exposed the City to liability without the City’s knowledge.
- Upon discovery of exposure, the LWWB was notified that a wall would be erected to separate the areas between the two properties.
- Had City been notified prior to any tenant leasing, all steps could have been taken to properly secure both spaces for both property owners without any issues.
- LWWB has no rights to convey access to a space that they do not own, for access to a restroom or space that is not open to the public, no more than the City could convey a space owned by LWWB.
- LWWB is welcome to continue their construction projects and install a bathroom for their new tenant, should they choose to do so.
- Mayor Miller did not assert that the LWWB constructed the security barrier; this was a statement made by local media.
- The actions taken to close the corridor have nothing to do with the particular entity nor with any particular individuals occupying the LWWB space; instead, it involves the above-discussed security issues.
“The Council had no involvement in the decision-making behind sealing off the doorway. Presumably, security concerns drove the decision,” Councilwoman Angie Latta said. “If that were the case, I would like to think that some sort of compromise could have been pursued that would have addressed those concerns while maintaining access to the restroom facilities. Again, however, the Council was not included in pursuing this action. I’ll leave it to those responsible to speak for themselves on the specific thought process that went into the decision to restrict access.”