Coming up on May 3rd, Tumble Time employees and owner Whitney Barbre expect to get an audience with Mayor Jeff Pollard and the entire City Council, something they say they haven’t been provided with adequately. Employee Rachel Ackerman took to social media to vent her frustration following Tuesday night’s Carmi City Council meeting. A tense enough exchange took place at the meeting to make Ackerman feel she needed to air a grievance. Jc Tinsley tracked down the mayor as well as Ackerman and Barbre Wednesday in an attempt to make heads or tails of that frustration.
It was about a year to 18 months ago when Whitney Barbre and employee Ragyn Holman met with Mayor Pollard and Economic Development Director Sandra Irvine. Barbre approached the city government with the hopes of getting some information and/or assistance in finding land for sale or an existing property that would fit Tumble Time’s growing needs. Other than two meetings in excess of 12 months ago, Pollard says he hasn’t heard from Barbre and none of the financial information that would determine whether Tumble Time would qualify to purchase land in the new industrial area was provided, “It was basically [she] was at square one. Where is there some property available? She’d told us she had looked at buying additional lots next to the current property [at 109 Robinson] to build and redo up there and since then we’ve not heard anything from her.”
Pollard says the number one reason they weren’t allowed to discuss anything that Ackerman and Barbre brought up with regards to building out on Industrial was that they hadn’t followed procedure to be placed on the agenda preventing the council from being able to formally discuss the possibility. “They’re reallly not even ready to be on the agenda. She needs to come and talk to Sandra and I.” The mayor says he’s planning to reach out to Barbre and invite her in to talk about it in the next week. “Whether she’s asking for money from the city [the revolving loan fund] or not, there’s still paperwork that Sandra has to do. I’ve reviewed the information they passed out at the council meeting. If she’s actually going to have a café and a pro shop involved in it, that could actually change the way it is with the TIF and being on Lot 18. We weren’t aware of that. She hasn’t come in and told us that. So without knowing that information, the way it stands with the information from a year and a half ago, she’s still in a business that provides a service that doesn’t meet the qualifications to be out there.”
The qualifications in question concern businesses looking to locate in the industrial park and require they meet certain guidelines. The either/or standards include the creation of a certain amount of full time jobs or a minimum amount of tax dollars that in turn benefit the city must be created. Pollard couldn’t recall the specific numbers that needed to be met for the Cheer/Fitness business to qualify for the property they’re seeking. Tumble Time, a service based business as operated now, wouldn’t create the tax dollars needed to fill that requirement according to Pollard. However, with a new build, Tumble Time expects to be offering much more than their current services that would include selling many more taxed items which could potentially qualify the business for placement there. It would seem a failure to communicate is what led to that confusion.
Pollard maintains there’s nothing personal and he’s very much in favor of Tumble Time’s expansion. “We’re pro-business. We want more businesses to come to Carmi and existing businesses to expand. We want to help. Unfortunately, in some aspects and this is where I get frustrated in my job, is that everybody thinks that its just simple and you can snap your fingers and it just happens. It doesn’t work that way. There’s hoops to jump through especially when you’re dealing with government entities. There’s just a lot of red tape that goes along with that. But her plan here and if she can find a place, I’m 100% behind it and all for it. As far as I’m concerned, and the council, there’s nothing personal against this.”
That’s not how Barbre and Ackerman feel however after Tuesday’s council meeting. Barbre said that during the visitor comments portion of the meeting, “I asked what do I need to do to move this process forward and he [Mayor Pollard] said that I needed to come and talk to him in his office on Monday.” Ackerman continued, “After that, we were inquiring into what are the guidelines for us to build out there because he keeps telling us that we don’t meet the guidelines. So she asks what are the guidelines and he says very condescendingly, ‘Whitney, I’ve tried to explain this to you before…you don’t meet the guidelines.’ So after Whitney passes out the packets, I ask for the guidelines and he tells me I have to wait until Sandra gets back from vacation on Monday.”
Among Barbre and Ackerman’s biggest frustrations is that the majority of the council is just now being informed of any of this. While we were talking, Alderman Sheila Headlee came in to discuss what had occurred at last night’s council meeting. Barbre says, “And just like Sheila sat here and said she had no idea about it. Ya know, if the mayor has been notified and Sandra has been notified and [alderman] Keith Davis has been notified, why do the other council members know nothing about our search for property or our interest in that lot.”
The lack of attention is costing Tumble Time and could ultimately cost Carmi a business. The girls say, “We’ve gotten to the point that we’re having to turn away kids because we don’t have the room or the time to accommodate all the kids that want to come here. And the expansion we’re planning is major. The new design will feature a new indoor pool so we’ll have swimming lessons and pool parties. We’re looking at SIC coming to practice, the Bullfrogs practicing as well. We’re going to add a new Ninja Warrior course…we’re trying to build a 20,000 square foot building and it feels like they’re trying to keep us out. Ya know, we currently pull 200 kids from 17 towns and would be getting a lot more if we can expand. And all those people are gonna go to Wal-Mart, they’re gonna eat here, get gas, stop by Gillard’s. And if the City continues to refuse to work with us, and I have to look for somewhere else to grow and expand my business, I will move. I don’t want it to have to come to that though.”
The mayor says that a Carmi resident has offered Barbre an acre out by the Carmi Airport for only a couple thousand dollars. Barbre says while she appreciates that offer, “I wanna be somewhere I’ll be seen, not somewhere out in the country. Ya know, if people are going to the Taco Factory, they’re gonna see ‘Hey there’s a new gym there’ and so I want to know if I can’t have that lot or if they’re trying to keep it from me.”
So, I had to ask if the damage was done or if fences could still be mended. Barbre says, “I’m willing to be civil about it and make things work with them, but I also want them to do the same with me. I don’t want everything to be with Jeff and Sandra. I want it to be everybody, the whole council, and I want everybody to know what’s going on. I want to feel like the mayor and the council is supportive of me and my trying to bring a bigger, better business.” Barbre says that alderman Keith Davis is being supportive, as is Sheila Headlee now that she knows more about the situation, as well as alderman Lance Yearby.
The next Carmi City Council meeting is set for May 3rd. Whether it all gets taken care of behind doors before then or not, you can most likely expect standing room only. WROY/WRUL will have it covered.