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City Council vents anger over tree removal
CKLS director sorry for creating hard feelings
new deh city council library sign pic web
The cutting down of a tree in Great Bend Public Library parking lot so the new digital sign at the corner could be seen has created a stir. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

 It was a furious Great Bend City Council that scolded Central Kansas Library System Director Harry Willems Monday night over the cutting down last week of a tree that blocked the view of the new CKLS sign. The 20-year-old ash at the corner of Broadway and Stone stood on city property but permission from the city was not sought.

In response, the council approved billing the library for the cost of having the value of the old tree evaluated, the cost of a new three-inch tree, and the cost of having it planted and the old stump removed. In addition, a police report was taken and there is a possibility of a criminal damage to property charge.

“I am not very happy about losing a tree,” Mayor Mike Allison said. “Why and what are you going to do about it.”

Several council members grilled Willems, asking him why he didn’t come to them first. “It’s our tree,” Councilman Joel Jackson said.

“I’m going to come to your property and cut a tree down, what do you think?” Councilwoman Allene Owen said.

“I didn’t know that was the protocol,” Willems said.

Willems said he didn’t recall there being a specific location given. And, he sought and was granted permission to cut down the tree from the Beautification Committee with which he had partnered in the past on other landscaping projects.

However, City Attorney Bob Suelter said the location that was approved by the City Council March 7 located the sign as close to Stone Street and Broadway Avenue as possible respecting the site triangle at the intersection for safety concerns. “That was quite clear that night.”

As for the Beautification Committee, that is an entity of the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce and has no authority to make such calls, city officials said. Besides, they said, he had to come to the council to get permission for the sign in the first place and should have known.

On Friday afternoon, April 22, Mark’s Custom Signs employees installed the digital sign at the northwest corner of the Great Bend Public Library parking lot. That following Tuesday, the tree west of the sign was cut down by library personnel at Willems’ request.

“I was shocked,” Owen said of when she saw the tree gone. She then called City Administrator Howard Partington who was also very surprised by the news.

“It’s time you are held accountable,” Councilman Dana Dawson said. He accused Willems of being a loose cannon who does whatever he wants.

“All I can say is I’m sorry,” Willems said, adding he didn’t intend to make people upset. “My goal is to make the library the best it can be in the city.”

Owen was quick to say that she and others on the council support and appreciate the library for all it does. But, that doesn’t excuse such reckless actions.

The council March 7 granted CKLS permission to install the sign, but it took a compromise and a tie-breaking vote from Mayor Mike Allison to pass. The request from Willems raised concerns among city officials since the sign would stand on city property.

The sign cost about $36,000. It includes the CKLS logo, a digital display and the library’s 1409 Williams address, and “Beyond the Book” and “Great Bend Public Library” in smaller type.

City staff members worried about the location along Broadway, the sign highlighting the library system instead of the library and the location of the sign.  

Willems originally proposed a sign halfway between Williams and Stone streets. Since it will be on the city-owned lot, Marks Custom Signs suggested CKLS needed an official OK. 

In the deal, Willems agreed to have the installation moved closer to Stone and nearer the CKLS entrance on the west side of the library.

CKLS paid for the sign. And, since CKLS was paying, it wanted it to feature the library system. 

Also, the sign raises awareness of CKLS which is housed in the basement of the library. Willems said usage of the sign would be split between both entities.

He was also adamant about a Broadway site. It was suggested to place it on Williams, but Willems said if it didn’t go on Broadway, he’d cancel the project.

Adding to the council’s frustration was the installation last year of a nearly $1 million heating and air conditioning system in the library. This required the city to intervene to help pay for the project. The library is still paying the city back for its help on this.