Three years ago, impressed with the community and charmed by Palestine's small-town vibe, Dr. Ro-Jon Grogans, a surgeon, accepted a job offer from Palestine Regional Medical Center and moved his family to Palestine.
The Grogans' are the kind of family city leaders say they want to attract: Engaged young professionals who can contribute mightily to the city's tax base.
Given city council's action last week, however, to close the Athletic Complex without notifying the community, Dr. Grogans, a father of three, is no longer certain he wants to stay.
“I'm at a crossroads, because my contract here is up,” Grogans, 38, told the Herald-Press Tuesday. “I'm a family man. I can work anywhere. I have to wonder if this is a sign.
“There are a lot of professionals with families in this city. City leaders say they want to bring us here; if this is what we can expect, why would we stay?”
Grogans was one of nearly 80 residents at a public hearing Monday night called by city council. They were angry at council members' decision to close the Athletic Complex. And they were even angrier that council members didn't communicate their intentions to the community, or discuss them with the heads of the city's youth organizations.
The council's 6-0 vote during an executive session sidelined nearly 1,000 Anderson County children, ages 3-15, who use the complex to play league football, baseball, softball, tee-ball, and other activities.
Council members argued they had to close the complex due to multiple violations of the Americans with Disabilities act of 2010 – violations they couldn't afford to fix. Resident Michael Ivy sued the city in June for non-compliance.
At Monday's hearing, Mayor Steve Presley said council members could not answer any questions about the complex's future because of ongoing litigation.
“I love my job, and I love the community,” Grogans said at the hearing. “But knowing there are things my wife likes doing – there are activities that make my kids happy – that's more important than where I work. I can perform surgery anywhere.”
The crowd cheered when Grogans questioned raising user fees to offset the cost of the complex.
“This is not an affluent community, and the fees are a struggle for some families,” he said. “I just had a woman cancel necessary surgery, because she couldn't afford the $82 cost. That is your community. You can't put the expense of this on their backs.”
A California, big-city native, Grogans said he has grown to enjoy life and work in a small community, along with his family's many new friends.
“Here, the input of what I do is far greater,” he said.
If he left, Grogans said he would worry about his staff, the numerous charities he and his wife support, and his patients.
“The footprint left by a decision like this is big,” he said. “Council members have to understand that.”
Grograns urged city leaders to practice the transparency they tout and involve residents in their decisions.
“We have the brains and the legal minds here to fix the problem,” Grogans told council members and Cloer. “Let us, as a community, help you. We have your back.”