MARY ANN ANDERSON
The Hazlehurst City Council kicked off last week with an emotionally charged workshop on Monday night, followed by a sometimes contentious regular monthly meeting on Thursday night.
The hot topics for both meetings were the roundabouts that are being built in the school district (see story elsewhere), the city’s insurance, and an airport condemnation.
Ward Four Councilman John Bloodworth was not present for Monday’s meeting, and Ward Three Councilman Eric Griffin was out for Thursday’s meeting. Mayor Bayne Stone and the council were readying to leave on Friday for the annual conference of the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA).
Brenda Reynolds of McLendon Reynolds Insurance Agency led off one of the first discussions during the Thursday meeting. Even before she outlined her proposal for the city’s insurance policy for the upcoming year, Stone told her that the council would not make a final decision that night.
Reynolds’s bid with Travelers Insurance is $213,599, an increase of more than $7,000 from the previous year, with her saying that it was “nail-biting to try to get this quote” because of general liability and pending litigation against the city. Then she asked Stone why the council couldn’t vote on her bid, saying that she had her proposal in place by last Thursday’s noontime deadline.
“I was wondering the same thing,” chimed in Bloodworth. “We need to take a vote on it.”
Stone’s explanation was that he was still awaiting another bid from the GMA, but that he would have it by this week.
That’s when Reynolds and City Clerk Vernice Lopez reminded Stone that all bids were due by noon that day. But Stone said he wanted to look at the GMA proposal “a little further” before making a decision.
That’s when Bloodworth stepped in and swiftly made a motion for the vote to be held then and there. When he didn’t get a second, the motion died, with Stone indicating that the vote would be handled in a called meeting this week, after the GMA conference concluded.
Reynolds returned to her seat and bided her time until the Citizens Comments section of the meeting. That’s when she fired back at the council.
“As a citizen of this county, and a taxpayer, I want to reiterate that I think y’all were wrong in not going ahead and voting on the insurance tonight,” she said, her voice rising at times. “Y’all have my prices. Y’all have everything that I have. Now y’all are going down to wine and dine at this GMA meeting, and you have everything I’ve got, and they can come back and give you a price of ten dollars under mine or whatever.”
She said that she wasn’t “trying to be ugly” to the council in “any shape, form, or fashion,” but she believed the council to be “incorrect” in not voting on the matter. She went on to say that she thought it was against the law to place a deadline on the bids and then let another company complete its bid after that deadline, alluding again to the “weekend of being wined and dined.”
Bloodworth asked again that the records reflect that he wanted to take the vote that night, with Reynolds adding, “I appreciate that, John, because that’s the right thing to do.”
The called meeting to further discuss and vote on the matter will be held later this week.
The council also heard a lengthy discussion during the workshop and then again in the regular meeting regarding former Jeff Davis County commissioner Wayne Hall, who owns land in the flight safety zone near Hazlehurst Municipal Airport.
In early 2017, the Federal Aviation Administration directed the city to remove a good number of trees in the flight zone, as they classified those trees as obstructive in that they could interfere with safe take-off and landing of aircraft. About a dozen property owners were affected, including Hall.
While the other property owners allowed their trees to be removed without compensation, Hall, despite several requests by the city, refused to have his taken down.
In a last-ditch effort to get the trees cut down or face the possibility of the FAA shutting down the airport, Hall was offered an appraised fair market value of $1,000.74 for the trees, plus an additional $500, as compensation for the trees.
Now Hall has told Natasha Bennett of the city attorney’s office of Smith and Bennett that he wants to bring in his own timber appraiser, but that he needs more time to get the figures to her because he was having health issues.
But Stone said that because the trees haven’t yet been cut, the city is “noncompliant” with the FAA and that the airport is subject to being closed. He said that the city is “at the end of our rope” with Hall.
Ward One Councilman Dywane Johnson pointed out that the city can’t allow the busy airport to be “jeopardized” by Hall.
City Attorney Ken W. Smith agreed to set a deadline for Hall to “come to the table” or that the city would immediately begin condemnation proceedings against him.
In other action, the Council ….
…. after weeks-long negotiations and last-minute modifications, finalized and approved the $3,406,000 budget for 2018-19. Stone also reported that the annual audit for the year ending June 30, 2017, had a “clean slate” with “absolutely no findings.”
…. contracted with the Georgia Department of Corrections for a work detail from the minimum security Bacon Probation Detention Center in Alma.
…. after hearing a brief explanation by Lopez that city employees must sign and return a memorandum to her that states they will adhere to the recently enacted House Bill 673 or the “Hands-Free Law” that will go into effect on July 1, adopted the policy that it is mandatory for all employees to comply with that law.
…. approved a maintenance contract with Utili-Vision to maintain the city’s water tanks.
…. voted on the terms of an agreement with the Jeff Davis County Board of Education to proceed with providing two school resource officers for safety reasons in the school system, with the Board of Education paying the salaries of the officers and the city paying for their benefits.
…. discussed corrective actions for erosion control at Hazlehurst Municipal Airport. Stone said that work to repair the erosion damage, which occurred after about a half-foot of rainfall, would be completed by the weekend.
…. heard an update from Stone on the Georgia State Patrol station that will be built on Highway 341 south of Hazlehurst. He said plans are moving forward but “a lot of work needs to be done,” adding that it will be an “asset in our community for years and years to come.”
…. okayed a long list of training and conferences, including Saundra Toler of the Police Department for training at the Georgia Crime Information Center in August in Savannah; the Police Department’s Deborah Kornegay for municipal court clerk training with the Institute of Continuing Judicial Education in November in Savannah; for Stone, Lopez, and the entire city council to attend the GMA conference in Savannah; and for Carl Leggett, Lorrie Williams, Dusty Andrews, and Lopez to attend the annual conference of Georgia Association of Water Professionals in July, also in Savannah.
…. approved May’s departmental reports, water and sewer adjustments, and check register.
…. after hearing Bloodworth relate that overtime issues had arisen and led to early closure when golfers were waiting to play at the city-owned Twisted Pine Golf Course, and after hearing Johnson state that the city had an obligation “to do whatever it takes” to keep the course open, agreed to either use employees from other departments to fill in as needed or allow the regular golf course employees to have overtime.
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the city council is July 19 at 6 p.m. at City Hall.