MARY ANN ANDERSON
The Hazlehurst City Council was busy last week, passing flurries of motions in the final regularly scheduled workshop and meeting of the year.
During Monday night’s work session, a controversial resolution was passed as the result of the media not being informed of a called meeting the previous Thursday.
During the called meeting, which apparently focused on what Mayor Bayne Stone termed “financial arrangements” for the purchase of Dr. Sidney Johnson’s office building, the council voted have City Attorney Natasha Bennet to draw up a resolution to cash a $200,000 water and sewer fund certificate of deposit, that Mayor Bayne Stone said was unrestricted, to buy Johnson’s office and to use additional funds to repair and upgrade the building, and to act on the resolution at Thursday’s regularly scheduled meeting.
The Georgia Municipal Association states that in counties where the legal organ – in this case the Jeff Davis Ledger – is published fewer than four times a week, that the city must give 24 hours advance notice of a called meeting. That didn’t happen for the Dec. 13 called meeting.
As a result of the violation of Georgia’s Open Meetings Law, Bennett drew a resolution that rescinded actions taken at the called meeting, as well as a Nov. 15 vote to purchase the Johnson building and convey it to the Downtown Development Authority.
“There was an inadvertent failure to notify the proper parties for our meeting last Thursday,” Bennett said. “Apparently the newspaper did not get notice.”
The resolution states that the city council “subsequently determined” in the time from the Nov. 15 meeting until the Dec. 13 called meeting that it was in the best interest of the city to not deed the property to the DDA, with the reasoning that the property, if it remained in the possession of the city, would be eligible for grant opportunities.
“We are also correcting our error from last Thursday authorizing the cash-out of the $200,000 certificate of deposit,” Bennett said in Monday’s workshop. “We are also authorizing the repayment of those funds to the water and sewer department.”
The resolution then reauthorized the cash-out of the certificate of deposit as well as the purchase of the property from Johnson to the city and not the DDA. The building has been leased to a medical practice from Baxley, and Bennett stated that rent money will be paid back to the water and sewer department.
The purchase price of the building was not disclosed in the Nov. 15 regular meeting, the Dec. 13 called meeting, the Dec. 17 workshop, or the resolution.
In other action in Monday’s work session, the council ….
…. approved an intergovernmental agreement between the city and county to outsource collection of the city’s taxes to the Jeff Davis County Tax Commissioner’s office. The city will pay the county $6,500 a year for the service, which will be reviewed if a new tax commissioner is elected.
…. after a lengthy discussion of possibly renegotiating the school resource officer contract between the city and the Jeff Davis County Board of Education, agreed to keep the contract “as written” until it expires in August, 2019.
…. voted to accept a contract for auditing the city’s tax returns with Henderson and Godbee LLC of Valdosta, who will replace Kendall Davis, the city’s longtime auditor who no longer works with municipalities. Stone also informed the council that the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts granted an extension for the audit, which should have been completed this year, to March 31, 2019.
…. agreed to set qualifying fees for councilmen at $72 and $360 for the mayor’s office for the upcoming municipal election.
…. approved the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Parade to be held Jan. 12 at 10 a.m., and then retroactively passed a motion approving the Catholic Church Parade that was held Dec. 12.
…. agreed to pay Christmas and safety bonuses for a total of $22,726.
…. passed a motion in Citizens Comments to reimburse $2,000 to James Benjamin of Benjamin Concrete for city water and sewer services he paid for but didn’t receive.
…. also in Citizens Comments, heard a short presentation by Barry Bloom, Chief Financial Officer at Jeff Davis Hospital, on upgrades and additions to the hospital, including the Behavioral Health Unit and Wound Care Center, as well as a talk on the Georgia Rural Hospital Tax Credit program.
In other action during Thursday’s regular meeting, in the absence of Ward Four Councilman John Bloodworth who was out sick, the council ….
…. looked on as Andrea Dorminey Taylor of the Hazlehurst-Jeff Davis Joint Development Authority recognized the winners of the Chamber of Commerce-sponsored annual Christmas parade, including Oakland Baptist Church in the church category, Attorney at Law L. Kim Buford in the small business category, Walmart of Hazlehurst for the large business category, the 8 and Under Jeff Davis All-Stars Baseball Team in the clubs category, Jackie Lee Brinson in the individual category, and the Junior Jeff Davis Yellow Jacket Cheerleaders in the education category.
…. tabled until the January regular meeting a discussion to determine the best use of $261,385 from the USDA, with Ramay adding that the city would “use the money to benefit Hazlehurst the most.”
…. agreed to attend on Jan. 9 in Atlanta the Okefenokee Occasion, an annual event sponsored by the Southern Georgia Regional Commission that gives cities and counties opportunities to network with members of the legislature.
…. listened as Bennett gave the first reading of a resolution adopting the Georgia Municipal Employees Benefit System (GMEBS) restated master defined benefit retirement plan.
…. agreed to pay an invoice of $1,000 for a structural inspection of the Empact Center Church now housed in the old Crystal Palace building. The motion also included the provision that Bennett would attempt to recover as much of those funds as possible from Empact Center.
…. voted to pay an outstanding invoice for approximately $12,000 to Ocmulgee Outdoors for a Polaris Brutus that was purchased for Hazlehurst Municipal Airport. The Polaris, a budgeted item, is to be paid for from SPLOST funds.
…. authorized several employees to roll over their 2018 vacation time to 2019. Stone pointed out that because of an unusually busy year with several new projects, the employees were not able to take their vacation as planned, and that the city’s policy is usually “use it or lose it.” He also noted that the vote was for a one-time basis only.
…. approved departmental reports, water and sewer adjustments, and check register to pay bills for the period ending Nov. 30, and also approved minutes for all council meetings in July and August.
…. in the Mayor and Councilmen’s Comments, approved all work session and regular session meeting dates for 2019.
…. after meeting in closed session on a personnel issue, the council authorized Lopez to make a corrective entry in an unnamed file.