MARY ANN ANDERSON
One of the first orders of business during last Monday night’s work session of the Hazlehurst City Council was to authorize Mayor Bayne Stone to formally sign a three-year lease contract with Jeff Davis Hospital to rent the building that previously housed Dr. Sidney P. Johnson’s medical practice.
In late 2018, the city bought the historically significant landmark that was one of Hazlehurst’s first hospitals, with Ward One Council member Dywane Johnson pointing out, “Our whole main objective is to make sure that the hospital and our medical facilities in Hazlehurst grow and be viable.”
With additional explanations by Jeff Davis Hospital CEO Tammy Mims that the building would house the new office of an as yet to be named physician, the motion passed unanimously.
But the next agenda item was whether to pay an invoice for $7,143.50 to a medical wellness company, who specifically asked to remain unnamed, to whom the city had previously, albeit tentatively, agreed to rent the building. The invoice is for signage, window dressings, cleaning and cleaning supplies, and other expenses related to the company’s preparing the office for occupancy. Because of last-minute negotiations, however, the city agreed to rent the building to the hospital instead.
In kicking off the discussions regarding the invoice, the council members generally agreed among themselves, Stone included, for city attorneys Ken W. Smith and Natasha Bennett to negotiate with the company to, as Johnson said, “hash it out.”
Stone insisted that the city did not have, as he termed it, a “binding legal contract” with the medical wellness company although the city and that company had been working together for several weeks toward occupancy of the building. Stone pointed out that the only items the company actually put into the building were computers and new blinds, but then reiterated that the city, again in his words, “never entered into any type of agreement” with the company.
“I say we owe them nothing,” he stated, adding, though, that the city should at least pay for the blinds because they would remain in the building. “I don’t think we owe them a dime.”
After lengthy discussions, Ward Four Councilman John Bloodworth then made a motion for Stone to contact the medical wellness company to tell its representative, who also asked not to be named, that the city wouldn’t pay the invoice except for the blinds. Ward Two Councilman John Ramay seconded the motion.
During the long, loud, and at times confusing discussion phase of the motion, Johnson once again restated that the city attorney’s office should handle the invoice negotiations with the medical wellness company and asked that the motion be amended as such. But that didn’t happen right away.
After more discussions, Bloodworth, too, reminded the council that the motion had not been amended to include the city attorney’s office in the negotiations, with Stone jumping in and saying that the meeting was “getting out of hand” with so many talking at once.
Stone then asked for the vote on the original motion for him to handle the matter, which quickly and unanimously passed. But in the mix was the glaring oversight, one made only because of the confusion of the discussion phase, that the motion was not amended to have included the added benefit of the attorney’s office being involved in the negotiations.
But even then, the council was not yet done with talking about the Johnson building. During the Mayor and Councilmen’s Comments of the regular meeting on Thursday, Stone said that the city exceeded its budget of $25,000 for renovations and repairs on the building. He also stated that he thought SPLOST funds could be used for the repair of city offices, and then asked for a motion to transfer those funds from SPLOST to the city.
Ramay spoke up and stated that he wanted the city attorney’s office to make sure the transfer was legal. The council voted to transfer the money, but only on confirmation that it could legally take place.
In other action during the workshop and regular meeting, the council ….
…. approved a host of training, including City Clerk Vernice Thompson for training at the Region III Conference of the 2019 International Institute of Municipal Clerks at Chateau Elan in Braselton Feb. 20-22; Thompson and Deputy Clerk Lorrie Williams for the Georgia Clerks Education Institute of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at Jekyll Island Feb. 3-5; Sumer Daniels for Wastewater Laboratory Analyst certification training at the Georgia Water and Wastewater Institute in Carrollton Feb. 25-Mar. 1; Public Works Director Carl Alton Leggett and Orson P. “Opie” Hall for OSHA Level II training for Chemical Spill Response in Brunswick on Jan. 17; and tentatively okayed Airport Manager Cody White for the JD Forward Leadership Academy in Hazlehurst and Atlanta from January through August.
…. approved December’s check register of bills paid, water and sewer adjustments, and departmental reports.
…. briefly discussed but made no formal motion on the progress of the construction of the Georgia State Patrol office on Highway 341 south of Hazlehurst.
…. listened as Stone pointed out but made no request for a motion on getting a sewer line easement from Dick’s Wings to the sewer manhole on Smith Street. Stone said that all of the property owners between Dick’s Wings and Smith Street have agreed to sign the easement.
…. after a long discussion on refurbishing half of the wastewater treatment plant, and whether to use $261,385 of USDA loan funds that were left over from a recent lift station project for that refurbishment or to repay that loan, Stone instructed Ramay and Ward Three Councilman Eric Griffin to work with the USDA and the city’s engineering firm of Hofstadter and Associates of Macon to determine the best use of the money.
…. talked about but took no formal action on installing two traffic lights, one at the corner of Miller Street and Highway 341, which the council previously okayed, and another at Altamaha Road and Highway 341.
…. instructed Bennett to modify the bylaws of the city-owned Twisted Pine Golf Course so that the language and purpose of one of the articles is made clearer. Stone also said that he and City Clerk Vernice Thompson have several applications for a recent employment vacancy at the golf course and will start the interview process soon.
…. discussed but took no formal action on obtaining loans and grants from Georgia Environmental Finance Authority, the USDA, or other entities for work on the city’s elevated water tanks. Stone did, however, point out that the preliminary groundwork has been completed for when the city is ready to move forward with the project.
…. listened as Stone said that bids would be opened the next day (last Tuesday) for two sidewalk projects, one from Jeff Davis Hospital to the Hazlehurst Housing Authority’s Wildwood Apartments just off the Douglas Highway, and another from Jeff Davis Primary School on Burketts Ferry Road to Collins Street and then to the roundabout at the intersection of Collins Street and Pat Dixon Road. (After the bid opening last Tuesday, Jerry D. Rushing Construction Company of Statesboro was awarded the contract with a low bid of $160,000.)
…. discussed but took no action on reroofing the city-owned buildings at the corner of Jefferson and Cromartie streets and the other that fronts on Johnson Street and now houses Middle Georgia Probation.
…. after discussing in both the workshop and regular meeting the need to purchase or lease a Caterpillar track hoe excavator, agreed unanimously to lease the equipment for five years from Yancey Brothers, with the terms also including at no extra cost a hauling trailer for the excavator.
…. in Citizens Comments during the workshop, voted to waive the rental fee of the Community Center at Twisted Pine Golf Course for the Kiwanis Jeff Davis County Chapter to hold an event in February.
…. agreed unanimously to pay an invoice to Tammy Metts, the city’s accountant, for additional work she performed in getting ready for the 2018 audit. The invoice was for $12,000, but she offered a “courtesy write-down” of $3,000, which brought the bill to $9,000.
…. in Mayor and Councilmen’s Comments in the regular and workshop meetings, Johnson publicly thanked the City of Hazlehurst, Jeff Davis County, Jeff Davis Hospital and many others for success of the events on January 12 in celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
…. agreed unanimously to accept Wayne Hall’s request that he sign an October 2017 contract in which he agreed to maintain a check valve in a rental home that he owns and would no longer hold the city liable for any damages caused by water and sewer backup on that property if the valve malfunctions. Hall also agreed to accept a check for $2,307 that he had billed the city at the time for cleanup on that property.
…. after its second reading, adopted an amended ordinance on the city’s retirement system.
…. after hearing from Stone in the regular meeting discuss a request by Stanley Sellers for the city to pave his parking lot at Yellow Jacket Carwash that was allegedly damaged when a storm drain was installed near his property, agreed to look at the matter more fully after the council members have more thoroughly read the contract and personally visited the site.
…. heard updates from Fire Chief Charles Wasdin and Leggett on the expensive prospect of repairing and replacing dozens of the city’s fire hydrants, some dating to 1948, in readying for the ISO grading later this year. Leggett pointed out that loans and grants are available for the project, but he and Wasdin also suggested adding $1 each month to residential and commercial water bills to help pay for the upgrades and maintenance. The council took no formal action in the matter.
…. also heard and agreed to a request from Wasdin for the city to assist in paying for accommodations for local firefighters to attend Firefighter Recognition Day at the State Capitol in Atlanta.
The next workshop of the Hazlehurst City Council is scheduled for Feb. 18, with the next regular meeting scheduled for Feb. 21. Both meetings begin at 6 p.m. at City Hall.