MARY ANN ANDERSON
During Monday night’s workshop and Thursday’s regular monthly meeting of the Hazlehurst City Council, much of the time was filled with discussions of how to enforce the recently revised cemetery ordinance.
Ward 4 Councilman John Bloodworth, who is home recovering from surgery, participated in both meetings by telephone.
Some graves at city cemeteries, it was pointed out by Mayor Bayne Stone and Ward 2 Councilman John Ramay, are overrun with items placed by family members to include trinkets, loose rocks and other decorations that are prohibited by the ordinance rewritten in 2016. Enforcing the ordinance, says Ramay, is difficult.
“It treads on a lot of different cultural and religious problems or challenges that we would have in a community or city cemetery,” he said. “There are lots of, for lack of a better word, decorations and different things that are out there. Some graves have a flood of these that are never picked up and have faded and gone bad.”
Other graves are covered with rocks placed by families or friends but have no coping.
“It becomes difficult to cut the grass,” Ramay went on. “The mower hits the rocks, slings them, and chips other gravestones.”
Ramay and Stone, as well as the other council members, want plot owners to follow the rules of the ordinance. They then suggested public hearings to further discuss the ongoing issues at the cemeteries but deferred to current crisis of the coronavirus and COVID-19.
Ramay moved to postpone any action on the ordinance until after the crisis has passed except to implore via the City’s Facebook page and website and the Jeff Davis Ledger to ask plot owners to adhere to the ordinance until the hearings can be held, with his adding, “After the coronavirus ends, we’ll invite all concerned citizens to attend the public hearing to provide input, as well as experts in the funeral service industry to participate and advise.”
The motion passed unanimously.
In the next agenda item, Stone then brought up placing the old City Hall building at the corner of Latimer and South Williams streets and the former Chamber of Commerce building on Highway 341 South up for public auction with the specific right to refuse all bids. He said that a potential buyer is eyeing the City Hall building for apartments, adding that he would like to see people living downtown.
Ramay was the first to answer, saying he didn’t think it would be “best” for the City and that the idea needs to be “studied” before the buildings are put up for public auction. He also added that Hazlehurst-Jeff Davis County Fire-Rescue has an interest in the Chamber building since it already occupies a portion of it as Fire Station 2.
But Stone countered the reason the second fire station opened in the first place was to have fire suppression services on the north side of the railroad tracks. He explained that trains “cut the town in two,” and that the station was built to get “a quicker response time to that segment of our town.” He added that with the overpass completion in August of this year, “That unit is not nearly as important as it used to be.”
Ramay, however, is on the opposite side of the fence from Stone and would like to see the Fire Department take over the old Chamber building, which connects to Fire Station 2, and then told the council, “We take care of our people, and our fire department, and to be able to house them in a better situation.”
Ward 1 Councilman Dywane Johnson jumped in, saying that Stone “makes very, very good sense,” but that he wanted the City to keep the buildings for their “historical value.”
“We need to keep these places here,” Johnson said. “I really don’t want to see them go.”
But there are structural problems with both buildings, specifically the old City Hall.
“The old City Hall is leaking and has termite damage and mold and mildew damage,” intoned Charles Harrell, the City’s building inspector. “And it’s getting worse, and worse, and worse.”
Ramay stated that the motive for placing the buildings up for auction for income purposes should be “for the betterment of the citizens of Hazlehurst. And whatever it is for the betterment of the citizens of Hazlehurst, I am definitely in favor of it.”
Stone then stated, “The City of Hazlehurst is not supposed to be in the real estate business … but it’s the only way sometimes. You’ve got to do what you have to do to make ends meet.”
Then Stone’s attention turned back to the Chamber building, with his stating emphatically, “I personally don’t think we need any more sleeping and housing and eating places for the fire department. I don’t think it’s to any advantage to us whatsoever. We’ve got a great fire department … We’ve got all the fire department we need.”
That’s when Johnson made the motion to table the matter to look at it in the coming weeks, with Bloodworth quickly seconding by telephone. That motion also passed unanimously.
The council also approved the minutes, water and sewer adjustments, check register for bills already paid, and departmental reports to council for the period ending February 29, 2020.
And in the Mayor and Councilmen’s Comments section of the meeting, Ramay said that he accepted a private donation of a concrete picnic table and benches for the City, Stone reported that an unnamed private citizen had deeded property to the City for purposes of getting an easement for the Highway 221 waterline project to Beasley Timber, and the Council voted unanimously to accept a low bid from Thrift Brothers of Waycross for new fire hydrants and water meters and waterline work. During this section, the Council also heard several short updates from Stone on construction at the airport, the Georgia State Patrol station, and recent issues with a waterline on J.A. Yawn Road, concluding, “We’re a busy little town.”
Unless cancellations occur in the next few weeks, the next workshop of the Hazlehurst City Council is scheduled for Monday, April 13, with the regular meeting taking place on Thursday, April 16. Both meetings are held in the conference room of City Hall at 6 p.m.