MARY ANN ANDERSON
Both last week’s work session and regular meetings of the Hazlehurst City Council were rife with controversial issues that prompted spirited discussions among the mayor and council members, so spirited, in fact, that Ward 4 Councilman John Bloodworth was prompted during mid-meeting of the work session to ask, “Why the attitudes in the room tonight?”
Monday night’s work session was prefaced by Mayor Bayne Stone joking that “country has come to town” by pointing out that he and each of the council members are now all linked by tablets that, among other things, cut down on paperwork and allow the council to “communicate by electronic media.”
Otherwise, the majority of that time was spent discussing hot topics including the city water meters and the placement of a cell tower in downtown Hazlehurst.
At the top of the agenda, and at the request of Stone, three representatives from Master Meter presented an almost 40-minute – and sometimes quite technical and often confusing – discussion on the repair or replacement of the city’s 3,000 water meters, at present owned by Master Meter. And while it is time to replace some of those meters, one of the representatives explained that Master Meter was not at the meeting to offer a sales pitch, only to assure the council that the company would be available “going forward” when it comes to repairing their meters.
But earlier in the day, Stone had met in his office behind closed doors with those same Master Meter representatives. As the three were leaving the work session, Ward 2 Councilman John Ramay pointed out that he believed the earlier meeting was “secret” and was visibly frustrated that either the mayor or Master Meter, in his words, “wouldn’t allow the council in there.” Stone quickly interjected that Master Meter had “nothing to do with it, I wouldn’t allow you in there” and that he would discuss it with Ramay “later.” Stone then abruptly ended that section by saying he was “moving on” to the next agenda item. Even after the long presentation, no motion was made during the work session regarding the meters, and the discussion continued to the Thursday night regular meeting.
When the agenda item came around again on Thursday night with Bloodworth and Ward 3 Councilwoman Diane Leggett out, and after yet another marathon discussion about the construction project to begin replacing meters, Stone said that Hazlehurst will be “unique” as half of the city’s 3,000 meters will be with Master Meter and the other half will be replaced over time with meters from Lanier Municipal Supply, who made a sales presentation to the council in April. Stone asked Ramay or Ward 2 Councilman Dywane Johnson, the only two council members present for the meeting, for a motion to authorize him to borrow $100,000 for the project.
Ramay made the motion, with Stone seconding, but Johnson in the discussion phase brought up numerous issues with the meter replacement project, and said that his vote would be “negative,” as he thought the other two council members should be present when the city is voting on whether to go into a $100,000 debt. Stone said he had “talked to the others about this,” and then called for the vote, which passed 2-1 with Johnson voting against it.
The next hot topic was a request for the placement of a cell tower in downtown Hazlehurst by City Switch II-A LLC. Stone explained that he and City Building Inspector Charles Harrell had shown several pieces of land to place the tower to City Switch, with the “optimum location” on what was referred to as the “old Prince Vaughn property” on Latimer Street. Stone also said that City Switch will pay a lease of $1,000 a month, money that he wants to set aside for new Christmas decorations as the old ones are, in his word, “pathetic.” With the lease money from City Switch, Stone said the city would not have to “spend a dime, not one penny” for new decorations.
The mayor also asked the council to “study” the proposal between the work session and regular session on Thursday, but Bloodworth stated that he would not be at the regular meeting and implored the council to table the matter for a month to, as he put it, “give it some more thought.” Bloodworth made a motion to table the matter for a month, Leggett seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
Both Bloodworth and Leggett weren’t at Thursday’s meeting, however, when the issue was raised once more as an agenda item. With Stone calling the lease money a “godsend” and a “blessing” for Hazlehurst so that the city can get the new decorations, and with Johnson saying that he didn’t think the tower was a “good idea,” primarily because he doesn’t want to see the tower mar downtown’s landscape.Johnson then pointed out that, three days earlier, the council had voted to table the matter for a month. Stone then asked for a motion to take the matter off the table. After that passed with Ramay and Stone voting for it and Johnson against it, Stone made the motion to go ahead with the project, Ramay seconded the motion and once again Stone and Ramay went for it while Johnson said nay. The motion carried, and the tower will soon stand downtown.
In other action during Monday’s work session, the Council ….
…. after hearing from Hazlehurst-Jeff Davis County Joint Development Director Andrea Taylor explain that the Jeff Davis County School System opted to drop out of a community-wide branding campaign with 365 Degree Total Marketing of St. Simons Island, in which the city had originally agreed to participate as one of seven entities taking part in the program at a cost of $5,000 each, agreed to remain in the campaign at the recalculated cost of $6,000. Ward 2 Councilman John Ramay was the sole nay vote, indicating he thought the school board should participated in the project. Along with the city, the remaining participants are Jeff Davis County Board of Commissioners, Jeff Davis Hospital and the Hazlehurst-Jeff Davis County Joint Development Authority, Chamber of Commerce and Board of Tourism.
…. approved a paving and taxiway building contract recommendation for Hazlehurst Municipal Airport, with the low bid awarded to J. Hiers Company of Baxley.
…. briefly discussed but made no formal recommendations on the rerouting and easements of the waterline being built to Beasley Forest Products on Highway 221 North.
…. also discussed but made no firm decision on what to do with leftover scrap iron and concrete from city projects, but with Stone specifically saying that scrap was not to be sold.
…. after long, and again often lively discussions in both meetings about how to compensate employees for their on-call time, agreed to pay an additional eight hours to the employee for the week he or she is on call, plus time-and-a-half for each real-time hour that the employee works during an emergency.
…. passed a motion authorizing a $500,000 line of credit, as Stone said, “in case we need it” before the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
…. approved expenses for Harrell to travel to Douglas on June 1 for code licensing renewal, and for the Police Department’s Melissa Luke to travel to the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth on June 8 for a stress management class.
…. after yet another lengthy discussion in both meetings about paying a $19,000 mower repair bill to Blanchard Equipment in Swainsboro, who after months of repairs didn’t properly fix the mower issue, agreed to let Stone “split the bill” and offer $10,000 to settle it.
…. after meeting in closed session to discuss personnel, the council returned to regular session with a vote to terminate an unnamed “delinquent” employee.
During Thursday night’s regular meeting, the council in other action ….
…. approved April’s minutes, departmental reports, check register for bills already paid and water and sewer adjustments.
…. briefly discussed synchronizing and sequestering the city’s water well system to assure clean water.
…. after sometimes having tense exchanges and playing the blame game in the work session among City Clerk Vernice Thompson, Public Works Supervisor Conrad Swain and Stone over who was supposed to keep up with the time and hours that detainees from Bacon County Probation Detention Center actually work, exchanges that prompted Bloodworth to remark about the “attitudes in the room,” and then a milder discussion in the regular meeting, agreed to renew the contract with the Detention Center at $49,318, a substantial increase over 2019’s rate of $39,500.
…. after a request by Fire Chief Charles Wasdin, agreed unanimously to fund a $3,000 project to replace aging, damaged asphalt with concrete at the Hazlehurst-Jeff Davis County Fire-Rescue Department. The council also passed a motion for Wasdin to replace all existing older lightbulbs at the station with LED bulbs.
…. In the Mayor and Councilmen’s Comments, approved the slate of officers for the Georgia Municipal Association’s District 9, the district in which Hazlehurst is a member.