MARY ANN ANDERSON
With the stroke of a pen, the City of Hazlehurst signed into effect an emergency ordinance to help end the sort of violence that occurred just over two weeks ago at Mary Frazier McLean Community Park on Young Street.
The ordinance, which comes in the aftermath of what was termed by City Attorney Ken W. Smith as “extreme violence” – gunfights and other altercations that resulted in a shooting and a stabbing at the park in the early morning hours of August 8 – was signed during last Thursday night’s regular meeting of the Hazlehurst City Council. The ordinance prohibits disruptive behavior and disorderly conduct in all city parks, and it also clearly defines that no one can be in any of the parks “before 6 a.m. or sunrise, whichever is later, or after the automatic turn-on of streetlights or sundown, whichever is later.”
Smith further explained the emergency ordinance is good for only 90 days until a permanent one can be placed into effect.
Most of the discussion about the August 8 incidents took place during last Monday night’s work session of the City Council.
“It takes one nut, one nut, to put somebody in the funeral home,” said Ward 1 Councilman Dywane Johnson, whose district includes the Young Street park. “When you start shooting, you’re not having fun. You’re out to hurt someone. And I’m asking the council to enforce the ordinances.”
The original ordinances governing the city parks, Smith pointed out, included no language on the hours in which the parks can operate.
McLean Community Park, Johnson added, is the “number one used park” in Hazlehurst – the others are Buddy Spann Park, Weatherly Park and Hazlehurst Water World Splash Pad – and permits must be issued by the City for any events held there. There was no permit issued for any event on August 7 or 8.
Charles Watkins, who lives on James Street near McLean Community Park, spoke to the council about the trouble that night and other times, saying that sometimes his trailer “would be shaking” because the music is so loud.
“It’s ridiculous,” he went on. “We need to do something because it’s getting dangerous.”
Hazlehurst Police Chief Ken Williams, who was at the workshop, promised the council of any changes to the ordinances, “Give me something with some teeth, and we can take care of it.”
On a more positive note, changes are in store for Hazlehurst. Nelson Coppedge, a local developer, briefed the council on possibly renovating the historic old city jail on Latimer Street into a coffeehouse and fixing up other structures in downtown to “bring a little life to that area.”
Calling the jail “a beautiful structure,” in his presentation to the council, Coppedge proposed that he would work with Matthew Rentz of Mocha on Main, the already existing coffeehouse at the corner of Tallahassee and Hinson streets, to bring the idea to reality with the possibility of a drive-thru window or an outdoor seating area or both. Any work, he said noting the historic value of the building, would be done “respectfully.”
Mayor Bayne Stone, saying that Coppedge is making “a tremendous investment” in downtown, asked the council to come up with ideas for a lease agreement on the jail, possibly for a minimum of ten years. Coppedge was then asked to give an exact proposal of his plans so it can be discussed at the next city council meeting or a special called meeting.
In other action, the council ….
…. after a long discussion in the workshop with Jeff Davis County Commissioner Vann Wooten of the Ocmulgee District and another lengthy dialogue among themselves in the Thursday night meeting, unanimously agreed to assist with installing city-owned playground equipment on county-owned property near Hazlehurst Water World Splash Pad.
…. approved travel for Dustin Atkinson of the Hazlehurst Fire Department to participate in the Fire Instructor I training class from August 24-28 at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth.
…. In the Citizens’ Comments section of the workshop, at the request of Hazlehurst Municipal Airport Manager Cody White, agreed to a $2,708 upgrade of the airport’s weather tracking equipment. Also in this section, to save money on interest, the council agreed to purchase outright a piece of equipment at Hazlehurst Municipal Golf Course rather than continue to pay its lease for another year. And Ward 4 Councilman John Bloodworth, saying he had several calls about the design of the coping and lighting at the roundabout at Pat Dixon Road and Collins Street, asked the council to consider changes to make it safer.
During Thursday’s regular session, the council ….
…. accepted a handmade wooden American flag from veteran Carroll Walker of Hazlehurst that will be permanently displayed at the Hazlehurst Municipal Building on Johnson Street, where the Jeff Davis County Veterans Association holds its monthly meetings.
…. after hearing the second reading by Smith of an amended ordinance authorizing and regulating the sale of alcoholic beverages by the drink and for consumption on the premises in downtown Hazlehurst, to include Latimer, Hinson, South Tallahassee, South Williams, Railroad and South Cromartie streets, unanimously passed the motion.
…. discussed at length but took no formal action as to how to legally handle violations of existing nuisance ordinances on dilapidated homes and buildings. Smith also said he would look at the ordinances for possible amendments to correct overlap and conflict. Johnson stated he would speak with the Heart of Georgia Altamaha Regional Commission about codifying the ordinances.
…. heard as Smith gave the first reading of an amendment to the solid waste ordinance that includes stiffer penalties for littering.
…. approved water and sewer adjustments, departmental reports and the check register for the period ending July 30.
…. in the Citizens’ Comments section of the Thursday night meeting, after seeing a rendering of a downtown mural presented by Hazlehurst-Jeff Davis Joint Development Authority Director Andrea Taylor, agreed for her office to apply for a grant with the Georgia Council of the Arts to help pay for it. The mural tentatively will be painted on the Tallahassee Street side of the old Wilson Hardware building. The council also passed a motion in Citizens’ Comments for Code Enforcement Director Charles Harrell to begin collecting around $3,400 in delinquent city business licenses.
The next workshop is scheduled for September 14, with the regular meeting to be held on September 17. Both meetings are at 6 p.m. in the conference room at City Hall.