Council at odds over golf course
MARY ANN ANDERSON
Last week’s monthly meeting of the Hazlehurst City Council was at times confusing, with tempers smoldering but not quite flaring as the members remain at odds over whether to sell, lease or keep the city-owned golf course and civic center.
With Mayor Bayne Stone leading off the discussion of leasing the civic center and restaurant to Lyn Watts of Baxley, he asked the council to give her six months at an undisclosed rental rate, and then at the end of that time, adjust the rate after the city does an audit. That’s when Ward 2 Councilman John Ramay reminded the mayor that an advisory committee had been formed to make recommendations to the council about all matters relating to the civic center and golf course, telling his colleagues that the council had heard nothing from the committee, and then adding, “I could not vote positive to anything unless we have the approval and recommendation of the committee.”
The committee is comprised of Stone, Gary Evans of Cotton Partners and representing Hazlehurst-Jeff Davis County Chamber of Commerce, Jeff Davis County Commissioner Ricky Crosby, Chris Roppe of Jeff Davis County School System and Jim Sewell of Hazlehurst-Jeff Davis County Board of Tourism. Evans, Crosby and Roppe were not at the meeting.
The second item on the agenda was to discuss a possible sale of the golf course, which would also fall under the recommendations of the committee, but Ward 4 Councilman John Bloodworth said that he would have to hear those recommendations before he could make up his mind on leasing the restaurant to Watts. Ramay added that he wanted to hear “multiple options” so the council could make its decisions also based on the committee’s advice.
In moving to the discussion on the golf course, Ward 1 Councilman Dywane Johnson made the motion, which passed unanimously, to take direction from the committee and for Stone to contact Watts as soon as the committee reports to the council.
That’s when the confusion over the golf course began. Hazlehurst realtor and broker Harold Whitfield of Whitfield Realty took to the podium to ask the council to sign an authorization to show unlisted property since the golf course is not officially listed for sale although it is common knowledge that it is.
Whitfield brought an unnamed potential buyer to the golf course in October, he explained, and then went to the committee to further the discussions. He noted that the buyer already owns two “very successful golf courses” and will bring in a team of professionals to run the city’s golf course after he buys it. Whitfield admitted that he “put the cart before the horse” in showing the buyer the property before getting the authorization signed by city officials.
That’s when Ramay said that he was making the “same statement” that he had made about leasing the restaurant, saying, “I can’t vote positive on anything when we haven’t heard recommendations from the committee.”
Whitfield reminded the council that he had met with the committee and informed them that he was waiting for the buyer to make an offer. Whitfield said he was to meet with the buyer last Friday and that with the city signing the authorization, which also provides that he receives a 5% commission from the sale, he could then negotiate with his client.
Ramay told Whitfield that the committee was supposed to offer three options to the city and that he was “very confused” that the council hadn’t yet heard from the committee on any of those options.
Stone countered with Whitfield, saying that he didn’t know his intentions were to sign a contract, with the mayor going so far as to say that he was “shocked” to hear it.
“I can’t believe that,” Whitfield shot back to Stone, telling him that any real estate agent or broker wouldn’t sell property without getting a commission. After more bantering back and forth, Stone told Whitfield that neither he nor the committee had consent to sign the authorization and that he would vote against his request.
That’s when Bloodworth jumped in and made a motion for the council to sign the paperwork, but with no second, the motion died. Stone then made another motion to put the matter on hold.
Sewell, who with Whitfield and the committee were also meeting with the buyer last Friday, then said that it would be “unethical” to leave Whitfield out and go directly to the buyer. He also reminded the council that Whitfield was the one who found the buyer in the first place.
With no more mention of the motion to put the matter on hold, Stone then made yet another motion to “curb the contract” to a later date, with Ramay seconding. Bloodworth opposed the motion, with Johnson and Ward 3 Councilwoman Diane Leggett not giving their vote one way or another.
With nothing decided on that motion, both Leggett and Ramay stated again that they had seen nothing presented by the committee, with Ramay adding, “I might like something else just as well or better” than Whitfield’s potential sale and suggested having a called meeting.
That’s when Charles Harrell, the city’s zoning inspector, reminded the council that several months earlier that they wanted to shut down the course and civic center if it didn’t sell or lease and that the committee has been “busting their butts” to keep it running. He also reminded them that the golf course was losing $250,000 a year and that it was consistently in the red.
With Stone’s last motion of curbing the contract still on the floor, City Attorney Ken W. Smith said that although Whitfield would take the buyer’s offer to the committee, that no one knew if the buyer was even going to make an offer.
Stone then suggested the buyer could bypass Whitfield and go straight to the city for negotiations, but Bloodworth, clearly exasperated, said, “Let’s make this right so he can get his commission.”
And Stone, also clearly frustrated in thinking that Whitfield would not take a commission, withdrew his motion, with Bloodworth making yet another to sign the contract with Whitfield. With Ramay seconding, the motion to continue working with Whitfield passed unanimously. Bloodworth made a final motion for Stone, as mayor, to sign the contract without the signatures of the rest of the council. It also passed unanimously, with a collective sigh of relief from not only the council but everyone in the room.
In other action during last week’s workshop and regular meeting, the council ….
…. after hearing from Hazlehurst-Jeff Davis County Joint Development Authority Director Laura Bloom and Brett Manning, executive director of the Heart of Georgia Altamaha Regional Commission, agreed by a 4-1 vote with Ramay voting nay to provide $100,000 toward building a larger water line to Thompson Hardwoods on the Baxley Highway. The project will cost $957,000. The city’s portion is supplemented by a $500,000 One Georgia grant, $250,000 from the JDA, and the remainder coming from a cash contribution by Beasley Forest Products. Bloom said the project will also positively affect several companies also located on the Baxley Highway by providing better insurance rates and possible expansion opportunities. Among those companies are Williams Brothers Trucking, Sun One Logistics, Stone’s Machine Shop, Triple H, Strate Welding, Lewis Generator and Pallet One.
…. unanimously reelected Johnson as mayor pro-tem and reappointed city executives, and then in a 4-1 vote, with Ramay voting nay, reelected departmental liaisons with Johnson over the Streets Department, Ramay over the Water Department, Leggett over Fire-Rescue and Bloodworth over the Police Department.
…. approved the reappointment of Bloodworth as the ex-officio representative on the JDA for the 2023 calendar year.
…. okayed travel and expenses for Chief Charles Wasdin of the Fire-Rescue Department and seven other members of his team to attend Firefighter Recognition Day and Legislative Dinner in Atlanta from Feb. 6-7; for Chief Ken Williams and Captain James Mock of the Police Department to attend the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police’s winter training conference at Jekyll Island Convention Center from Jan. 22-25; and for Keith Crumpton to attend Basic Animal Control Officer Certification from Jan. 30-Feb. 2 in LaGrange and hosted by Troup County Marshal’s Office.
…. approved the previous month’s water and sewer adjustments, departmental reports and check register.
…. because of a conflict in dates and the absence of Deputy Clerk Lorrie Williams, agreed to move the dates of February’s workshop from the 13th to the 20th and the regular meeting from the 16th to the 23rd.
…. listened as City Clerk Vernice Thompson read a letter from Evans, thanking Wasdin and his department for their professionalism and swiftness in extinguishing a fire at South Georgia Cotton Gin, and again as she read another letter from Georgia Municipal Association congratulating the city for meeting its qualifications in being named a City of Ethics. Thompson noted the city will be formally honored as a City of Ethics at GMA’s 2023 Cities United Summit in Atlanta later this month.
…. video of Thursday’s meeting can be found on the City of Hazlehurst’s website at www.hazlehurstga.gov.