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RUNDOWN: Guyton City Council Meeting – November 2019

Guyton officials met Tuesday evening before a council chamber of standing room only observers. The meeting, which was the first since the most recent municipal election, again showed a lack of consensus on measures discussed by the mayor and council and ended with a conflict over whether or not the meeting should even adjourn. 

Guyton officials met Tuesday evening before a council chamber of standing room only observers. The meeting, which was the first since the most recent municipal election, again showed a lack of consensus on measures discussed by the mayor and council and ended with a conflict over whether or not the meeting should even adjourn. Councilman Goldwire was not present. 

Before diving into official business, Councilman Collins made a motion to amend the agenda and remove the Planning & Zoning matters, which included two new subdivision provisions, because P&Z had not yet received all of the documentation necessary to make a decision. Collins said that without a P&Z recommendation, Council could not make a decision either. The P & Z Chairman Lon Harden was present and asked why he was not notified. Collins said they only learned of the lacking information late in the afternoon. He said City Manager Hofman contacted Russ Deen and Deen confirmed that P&Z had not received everything. Harden said, “Russ Deen is not the P&Z Chairman,” which Collins replied saying, “I understand. You’ll have to take that up with the City Manager.” Collins made his motion again, Lee seconded, and it passed 3-0.

Councilman Michael Johnson asked that Effingham County jail inmate labor be placed on the agenda to discuss exploring having the inmates do work around the city. Johnson said he spoke with the city manager and the public works department and both said they would be agreeable to seeing how it works out. “Things like edging sidewalks, and so forth,” Johnson said. “It will probably cost the citizens little to nothing.” Johnson made a motion to direct Hofman to look into it, seconded by Lee, and passed 3-0.

City Manager Hofman discussed an on-site demonstration by JCB hydradig to see if the equipment would work for Guyton. There is no cost to test the equipment, but the city would be responsible for $250 in transportation costs each way. Hofman told an inquiring citizen that the machine – a wheeled excavator/ditch digger- is estimated to cost $160,000. Hofman said JCB is the only company that manufactures the machine and the closest city with the same equipment is Macon. Collins asked if the City was going to get $500 worth of digging out of the demonstration to justify the transportation costs. Hofman said he would record the demonstration on the small roads to see how it works. “If it’s not a good investment, then we won’t go with it,” Hofman said. “But we can try it. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.” Collins made a motion to approve the on-site demo, seconded by Lee and approved 3-0.

LMIG project bids were scheduled to be unsealed, but only one was submitted. Preferred Materials submitted a bid for $99,873 to resurface roads provided on a previously submitted list. Johnson made a motion to accept the bid, second by Lee, and it was approved 3-0 without any discussion. 

Hofman also presented a resolution to apply for a grant through the Department of Natural Resources for the recreation trails in Guyton. Hofman said the grant would provide funding for lights for the trail, lights that have outlets in them for events, picnic tables, and repairs on the trail where there is uprooted damage on the trail. The city would be responsible for a 20% match down the road – approximately $16,000 – if the city receives the full $80,000 grant. Hofman said the city would likely be able to use SPLOST funds, but this would not be possible for at least a year and a half.  The application is due November 17th. Johnson clarified that the grant was only for the walking trail, which Hofman confirmed was correct. Collins made a motion to approve the resolution to allow Hofman to apply, Lee seconded, and it was approved 3-0. 

Hofman recommended that Council approve a contract with Albert Perkins for farming and baling of hay at the spray fields at the WasteWater Treatment Plant. He said Perkins was willing to keep up the fields for free in exchange for keeping the hay for his own sales. Perkins requested a contract with the city because, due to the dormancy of the fields during the winter months, he would be doing work for a few months before receiving any compensation. Hofman said he worked with the city engineer to come up with the contract, which includes that Perkins will use city equipment but is responsible for some maintenance. A citizen inquired whether or not it was put out for bid or advertised. Hofman explained that the city had been paying someone to maintain the fields and do the labor but the city was still left with the hay and had to get rid of it. With Perkins, the city won’t have to pay for labor and Perkins will take the hay away. City Attorney Ray Smith was reviewing the contract during discussion and Collins made a motion to approve the contract contingent upon approval by the city attorney. It was seconded by Johnson and passed 3-0. 

The agenda item to discuss consideration to discuss the compensation of Hofman as  provided in policies was interrupted by Collins’ request to discuss the matter in executive session. 

Mayor Lariscy had requested the role of the city manager be placed on the agenda for legal advice from the city attorney. Lariscy said “There’s been some differences of opinion on how the city manager should manage employees in the city and how city council should interact with both. I wanted to bring that before council and get our city attorney’s opinion.” Lariscy explained that he understood the City Charter to mean that the city manager is the go-between for city council and employees and the mayor and city employees, but that recent actions of the council with some employees were not in line with what the city charter prescribes. 

Attorney Smith said the duties are set out by ordinance, which he read out in its entirety. “The mayor’s description is a fair one,” he concluded. Lariscy reminded council members to go through the city  manager to obtain information from city employees. Johnson asked if that was outlined in the personnel policy, which Smith reiterated that it was an ordinance, which supersedes a policy. 

A discussion on slowing street traffic at 6th Avenue and Church Street was brought forward by Councilman Johnson. Johnson said traffic is fast on Church Street and he would like to see a 4-way stop implemented at 5th and Church Street and 6th and Church Street. The motion was made by Johnson, seconded by Collins, and approved 3-0.

On the discussion of the hiring GWES engineering to assist with fixing the WasteWater Treatment Plant Spray Field issue, Johnson said the fields are at the capacity where they will soon not be able to be used and he would like a second opinion because the city engineer, Wesley Parker, has only told them how to do new fields, but not what to do with the old ones. 

Larsicy said that the city engineer was not the one who made the request on the fields but instead EPD, which Johnson refuted by saying EPD had not sent the city a letter on the issue. Collins said the city should have a meeting with EPD and the spraying field maintenance. Johnson said that the city is going to be in trouble, at which point Lariscy suggested someone on council make a motion to discuss the matter in executive session. Johnson made the motion, it was seconded by Collins, and approved 3-0.

Hofman explained that the City Council needed to form a committee to establish TSPLOST priorities. The committee will be responsible for coming up with a list of roads that would be on the project list and would be submitted to the county ahead of a ballot referendum. The mayor suggested that each council member submit a name of someone to appoint. Collins said he wanted to see someone on Council to serve on the committee, so the council agreed that Johnson should be on the committee because he is over Streets & Lanes. 

Councilman Lee brought forth the idea to create a new city charter because the charter had not been updated in quite some time and it conflicts with policies and other governing ideas in the city. Lariscy said he did not disagree, but a list of desires for changes would need to be submitted before they could get started. Collins said it sounded like a job for the new board, which will take office in January. 

Attorney Smith explained to council that time was working against the council because the deadline to turn in a new charter to the Georgia legislature for approval is November. (That statement is not correct. The Georgia legislature drafts local legislation through Day 28 of the legislative session, which is usually in late February or early March, depending on the year.) Lariscy told council to submit changes they would like to see the city manager who will organize the submission for the city attorney. 

Effingham County Fire Chief Clint Hodges presented a renewal of the 2016 mutual aid agreement that facilitates the flow of resources in emergencies and disasters. Hodges said the agreement, which is the standard around the state, was helpful during Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Irma. The other municipalities are set to approve the agreement this month as well before it goes to the county commissioners. Johnson made a motion to approve the agreement, which was seconded by Lee. Collins abstained, but per the city charter, an abstention is a vote in favor. The motion was approved 3-0.

Hofman presented a discussion on the annexation of 379 Brogdon Road. The property is not in the city limits, but the property owner needs city water and sewer hook ups in order to get a permit for a trailer from the county. Lariscy said it would be faster if the property owner applied for a permit for the services, which can be provided in a shorter amount of time, and then apply for annexation at a later time, if he so chooses. No action was taken and the property owner was instructed to apply for a permit at city hall. 

On the removal of 96 Simmons Street from the city limits, a representative from the Effingham County Tax Assessor’s office presented on behalf of Leroy Holmes. She stated that the property in question is an island of city property surrounded in its entirety by county property. She noted that the office has no record of a change in the property status, but they were able to identify that the surrounding properties were city property in 2005 and county property effective 2006.  Mr. Holmes’ property uses city water, but does not use sewer. Council discussed how the island of land was established at length, but ultimately instructed the city attorney to do research on the matter and report back to the property owner in the next week. Mr. Holmes’ main concern is that he does not want to pay city taxes.

Hofman told council members that a report prepared by Wesley Parker on the spray fields has been requested by EPD and that he needs to be able to send the report to the agency the following day. Collins said it would be better to have a meeting with EPD other interest parties to have everyone in the same room, but Hofman said that EPD expressed an urgency for the report. “I would like to get them that report, if possible,” Hofman said. Collins replied, “I would not like to get them that report tomorrow. I would like to set up a meeting first.” 

Councilman Lee said EPD has not demanded the city take any particular action on the spray fields and that Wesley Parker met with him at his house on a Saturday to explain the report. Lee said, “We can discuss this here or back in the back,” which was met with calls by citizens saying “here!” Attorney Smith said, “Unless there’s litigation about it or it involves personnel.” Citizens asked that Parker be requested for the next city council meeting to explain the report to everyone. Lee said council wants the spray fields shut down. Lariscy refuted Lee’s claim and said the report should be sent to EPD and the city should make it clear to EPD that a conversation needs to be had about the requirements of the agency. Johnson made a motion to echo the mayor’s recommendation but after no second, the Mayor exercised his authority to second the motion to further discussion. The motion then passed unanimously.

The city clerk requested the cash out on her unused vacation time for the year. Mayor Lariscy asked for the city attorney opinion on it and after reviewing the city charter and personnel policy, Smith said the mayor and council were within their authority to allow the clerk to do so. 

The reimbursement of water and sewer tap fees for Schel Paulk was discussed based on minutes approved in 2001 with a balance of ~$5,100. Councilman Johnson asked what they were paying for and he wanted to go back and look at the numbers. The clerk said the numbers were being verified, which prompted Lariscy to make a recommendation to approve the reimbursement pending verification. Collins made the motion, which was not seconded so Lariscy seconded to further discussion on paying the reimbursement ‘as agreed.’ The motion failed.

Johnson made a motion to table the vote and hold off until all of the information is obtained. Lee seconded and the vote was 2-2 with Collins voting NO and Lariscy exercising a vote. Attorney Smith interjected to revert back to another point, which detracted from the discussion on the reimbursement. Collins said that Council already had the paperwork to agree to pay the man in the agreement laid out. “All the staff has to do is confirm what money has been paid or not paid.” Lariscy echoed Collins’ statements and asked Johnson if he trusted the city employees to do their jobs. Johnson said, “No, I want to see it in front of me. I want to see what has been paid. You’re talking about bills.” 

A citizen again asked Johnson if he trusted his city manager “My city manager don’t even know nothing about this. I don’t even know nothing about it. It happened in 2001. I made my statement and I stand behind it. Thank you.”

Collins asked the city attorney why the council had to vote on the matter if it had already been voted on previously and was within an agreement, which Smith said they did not have to take further action if the agreement was in place. But Johnson pushed back, stating that “2001 was a long time ago.” 

Larsicy again recommended a motion to proceed with the reimbursement pending city staff evaluation and to have city staff email council with the final numbers before a payment is made. Collins seconded, but the motion failed again. After three failed votes on the matter, council moved on to the next agenda item. 

Council considered bids to repair the neighborhood sign for Delarae subdivision, which was vandalized several months ago. The Mayor asked the city attorney to clarify on the city responsibility of the sign, which Smith said was in the right of way. When asked if the city owned the sign, Smith said the city owned the sign through the easement it was granted on the right of way. The motion to approve the sign repair, roughly $2,000, was made by Collins, seconded by Lariscy, and approved by all. The sign is a non-metallic metal sign. 

Council also considered hiring Steven Lisius on a contract basis to ‘exercise’ the fire trucks that are not in use in the same way they were previously. Hofman said Lisius would be paid minimum wage. Andy Harville asked if the city had talked to the county about the need to exercise trucks since the county had taken over fire services for the city. The city manager said he would reach out to the county to see if they would do it. 

Police Chief Joseph Coppola presented a report on the police department. He said the city had 202 calls in October, 5 of which were handled by the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office, 8 police reports, zero accidents, three citations, one arrest, and one warrant.  He also introduced a new officer – Ashley Cooper. 

At 8:57 p.m., Council adjourned to go into executive session. No specific matters were mentioned, but during the meeting, there was discussion to address Hofman’s compensation, EPD, and the discussion of hiring GWES engineering to assist with fixing the WWTP spray field issue in executive session. 

Council was in executive session for just over 45 minutes and returned only to deadlock on the issue of whether or not to adjourn. Lariscy reported that no action was taken in or required from executive session.

Councilman Collins made a motion to adjourn, which was not seconded by Lee or Johnson. The mayor seconded the motion to adjourn, “Are we going to discuss the thing?” Johnson asked. The vote was 2-2 because Johnson wanted to discuss the Waste Water Treatment Plant. Collins rose to leave and Mayor Lariscy followed suit, saying he did not feel well and had an early morning. “I’m very much in favor of leaving. Have a blessed evening,” he said as he and Collins exited the room. 

Councilman Johnson said he would like to have a special-called meeting on Friday, November 15th, but no time was set.

Jessica Szilagyi is a Statewide Contributor for AllOnGeorgia.com. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia. Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta and has two blogs of her own: The Perspicacious Conservative and "Hair Blowers to Lawn Mowers."

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