News Analysis By; John Zippert
Contractors working with the Alabama Department of Transportation clear right-of-ways at the Interstate 20/59 exits in Greene County. This will enhance access to the adjoining properties including the proposed site of the Love’s Truck Stop at Exit 40.
Any observer of the July 24, 2018, Eutaw City Council could detect disagreement between Mayor Raymond Steele and the city council members on the agenda and future direction for the city. At the start of the meeting Council members insisted on an executive session to discuss the ‘good name and character” of city employees. They also moved to amend the agenda by adding three action items and saying they would not consider the Mayor’s agenda items without more information.After a 15-minute executive session, the Mayor and council members filed back into the meeting visibly upset. The Minutes of the prior meeting on July 10, 2018 were approved. Mayor Steele gave a report on plans to repair the roads in Branch Heights. Steele said, “It will cost $5-6 million to fully redo the roads in Branch Heights. I am working on a plan to do something now and the major work later when we secure the funds.” Councilwoman Latasha Johnson asked the Mayor, “ are you talking about patching again, what is your plan?” Councilman Joe Lee Powell said, “ Mayor, what are you really planning to do? Let us know. Involve us, as the council members, in your decision making on making real repairs to the roads in Branch Heights, not a token step.” The Council then approved efforts to seek funds from USDA Rural Development in a loan and grant package to support the sewer line to serve the proposed Love’s Truck Stop location at the Eutaw (40 mile marker) exit on Interstate 20/59. The Council also approved travel for Councilman LaJeffrey Carpenter to attend a training in Montgomery in August. The Council then took up an item they added to the agenda and voted 3-2 to pay city police officer Jimmy Benison for five days he was suspended without pay. The Mayor said, “The Council is intruding into day-to-day matters and should not be able to overrule decisions I made in carrying out the work of the City.” Councilman Powell said, “The Mayor is not following the personnel policies of the City. He did not hold a hearing on the disciplining of the police officer. We had no choice but to act in the Council meeting to correct this problem.” The Council then approved a motion by Latasha Johnson to “allow Christ Temple Church to use part of Carver School, at no cost, for one year.” The Mayor again objected that the Council was acting improperly in dealing with day-to-day responsibilities of the Mayor. In the discussion, it was brought out that the Mayor had employed Rev. Michael Barton, as Director of the Parks and Recreation Department, at $12/hour, to handle developing plans for Carver School that had been recently acquired by the City. The Council also approved a motion by Councilwoman Sheila H. Smith, “That all City vehicles have a municipal tag.” Councilwoman Johnson said, ‘I made the motion on the use of Carver School because we have no policies and procedures in place for use of these new facilities. The Mayor needs to be more open and consult with us on his decisions. The City, is a ‘we and us thing’ not ‘an I thing’. Until the Mayor understands and adjusts his ways there will be tension with the Council members. We want to work together but he has a responsibility to work with us, keep us informed and consult us on decisions and finance before he makes decisions on his own.” Councilman Powell echoed similar sentiments, saying, “ The Mayor is not a dictator. He must work with us as Council members if he wants to do things. We adopt the policies, procedures and ordinances and then he carries them out on a day-to-day basis. We insist on being part of the decision-making process and we are acting in the best interest of the City and its residents.” Mayor Steele suggested that more residents of the City get involved and urge their Council members to work with him to better the conditions in the City. In the public comments section of the meeting several residents complained that the City Police were unfair in their treatment of young Black men who had been arrested for drug and weapons offenses. The Mayor agreed to meet with these parents to discuss their grievances with law enforcement.