By: John Zippert,
The Eutaw City Council held a special called meeting on Tuesday, September 1, 2020, to certify the results of Municipal Election on August 25, 2020.
Mattie Atkins, Election Manager, reported the results of the election to the Eutaw City Council and showed envelopes containing the result slips, printed by the voting machines for examination by the Council or the public. She recommended a series of resolutions to the Council to sign and certify the election results.
Atkins indicated that there would be a runoff on October 6, 2020 between the top two vote getters in the Mayors race between incumbent Raymond Steele and Councilwoman Latasha Johnson.
Atkins also indicated that there will be a runoff in the District 1 Council race between Valerie “Nippy” Watkins and Chondra Mayes.
She declared LaJeffrey Carpenter the winner in District 2, Tracy Hunter in District 3, Larry Coleman in District 4 and Jacqueline Stewart in District 5.
There were no legal challenges to the election results.
Council Members LaJeffrey Carpenter and Latasha Johnson questioned why Mayor Steele was seen moving and handling the voting machines before the election.
Mayor Steele said, “The Sheriff informed us that he was not going to be able to provide deputies to move voting machines to the polling places. I rented a van to transport voting machines and I drove the machines to the polling places. I did not touch the machines.” Atkins indicated that the election poll officials must run a tape with zeroes before starting the election. She said those zero result sheets are also available.
Questions were also raised about a voting machine breakdown in District 4, where incumbent Councilwoman Shelia Smith lost by five votes, 110 for Larry Coleman to 105 for her. The closest result in the election. Atkins explained that the machine malfunctioned and was replaced after ten votes. She said, “The memory stick was removed from the faulty machine and inserted in the new machine to preserve the votes cast in the initial machine and continue the count.”
After the election results were certified, Councilwoman and Mayoral candidate Latasha Johnson announced to the public that Mayor Steele had denied entry to the City Hall and Water Department records, to Kathy Horne and two staff members from Water Management Services.
“We, the majority of the City Council, dismissed Mayor Steele as water system superintendent and contracted with Water Management Services, an experienced consulting firm, to help us correct problems in the physical water system and with the billing system and procedures. Kathy Horne and her staff came this morning to start work under an approved contract. Mayor Steele refused to allow Horne to enter the City Hall and threatened her with arrest for trespassing if she came in to do the job, we contracted with her to do,” said Johnson.
Horne and her assistants decided against defying the Mayor’s orders because they are professionals, working under a board of directors, and could not risk arrest. Horne pointed out that the City’s water system did not have a manager or inspectors which endangered the health of all the system’s customers.
In an interview for this story, after the City Council meeting, Mayor Raymond Steele said, “I told the City Council from the beginning that they did not have authority to interfere in day-to-day operations of the city. I consider the operation of the water system, part of my responsibility. I suggested that we get an Attorney General’s opinion on my responsibility for the water system but the Council did not seek a clarifying opinion before they acted. We have corrected most of the problems with the water system. It is not uncommon to have billing problems with a new system like the one we just installed.”
Steele also said, “I just learned that Councilman LaJeffrey Carpenter had written a letter dismissing the company that serves as certified operators and inspectors for our water system. I do not think he had authority to send that letter. All of this was arranged by the consultants that we do not need. I have informed the company that provides certified operators and inspects the water quality that they are still employed by our city. Bringing in these people from Water Management Services will cost more money and reduce the revenues from the system.”
Council members – Latasha Johnson, Joe Lee Powell, LaJeffrey Carpenter and Sheila Smith said they were concerned about the Mayor denying access to the Water Department to the consultants they had hired to correct the problems with service, pipes, meters, leaks, billing and other aspects of the water system. The Council members said they were considering legal action to enjoin the Mayor from preventing Water Management Services from accessing the water department system and records.
Latasha Johnson said, “I am outraged at the Mayor’s disregard for the Council’s action to clean-up the water system. This is a campaign issue and I challenge the Mayor to explain his actions and protect the quality of the water system. The health of our citizens, as well as getting fair bills and revenues from the water system, is at stake in this runoff election on October 6th.”