The June 13th regular Eutaw City Council meeting saw members of the Council disagree with Mayor Latasha Johnson on financial matters, especially the payment of contractors for debris removal from the January 12 storm.
All members of the Council were present except for Larrie Coleman, District 4, who was absent.
The Eutaw City Council had previously approved payment of $267,750 to three contractors who did most of the debris removal work. The Mayor had submitted records to FEMA to be reimbursed for these and additional expenses, including the work of city employees, supplies, and administrative expenses. FEMA will only reimburse for expenses actually paid by the city.
The first agenda item at the meeting was a resolution, prepared by City Financial Adviser Ralph Liverman, to pay the debris removal contractors by transferring funds from other city accounts, primarily the 4-cent gas tax fund, the 7-cent gas tax fund, and the bridge replacement fund to the General Fund, with the expectation that these funds would be reimbursed by FEMA and replaced in the accounts. Another alternative way to pay the bills would be for the City to borrow the funds until the FEMA reimbursement was received.
Councilwoman Jacqueline Stewart made the motion to approve the resolution to move funds to the General Fund to pay the contractors. The motion died because no other member of the Council would second the motion. The members were distressed that the City’s finances were severely affected and limited by the storms, even though the funds would be reimbursed by FEMA, once the city paid these obligations.
City Attorney, Zane Willingham, advised the Council to pay the contractors since not to do so would result in lawsuits and higher costs. The Council members disregarded his legal advice.
The Mayor tried to have a special meeting on June 15 for the Council to reconsider its decision, however, the meeting was cancelled due to bad weather and unwillingness of councilmembers to attend.
At press time, the Democrat contacted Mayor Johnson and she said,
“I had no choice, the FEMA deadline for reimbursement was approaching, the Council had previously approved paying these expenses but then would not pass the resolution on using funds from several accounts to pay. At the advice of legal counsel, I went ahead and paid the bills.”
The Mayor also provided the Democrat an email from JoAnn Mallett, FEMA Emergency Management Specialist, stating that the City of Eutaw has been approved for 100% reimbursement of $177,669.83 and 75% reimbursement of $ 241,747.94, which is more than the $267,750 paid to the contractors.
Council adopts motions on financial controls
The City Council then took up a series of motions to limit expenses to make sure that the General Fund did not run out of money. The Council on the recommendation of Councilwoman Hunter agreed to suspend all travel and per diem for all departments. This motion was approved by a vote of 4 yes and the Mayor voting no, because she said, we must send staff to training and conferences from them to keep their certifications current and up to date.
The Council took up a motion to suspend all excessive overtime pay for all departments. This led to a discussion of what was the definition of excessive and the motion as tabled.
A motion to suspend all purchases without Council approval was passed by a vote of 4 to 1 with the mayor voting against. The mayor indicated that many times there are emergencies requiring the purchase or replacement of pumps, motors, and other things, which coming back to the Council would cause delays and problems.
The Council also approved a proposal from Councilman LaJeffrey Carpenter that the members of the Council receive copies of employee timesheets. This was approved 4 to 1 with the Mayor being the lone vote against the motion.
A motion to cover the expenses and per diem for three members of the Water Department to receive training, died for lack of a second. This came in the context of a discussion that it was important for city staff to receive training so they could do their job better.
The Council approved a motion to recognize September 11 as “Spiver Gordon Day in the City of Eutaw”. This motion was approved 3 yes, one no (Watkins) and one abstention (Carpenter).
The Council also approved an agreement between the City of Eutaw and communities Unlimited for comprehensive technical assistance for the city water system, which includes a rate study and board training.