By: John Zippert, Co-Publisher and Editor
The Eutaw City Council met for two regular meetings on April 12 and 26, 2022 to carry out city business and deal with the physical and financial health of the city.
At the April 12th meeting, the City Council approved a motion, originated by Councilman LaJeffrey Carpenter and approved by all the members to terminate the contract of Babbs Engineering and request return of unspent funds on a $40,000 contract for a mapping the city’s utility systems. Carpenter said, Babbs took too long in generating the promised maps.
Torris Babbs of Babbs Engineering, an African-American firm, in an interview with the Democrat said he had completed the mapping paid for by the $40,000 contract. “We located more than 10,000 points of digital information to construct our maps. The city did not have the computer software until recently to read and display our maps, that was part of the delay,” said Babbs.
Babbs said he continued to work on coordinating the map he developed of above ground and underground utilities with the Google Earth Maps to insure they were congruent, up-to-date and showed the proper location and elevations of properties in the city. “There is a misunderstanding of the engineering work I did and the work I continued to do, under my monthly retainer. I will still give this information to the city, but I do not think the Council understands or appreciates the task we were doing and the complex map we were developing, which would help the city with planning and projects into the future.”
The Mayor said the City of Eutaw was advertising for a new engineering firm. At the April 12 meeting, the Council authorized the Stan Nelson and Jonathan R, Bonner of Insite Engineering of Tuscaloosa, to pursue two $30,000 grants from USDA Rural Development to evaluate the city’s water and sewer systems. To this reporter, the work that these engineers were seeking to do was very similar to the work that Babbs says he has already done.
These engineers said they did not charge a fee but would be paid out of the grants if they were obtained. These engineers said that the city needed to get audited financial statements to enhance the chances for government grant assistance going forward.
At the April 26, 2022 Council meeting an agenda item: “Approve Engineer Services Agreement between the City of Eutaw and Craig P. Williams, P. E.” was tabled because council members said they wanted to meet and speak to this engineer before he was employed. Mayor Latasha Johnson said she would arrange the meeting and that it may require a special called meeting because an engineer was needed to help with the many grant applications that the City planned to submit.
Zoning Ordinance change
At the April 12 meeting, the City Council approved a recommendation from the Eutaw Planning Commission on an Ordinance amending Chapter 98, Section 98-5 and Section 98-87 of the Code of the City of Eutaw. This ordinance would amend the zoning of the business area of the Thomas E. Gilmore Square (old Courthouse Square) to prohibit businesses that derived more than 50% of their revenues from the sale of alcoholic beverages from locating in this downtown area, adjacent to the William M. Branch Courthouse and Eutaw City Hall.
This ordinance raised some controversy, because the REACH Inc. church related corporation, has purchased a number of vacant properties on the Courthouse Square and around Eutaw, for the purpose of rehabilitating the properties and leasing them to businesses. REACH purchased three adjoining buildings of the Square including the ‘John’s Bar Building’, which they were planning to lease to some people to open a “sports bar”.
Sandra Walker of REACH says, “We feel this ordinance was adopted to prevent us from using the properties we purchased, to help the city’s growth and development, be used for its best purposes.” Mayor Johnson said that the John’s Bar property had never been issued an alcoholic beverage license.
However, the Greene County Democrat newspaper reported that the Eutaw City Council voted at its February 27, 2018 meeting to grant Raymond Steele, former mayor, a “liquor license for John’s Bar”.
At the 12th.meeting, in the Public Comments section, Fanny Granthum also of REACH, read a December 7, 2020 letter on City of Eutaw stationery, signed by Mayor Latasha Johnson, confirming that Steele had been granted a liquor license for John’s Bar and Grill in Eutaw. The Democrat has received a copy of this letter. Steele never utilized the permission to get a liquor license or opened John’s as a bar for the public.
Walker said, “REACH is disappointed by the actions and statements of the Mayor and Council. It seems that they adopted the ordinance to prevent us from opening a sports bar on the Square. They went to the Planning Commission not the Zoning Commission to get the recommendation for the ordinance. They never really officially had a hearing where the public could make its views known. The Mayor denied that a license had been issued but we have a letter from her saying the City did approve the license and placed it in its official minutes.”
“REACH has been trying to help revitalize the city by buying up vacant properties, rehabilitating them and leasing the buildings to attract new businesses to Eutaw. We will locate the sports bar in one of our other buildings or we will open a combination restaurant and sports bar that will comply with the new zoning requirements,” said Walker.
At the April 26th meeting the Council approved a budget for $309,000 of city improvement projects to be paid for with the city’s second installment of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) COVID relief funds from the Federal government. The budget proposal may be revised based on the most pressing needs. The City also adopted a list of nine storm sewer and street repair and improvement projects to recommend for infrastructure funding from ALDOT, ADECA and ADEM state agencies. Before the council meeting ended, other needed road and street projects were recommended for the list.
In other actions, The Eutaw City Council:
• Opening of bids and sale of surplus items, with some exceptions where the bids were too low.
• Authorized the Mayor and City attorney to negotiate contract with the Town of Boligee on water and sewer services; and a water/sewer billing with Consolidated Catfish Company.
• Approved Lease-purchase with John Deere Sun South for 4 mowers, tractor, bushhog and accessories.
• Approved quote to repair/replace values for Armory Water Tank.
• Approved payment of claims for Anthony Taylor and Earl Purse Jr.
• Approved “Strength in Numbers”, A Black Belt Gathering for Sexual Assault Victims, on Saturday, April 30 at Carver School, starting at 11:00 AM until 2:00 PM.
• Approved 2022 “Back-to-School” sales tax holiday.
• Approved 2022 Spring Clean-up Day for Saturday, April 30, 2022 from 8:00AM until Noon.
• Set May 17, 2022 at 4:00 PM for City Handbook Work Session.
• Approved payment of all bills.