Eutaw City Council continues to debate financial issues

The Eutaw City Council met twice during the past month on June 11 and June 25 to do the business of the city. The Council continues to debate financial issues which affect other major policy and project decisions.
The Council still does not have a clear budget, showing income sources and expenditures. A budget and an audit are being worked on but no written information is available yet for the City Council as a basis for its actions. Two separate CPA firms are working on the budget and audits but no documents have been produced yet.
A budget would be helpful for the City Council to see the flow of incoming revenues and the payment of expenses for planning future projects and obligations. The audits are needed to verify past operations to file applications with USDA Rural Development, ADECA and other state and federal agencies for needed equipment and new projects to improve the city.
A listing of bills to be paid was presented at each meeting. The June 11 list shows $276,365 in unpaid bills and the June 25 listing shows a reduction in outstanding bills to $265,243.
Councilwoman Latosha Johnson praised City Clerk Kathy Bir for preparing an understandable list of the City’s obligations to allow the council to make decisions on which bills are most pressing and need immediate payment.
The Mayor suggested using funds in a special infrastructure account, set up by the Sheriff, with bingo funds, to pay for improvements to the Branch Heights Roads. These roads were repaired using funds in the highway tax accounts. Several council-members opposed the Mayor’s proposal to spend these funds to pay other bills and initiate other road repair projects without consulting with the Sheriff and clarifying what the City did and plans to do with funds. Again, it is clear that a budget with up to date revenue and expenditure amounts would help to resolve what seemed to be difficult and at times insurmountable problems facing the city.In a related financial matter, the City Council and Mayor deadlocked in a 3 to 3 vote, with Latosha Johnson, Sheila Smith and LaJeffrey Carpenter voting in favor and Joe Lee Powell, Benny Abrams and Mayor Raymond Steele voting against a proposal for pay increases for the police force, supported by donations from the TS Police League, a bingo charity associated with the Palace Bingo Group. The Mayor voted for a tie vote to stop the motion until he had time to discuss with the City Attorney and other legal advisors.
In other actions, the City Council:
• Heard from City Attorney Zane Willingham that the Sate Legislature had passed local legislation to allow for Sunday liquor sales; Willingham said he would draft a new ordinance for on and off premises sale of alcoholic beverages, for consideration at the next Council meeting;
• Received a report from Rev. Jerome McIntosh of SCORE International, a religious organization that wishes to partner with the City on a job skills training program, to be offered at the Carver School – Robert H. Young Community Center;
• Approved travel expenses for Police Chief Derrick Coleman to attend a conference on leadership at UNA in Fort Payne on June12-14, 2019;
• Referred legal claims from Erica Purse and Roland Elliot to the City Attorney;
• Appointed Mrs. Isaac Atkins to serve on the Eutaw Housing Authority Board of Directors.
During the public comment period, a number of residents complained about drainage, road repairs, grass cutting, refuse removal and other similar problems in areas around the city.

Eutaw City Council meeting reveals continuing controversy between Mayor and Councilmembers over Carver school, water bills and finances

By; John Zippert, Co-Publisher

The official agenda distributed for the October 23, 2018 meeting of the Eutaw City Council was deceptively short. No new business was listed and under old business was one item on political signs. This should have been a warning that this would be a divisive meeting where issues dividing the Mayor and Council would come forward and be aired in public. The Mayor asked City Attorney Zane Willingham to present a draft ordinance regulating the display of political signs in the City of Eutaw. Members of the City Council had the proposed ordinance in writing but copies were not distributed to the public at the meeting. Council members did not raise many questions or objections to the sign ordinance. Willingham asked for suggestions on size limitations of political signs and Councilman Joe Lee Powell and others volunteered to provide more input. The Democrat secured a copy of the proposed ordinance after the meeting. The ordinance is very strict on the display of political signs in the City. Section 1 of the proposal says: “ No political sign shall be erected, constructed, posted or painted on any utility pole, tree, bench, fence, or awning; nor attached to any city, county, state or federal roadway, directional sign or informational sign. No signs shall be erected, constructed, or posted on any portion of the Greene County Courthouse Square Historic District.” The proposed ordinance goes on to limit signage to the period between qualification and election. There is a penalty of $25.00 per sign, ascribed to the candidate whose name is on the sign and whose sign is left up more than seven days after an election. Several political observers, consulted by the Democrat, were critical of the sign ordinance as being too restrictive and punitive especially in its limitations on placing signs at the Courthouse Square, where political discourse is expected during elections in a democracy.

Mayor and Council disagree on use of school

The Council then shifted to a discussion of the use of the former Carver School facility, which the City has acquired from the Greene County Board of Education and named the Robert H. Young Civic Center. When the City of Eutaw acquired the school, the Christ Temple Church was already operating a used furniture exchange in a portion of the facility. In July, the City Council passed a motion, proposed by Councilwoman Latasha Johnson, that Christ Temple Church be allowed to operate the furniture business at no cost for up to one year while the City formulated policies and procedures for use of the Robert H. Young Civic Center. The Mayor and City Attorney Zane Willingham submitted a letter, in August, to the church saying that they would have to vacate the building and remove their furniture because the resolution adopted by the City Council was invalid and procedurally incorrect because the property was not declared surplus before it was provided “at no cost” to the church group. The letter from the Mayor gave the church until September 15, 2018 to vacate the city property. The Democrat interviewed Ms. Fannie Grantham, church secretary and spokesperson. Grantham also attended and City Council meeting and tried to get an explanation of the Mayor’s actions on behalf of the City. The Mayor and Willingham insisted that the Council must rescind the “improperly constructed resolution” but no alternatives were offered to the church for utilization of the building or other available city buildings for a rental charge. The Council by a vote of 3 to 2 with the Mayor, Abrams and Powell voting in favor and Councilwomen Johnson and Smith opposed. Councilman LaJeffrey Carpenter was absent. Ms. Grantham says the church has received this furniture as a gift from various sources and provides furniture to people who otherwise cannot afford it, for a donation, which goes toward the costs of hauling the furniture. “We have tried to help people who needed furniture to be able to get it; this is not a business, it is a community service,” says Grantham. At the City Council meeting, Mayor Steele said that he was concerned about providing space in a city owned building for a furniture business that was competing with Spiller’s Furniture and other businesses in the City, who pay for business licenses. After receiving the Mayor’s letter to vacate the school, Grantham says several meetings were held to try to work out a solution with the Mayor. “The church and our non-profit – REACH, offered to pay rent for the space and asked the City to make a proposal. The Mayor said that his plans for the school did not include furniture and no other city buildings, including an out building at the Armory were available. He did offer to sell us a building, that he owned downtown, next to the cleaners, for $65,000,” said Grantham. Grantham says Rev. Barton, who the Mayor has employed to operate a youth sports program at the school has locked up the part of the building where the furniture is located and the church has not been able to get in to use it since the October 23rd meeting. Councilwoman Latasha Johnson says, “The Mayor has been wrong from the beginning on the purchase and use of the Carver School. We were supposed to work on a plan with the Greene County Commission to purchase the school and use it more widely for all of Greene County. The way the Mayor has treated the church is unfair. My original proposal was to allow them to stay and use a part of the building, at no rent, until we made policies for its use. The Mayor does not want to work with the Council.” Councilwoman Sheila H. Smith said, “ I do not understand what the Mayor is doing. He insisted on buying a school, we cannot afford. Our water meters and bills are still not updated. We do not have a budget and we have not paid our bills.” The Mayor says that the City Council has been unwilling to work with him on the development of a program for young people at the Carver School. “ We have been providing opportunities for young people and we are planning for more activities going forward.”