By John Zippert, Co-Publisher
Last night’s regular Eutaw City Council meeting was convened by Mayor Raymond Steele at 6:00 PM. The City Council added an Executive Session to a very limited agenda.
After the ten minute Executive Session, the Council reconvened but could not pass a motion to come back into regular session. The meeting was adjourned after taking no actions at 6:20 PM.
I attend the City Council meetings on a regular basis. I attended the April 9 meeting and the City Council Work Session on April 16, 2019 but did not write a story on these meetings because there was so much division and discord between the Mayor and Council that I did not want to report. I had hopes that some of these issues would be resolved in a positive manner and some compromise actions would be taken at last night’s meeting.
I am sad to report as a resident of the City of Eutaw that the meeting ended without resolution of on-going issues and without moving forward on some critical issues and concerns.
There seems to be a lack of communication between Mayor Steele and most Councilmembers that could lead to some compromise and resolution of outstanding issues. I think it is fair to say the Mayor and Council are at loggerheads or in a political logjam that they must work to resolve.
Councilwoman Latasha Johnson says, “The Mayor will not communicate with us, will not give us information about the city’s finances that we are supposed to have and expects us to go along with anything he does. If he consulted with us and discussed these things, I am sure we could come to some fair resolution and conclusions.”
Johnson and other council members have been asking for a current statement of income and expenses for the city, a budget listing how revenues will be expended, a detailed listing of bills that have been paid and are owed. “We basically have received none of these financial reports, so we do not know where we stand and how to make decisions going forward.” she said. Mayor Steele says, “ We know that the City does not have a large enough tax base to pay all bills. We pay the bills as best we can to keep the city operating. I have the responsibility to make day-to-day administrative decisions and I am trying my best to do that. The records and information that council members are requesting are available to them if they come to City Hall and request it from the City Clerk.”
In a March meeting, the Council passed a resolution to remove the Mayor as a check signatory on most city accounts, as a way to put controls on his ability to spend city funds without Council knowledge or approval. The Mayor says, “This is unfair. This prevents me from carrying out my day to day responsibilities and the Council has given no reason to remove me as a signatory.” The Mayor has not brought the official bank resolutions to the City Council, after being asked in several meetings, including the April 16 Work Session.
The Council has passed several other resolutions, including one to declare a shed vacant on the grounds of the former National Guard Armory to rent to a church non-profit for storage for its surplus furniture service; a resolution not to accept cash for payment at the City’s water department; and a resolution to revisit the cost of utilizing city facilities by community groups. The Mayor has not brought these items back for consideration and implementation by the City Council. They were not listed on last night’s agenda despite being requested at the April 16 Work Session, which was part of the reason the Councilmembers were so displeased with the Mayor.
Councilwoman Sheila Smith says, “ We have been requesting information on the revenues for the City Water Department for months. Some people are paying too much; others get minimum bills month after month. There is something wrong with the new water meters and the softwear used to read the meters and make out the bills. But the Mayor says everything is fine but does not give us the financial reports to show that revenues for the Water Department are below what is needed to operate the system and service our debts.”
Councilman Joe Lee Powell says, “ I am concerned about the way the Mayor is running the City. This is not a dictatorship. The Mayor should be consulting with us on problems and providing the information we have requested. I am particularly disturbed that repairs have not been made to the sewage system in Branch Heights. It is a health hazard that sewage is backing up into people’s homes and is in their yards and ditches. People in Branch Heights pay their water and sewage bills and deserve that these problems be addressed by the City.”
Powell indicates that he asked the Mayor to put the Branch Heights sewage problems on the agenda, at the April 16 Work Session, but this item was not listed on last night’s agenda. Powell says he is concerned that he is being asked to support matching funds for a Streetscape project to improve and enhance the Courthouse Square while the Mayor ignores problems in other parts of the City.
The Council members are also upset and concerned that the Council minutes do not accurately reflect what happened at the meetings and contain commentary and notes that support the Mayor and disregard their inputs and motions.
To this observer, Mayor Steele and the Eutaw City Council are at an impasse. They must come together and put aside some of their differences, develop a financial report and budget to operate from a mutual understanding of the city’s current conditions and future prospects; communicate honestly, compromise strategically, seek help from sympathetic external supporters and work out their problems with each other, so the City of Eutaw can move forward in the interest of all of its residents.