Eutaw City Council certifies election results; Mayor questioned for handling voting machines, denying entry to City Hall to Water Management consultants

By: John Zippert,
Co-Publisher

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.”

In Eutaw Municipal elections: Runoff for Mayor between Raymond Steele and Latasha Johnson

By: John Zippert
Co-Publisher

Raymond Steele
Latasha Johnson

In yesterday’s City of Eutaw Municipal elections, 1,219 voters cast ballots. There were five candidates in the Mayor’s race. Incumbent Mayor Raymond Steele led with 403 (33%) votes, Councilwoman Latasha Johnson came in second with 359 (30%) votes; Joe Lee Powell received 257 (21%); Sandra Walker 183 (15%) and Queena Bennett Whitehead 17 (1%).
There will be a runoff election on October 6, 2020 between Raymond Steele and Latasha Johnson for Mayor.
In Forkland, Incumbent Mayor Charlie McAlpine was reelected with a vote of 216 to 60 for Rev. Michael Barton.
In the Eutaw City Council races, there will be a runoff in District I, where Valerie Watkins received 115 (44%) votes to 107 (41%) for Chondra Mayes and Ke’Undra Quintez Cox received 38 (14.6%). The runoff also scheduled for October 6 will be between Watkins and Mayes.
In District 2, LaJeffrey Carpenter received 160 (69%) votes to 70 (30%) for Bryant Snyder, Jr. and was reelected to the Eutaw City Council. In District 3, Tracy Hunter, who was unopposed was elected to that seat.
In District 4, Larry Coleman received 110 (51%) votes in defeating incumbent Councilwoman Sheila Smith with 105 (49%) and will take the seat.
In District 5, Jacqueline Stewart with 120 (52%) votes defeated Rodney Wesley with 109 (48%) capturing this seat.
When the Mayor and Council are seated and sworn-in, for a four-year term, on November 10, 2020 there will be four new council members with only LaJeffrey Carpenter returning.
In Forkland, in the only contested city council race, for District 3; Alonzo Thomas with 48 votes won with Preston Davis receiving 25 and Willie Sashington getting 9 votes.
The Mayor’s position and city council races were not contested in the Towns of Boligee and Union, so the same officials have been reelected for another term.
1,219 (49.7%) of voters out of 2,450 registered in the city turned out to vote in the first primary on August 25, 2020. “We will need to work hard to raise the turnout for the Municipal Runoff on October 6 and the important November 3rd General Election for U. S. President, Senators, Congress and other offices,” said Carol Zippert, Greene County Chair for the Alabama New South Alliance.


Salute to First Responders and Healthcare Workers to be held May 14-28 in Greene County

As of May 13, 2020 at 10:00 AM:
Alabama had 10,494 confirmed cases of coronavirus
with 442 deaths.
Greene County had 74
confirmed cases and 4 deaths

The Greene County Responders Committee has come together to plan a series of events over the next two weeks to honor First Responders and Frontline Healthcare Workers for their dedicated and selfless service during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Committee seeks to recognize the services, commitment and dedication of all police, sheriff deputies, firefighters, EMT’s. E-911 staff, and staff at the Hospital, Nursing Home and health clinics.
The salute to First Responders and Frontline Healthcare Workers will begin with a program at Noon on Thursday, May 14, 2020 on the Old Courthouse Square. Probate Judge Rolanda Wedgeworth will present a Proclamation to honor First Responders and Frontline Healthcare Workers. Other County and Municipal governing bodies and agencies will also present resolutions of support. Persons attending the program will be asked to wear masks and practice social distancing requirements.
After this short program, a group of fire trucks, with sirens blazing, followed by a caravan of local vehicles will drive through town to honor our first responders. They will stop at various places along the route to honor first responders and healthcare workers.
On Friday, May 15, 2020, the E-911 will sound their sirens at Noon to honor first responders and healthcare workers. Saturday, May 16, 2020 will be Mask Day and everyone outside their homes will be asked to wear a face covering, in the interest of safety. For Sunday, May 17, 2020, the Greene County Responders Committee is asking all church pastors to include a reference to honoring and thanking first responders and healthier workers in their sermons and church announcements.
The Greene County Responders Committee also plans a Special Love Program for Thursday, May 28, 2020, where all first responders and healthcare workers will receive a lunch and other expressions of love and support.
“The Greene County Responders Committee was set up in haste to respond to the pandemic emergency and the need to honor first responders and healthcare heroes,” said Anita Lewis, Committee Chair and Director of the Greene County Housing Authority. Spiver Gordon, President of the Alabama Civil Rights Museum, is Committee Organizer.
“We welcome other Greene County residents to join our Committee and bring ideas, support and funding to help us strengthen our salute to First Responders and Frontline Healthcare Workers. We want to develop other activities during the two week period to honor First Responders and Healthcare Workers,” said Ms. Lewis.
Other members of the Greene County Responders Committee include Mollie Rowe, Veronica Jones, Sandy Walker, J. E. Morrow, Latasha Johnson, Lorenzo French, Hodges Smith, Geraldine Walton, Shelia Smith, Rev. James Carter, Lester Brown, Joe Lee Powell, Elzora Fluker and John Zippert
Ms. Anita Lewis may be contacted through the Greene County Housing Authority office in Branch Heights at 205/372-3342.

Branch Heights residents protest water shut-offs Eutaw City Council approves motion for a state audit of the Water Department

Mayor Raymond Steele addresses Branch Heights residents.

At its October 22, 2019 regular meeting the Eutaw City Council approved a motion by a vote of 4 to 2 to conduct a state audit of the City’s water department. Council members: Latasha Johnson, Joe Lee Powell, Sheila H. Smith and LaJeffrey Carpenter voted in favor while Councilman Bennie Abrams and Mayor Raymond Steele voted against the motion.
The Eutaw City Council has been expressing concern and discontent with the operation of the City Water Department for more than a year. The Council concerns include problems with the operation and accuracy of the self-reporting water meters; problems with the soft wear reading the meters and creating the water bills, and a drop-off in revenues from the water department due to billing and collection problems.

The Council asked the Mayor repeatedly to correct problems with the water system and billing. The Mayor has said he is handling the problems but the Council members point out that there has not been any improvement in the operation of the department.
Many of the City’s 1,400+ water customers report that they receive the same monthly minimum water bills each month regardless of usage. Other users report not receiving bills for months and then receiving a large bill all at once, which they say they cannot afford.
Council member Latasha Brown,” I made the motion for a state audit because we have got to get to the bottom of the problems in our water department. We need an independent review of the status of the meters, billing, collection and all other aspects of the system.

City shuts off water to 50 homes in Branch Heights

Mayor Raymond Steele says in response to the concerns of the City Council for the financial stability of the City Water Department that he decided to shut-off water supplies to 50 homes in Branch Heights that were more than three months behind in their water bills.
This action against the backdrop of unresolved problems in the City Water Department caused an uproar with many Branch Heights water customers crowding City Hall on Monday, October 28, 2019 for answers to the water shut-off, which they considered arbitrary and unfair.
“We want to have regular and quality water services. We are willing to pay but we want good water to drink not cloudy water and sometimes brown or red water. We also want to be sure the meters are reading correctly – so we will be billed monthly and fairly for our water usage,” said one angry Branch Heights resident.
In response to the citizen complaints, Mayor Steele said that he would turn the water back on and require all customers to pay their back bills by the end of November or face shut-off again. When asked if he would accept payment agreements for past water charges, Mayor Steele said the City needs to be paid like other utilities. People don’t ask Spire Gas Company or Alabama Power for payment plans, they pay their bills or get cut-off.

The Mayor also agreed to flush the lines in Branch Heights to clear the water system of sediments, which make it cloudy or different colors. “We will flush the lines to clear up the water,” said Steele.
Councilwoman Latasha Johnson said she is worried that the Mayor is not really looking for long-term solutions to the problems of the City Water Department and system. “We need him to respond with a plan to resolve the long term financial problems of the system, make sure all the meters are working properly, work out reasonable repayment plans with people for their past debts and operate in a fair and equitable manner with all customers.”

City Council other business

In other business, the Eutaw City Council:

• agreed to find space for the offices of Ms. Lovie Parks, Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, at the Carver Community Center facilities;

• approved a resolution, above the Mayor’s objections, to advertise for bids on the roads and streets in King Village. The Mayor said that there are other streets in town, which are in more need of paving and repair than King Village. He pointed to West End Avenue, which suffered from erosion due to recent storms, as more deserving than King Village, at this time;
• approved request of Ducks Unlimited for use of Carver School Gym, for their annual fundraising banquet on November 8, 2019, which included a special liquor license for the occasion;

• approved travel for Councilman Joe Lee Powell to attend Alabama League of Municipalities committee meeting in Montgomery on November 7, 2019.

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.