Eutaw City Council makes progress in handling city’s business

By: John Zippert,
Co-Publisher

The Eutaw City Council met for its regular meeting on December 22, 2020, after cancelling its November 24 and December 8 meetings due to coronavirus affecting city employees. The full membership of the Council was present for a 2.5 hour meeting to handle city business.

Mayor Latasha Johnson reported on efforts to correct problems in the Water Department, which have plagued the City for the past two years. “We have sent out 1,398 water bills for the month of December, which covers all customers. With the help of the Alabama Rural Water Association, we have been reviewing problems with water meters and correcting problems,” said the Mayor.

“We have also worked with the digital meter softwear company to correct billing problems so we can send customers an accurate bill. The past administration said this company would not come to service the computer system for water bills but we called them and they came immediately to help correct problems. We still have the problem of adjusting the extreme bills that some customers received in the past year,” said Johnson.
The City Council discussed dealing with the extreme bills, where some customers received $400 to $600 a month water bills and fell behind in payments. “We want people to take responsibility for paying some part of these bills, because they received water, sewer and garbage services included on bills, make a payment plan and continue paying current bills,” said the Mayor.
Councilwoman Tracey Hunter, who received and paid past extreme bills, made a motion, that customers with extreme bills and large balances, be able to make an adjustment to pay off down to 20% of their balance, over 150 days, provided they also pay their current bill. This motion was passed by the Council and provides a way to systematically and fairly deal with past due bills. “This gives us a process to negotiate with residents to pay back bills. We will lose some money but we will be able to resolve these problems and go forward in a positive way,” said Mayor Johnson.
The Council also passed a motion to allow the Mayor to cancel the contract with Kathie Horne of Water Management Associates, since she has not been able to come to Eutaw to implement the agreement. The City has received help to correct the problem in its water system and billing from other sources.
The Council approved renewal of its contract with Waste Management for garbage collection with some adjustments. The representative of WM present at the meeting said he would provide replacement cans and additional cans for those who needed them. He asked that people place additional garbage, that did not fit in the cans, in bags and place on top of cans. He said the company was moving toward automation, where cans would be picked up and dumped into its trucks automatically. This will mean that garbage placed at the side of cans will not be easily picked up. The Council urged him to pick up all the garbage placed alongside the cans until automation of collection occurs.
The Council renewed its agreement with AVENU to collect sales tax, gas tax and business license fees for the City. The company collects these taxes and license fees for a small administrative fee but insures the collection of outstanding revenues.
The Council agreed to retain Babbs Engineering as its city engineer and building inspector. Babbs, who is a civil engineer, worked for the city in prior administrations but was not involved in the past four years. Babbs helped the City to seek and implement various state and federal grants for infrastructure improvements in the past and feels he will be able to help again in expanding resources.
In other actions, the Eutaw City Council:

• Approved purchase of a new water flow meter for well #4 for $5,695, from Instrument Calibration Services.

• Approved purchase of a John Deere Compact Excavator for $44,200 which can serve as a back-hoe, tree trimmer and street maintenance machine. Gas tax funds were used for this purpose.

• Tabled a request to purchase a Jim House for the city lagoon for $12,373, pending a review by the city engineer of the need for this equipment.

• Approved a permanent change in the time of Eutaw City Council regular meetings from 6:00 PM to 5:00 PM on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month.

• Approved travel for the Chief of Police and Court Clerk for training.

• Tabled a liquor license request from Sleepy’s Bar and Grill, pending receipt of more information.

• Tabled a request for licensing a day care center in a Branch Heights residence by Valerie Nixon, pending review of zoning and residential codes in the area.

• Approved payment of claims against the city by Buenia Fluker Clark and Edward Hutton.

Mayor Johnson reported that she settled a large past due phone bill from the prior administration to be able to continue necessary and vital phone and wifi services for City Hall, Police Department and the water system. She also reported that she has renewed negotiations for lighting at the Interstate 20/59 Exit 40, near the Love’s Truck Stop with the Alabama Department of Transportation.
Ralph Liverman, financial consultant for the City of Eutaw gave a report on a dozen bank accounts maintained by the city for various purposes, mainly related to grants, and the receipts and expenditures in those accounts for the past two years. He reported no exceptional expenditures and showed funds available from the gas tax accounts and bingo proceeds for additional infrastructure and equipment needs of the city. He is still reviewing the city’s finances for purposes of developing a general fund and capital improvement budgets.

New Eutaw Mayor, Latasha Johnson, and City Council members sworn in at ceremony on Courthouse Square; Council organizational meeting held later in day

On a bright and sunny Monday, November 2, 2020, the new Mayor of Eutaw, Latasha Johnson, and five City Council members were sworn-in to their new positions for a four-year term.
The Investiture Ceremony took place, starting at Noon, with masks and social distancing out doors on the Old Courthouse lawn. 300 family members, friends, guests and citizens formed the crowd to welcome in these new city office holders.
Former City Councilman Joe Lee Powell served as Master of Ceremonies. Councilman LaJeffrey Carpenter gave a welcome. Several Greene County pastors, including Rev. Calvin Finch, Rev. Anthony Johnson, Rev. Edward Culbert and Rev. Randy Miller read scriptural passages from the Old and New Testament. Several solos were sung by Donald Young, Rev. Joe Nathan Webb and Kendrick Howell. Mollie Rowe read a poem about the life and challenges of the new Mayor.
City Judge Josh Swords swore in the five new Eutaw City Council members as a group. Each Council member addressed the assembled group before the swearing in.
Ms. Valerie Watkins of District No. 1 said she planned to work in unity and love with the new Mayor and council members.
Tracey Hunter of District 3 said she wanted to work together with others in city government. She committed herself to work for transparency, unity and accountability with the other Council members.
Larrie Coleman, District 4 councilman thanked his family and voters for their support.
Jacqueline Stewart of District 5 said she was honored to serve and would have to begin to look at the problems of the city through the eyes of others and make decisions in accordance with the needs of others.
Mayor Latasha Johnson was sworn-in by District Judge Lillie Osborne and gave some remarks. She said that she hoped to work together with the other council members and work through difficulties facing the city. She said she was humbled, hopeful and proud to serve the City of Eutaw. She said that she was ready to work together with the council members in unity. She asked for the assistance and prayers of all in the city.
Rev. A. B. Griffin of New Peace Baptist Church and the Mayor’s pastor gave some remarks to offer a charge to the Mayor and City Council. He had three main themes: unity, maintain peace and be a servant leader offering support to others.
Sheriff Joe Nathan Benison also gave remarks at the ceremony after which a lunch was served.
City Council
Organizational Meeting
The City of Eutaw Council held its opening organizational meeting at 2:30 PM at the Carver School Gymnasium. The Council adopted Roberts Rules of Order as their procedural guide.
They approved the employment of Attorney Zane Willingham as City Attorney and City Prosecutor and agreed to pay him for both roles. They appointed Kathy Bir as City Clerk and Joe Lee Powell, as Assistance City Clerk.
The Council approved District 2 Councilman LaJeffrey Carpenter as Mayor Pro Tem, to serve in place of the Mayor when she is not available to participate in actions and activities.
The Council reaffirmed its meetings to be held at 6:00 PM on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month. The Council approved a list of standing committees, their chairpersons and members.
Josh Swords was reappointed as City Judge and Bennie Abrams was appointed as Fire Chief.
Tommy Johnson, a former Eutaw City policeman and Sheriff’s Deputy was named to serve as Chief of Police as the current Chief Derrick Coleman along with several other police officers resigned effective October 30. Office Kendrick Howell was named Assistant Police Chief.
The Council tabled action on several positions until it could prepare and review its fiscal budget, to determine if these positions were necessary and affordable, including Director of Parks and Recreation, Building Inspector and General Superintendent of Roads, Streets and Water.
The Council agreed that Latasha Johnson, Mayor, LaJeffrey Carpenter, Mayor Pro Tem, Councilwoman Tracey Hunter and Kathy Bir, City Clerk be check signatories of the city bank accounts with Merchants and Farmers and Citizens Trust Bank.
The Council approved a motion to allow the Mayor to sign a three-year consulting agreement with Water Management Services to correct problems with billing and physical facilities of the city water system. Former Mayor Raymond Steele refused to execute this contract and when the Council approved the contract and had it signed by Carpenter, refused to allow the consultants to do their work in the City’s Water Department.
Mayor Latasha Johnson said she spoke with Kathie Horne of Water Management Associates and agreed to sign a new contract and get them started working to correct the problems of the City Water Department.
At an earlier meeting, the old City Council accepted the resignations of Ruthie Thomas, Water Clerk and Martina Henley, Court Clerk, effective November 3, 2020, as well as the police resignations.
At this meeting, the outgoing City Council also approved an on-premises liquor license for John’s, located at 100 Main Street in Eutaw, Alabama. They also approved various procedures for changing locks on city property and return of city property and vehicles by outgoing officials.
At the end of the organizational meeting, City Judge Josh Swords swore in Tommy Johnson as the city’s new Chief of Police.