County Commission approves submitting proposal to purchase Carver School facility

At the regular monthly meeting of the Greene County Commission, held Monday, December 11, 2017, the body voted 3-2 to authorize the chairman to negotiate details of an offer to purchase the former Carver School property from the Greene County Board of Education.
The first dissenting voice came from Commissioner Corey Cockrell who questioned why would the commission want to consider purchasing Carver School now. According to Cockrell, the commission had had previous discussions on the property but had taken no action toward purchase.
Commissioner Allen Turner stated that the county had a long list of projects and needs that should be addressed instead of purchasing a building that brings with it additional obligations. Both Cockrell and Turner stated that the City of Eutaw has submitted a request with a plan to purchase Carver and it seems that the county is trying to undercut the city.
Commissioner Lester Brown spoke in support of the county’s securing Carver School. He stated that there are numerous projects that the county could house in that facility including Parks & Recreation, Senior Citizens Programs, Summer Feeding, Veterans Programs and others.
Commissioner Michael Williams, who also supported the county’s move to acquire Carver, noted that the Carver facility could allow the county to sponsor various training programs and workshops that would benefit employees and the community.
Rev. Michael Barton, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Forkland, was present and seemed to be the spokesperson for many in the audience who opposed the County Commission’s efforts to acquire Carver Middle School. Many of those in the audience were among his parishioners.
It should also be noted that Mayor Raymond Steele of Eutaw, proposed Rev. Barton to be employed by the City as Recreational Coordinator, if the City’s proposal for the school facilities is accepted by the Board of Education. Steele proposed employing Rev. Barton at the November 14 City Council meeting but withdrew the proposal before a vote since Eutaw Council members were reluctant to vote on staffing before the facilities had been secured.

Many in the audience echoed the sentiments of Commissioners Cockrell and Turner which were in favor of Eutaw purchasing Carver School, however Carl Davis suggested that the county and city come together and devise a plan for joint purchase.
It should be noted that a purchase by the city is for the city; whereas the county would be obligated to serve all of Greene County.
The commission voted to allow the Coroner to establish an office in the space above the Law Library, where the Society of Folk Arts & Culture currently stores it equipment and artifacts related to the production of the annual Black Belt Folk Roots Festival. The county is obligated to provide suitable work space for the Coroner.
In a previous conversation, Commission Chairperson Tennyson Smith stated he would work with the Society in securing suitable space for the festival equipment.
In other business the commission acted on the following:
* Approved RDS to collect lodging taxes and authorize chairman to sign necessary documents.
* Approved vacating un-named road off CR 203 with attorney filing necessary papers with Judge of Probate.
* Approved to consider agreement with JM Woods for sale of three dump trucks for June action.
* Tabled filling two vacant equipment operator positions.
* Approved joining lawsuit in regards to the Opioid epidemic and authorize Chairman to sign all necessary documents.

Approved travel for Probate Judge, Chief Clerk – Jan 16-19 in Montgomery.
Approved financial report and payment of claims as presented by CFO Paula Bird.
The CFO’s financial report included the following:Total Fund Balance as of Nov. 17, 2017, was $2,191,254.71. Total funds in banks – $4,061,096.44; total investments – $800,180.54; total ion Bank of New York – $358,521.42. Accounts payable totaled $500,574.95; Payroll Transfers totaled $242,520.89; Other Transfers totaled $71,398.97; Fiduciary $144,908; Total – $959,402.81.

Eutaw City Council discusses abatement of taxes for truck stop

New Officers.jpg

Shown above Chief Derick Coleman with two new officers Khadijah Williams and Bryant Snyder.

The Eutaw City Council met twice in November for its regular meetings on November 14 and 28, 2017.
Mayor Steele explained that he has been meeting with representatives of Loves Truckstop about constructing a major truckstop at the Interstate 20 and 59 exit for Eutaw, at the 40 mile-marker. “At first we were talking about 87 spaces for trucks, then it went up to 168 and now we are talking about 200 parking spots for trucks and other privately owed vehicles.
The truck stop will sell gas and related products, have a convenience store and two fast food franchise locations in the store.

The truck stop will operate 24 hours a day and employ as many as 40 people,” said Mayor Steele.
The City Council will need to consider giving the truckstop owners an abatement of one cent of the gasoline taxes as an incentive to locate in the city. The abatement generally lasts for a period of time and goes up to a certain dollar amount whichever is reached first. Mayor Steele said that he was still negotiating the details of the tax incentive agreement and would bring it up for a vote when the full proposal was ready but he wanted to alert the City Council of this development. The City Council approved applying for a TAP grant to the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) for $800,000 with $180,000 in matching funds, which can be cash or in-kind services, to replace the sidewalks in the downtown area, put up decorative lighting, put up a railing along the edge of the sidewalk and plant trees and shrubs. The motion was approved. Councilwoman Sheila Smith voted against the proposal.
In other actions, the Eutaw City Council:
• re-named a street in honor of Ms. Johnnie E. Williams;
• approved making a proposal by the City of Eutaw to purchase Carver Middle School buildings for $215,000 from the Greene County Board of Education, to turn the facility into an afterschool park and recreation site for youth and adults;
• paid bills and claims for the months of October and November;
• holding one City Council meeting for the next month on Monday, December 18, 2017;
• approved two new police officers, Bryant Snyder and Khadijah Williams, who will be attending the police academy next month for training and certification.

Solidarity meeting held to support electronic bingo in Greene County

Nat WinnGreenetrack CEO Luther “Nat” Winn addresses Solidarity meeting

 

On Tuesday, November 21, the Black-Belt Solidarity Committee held a meeting at the Eutaw National Guard Armory in support of Greene County Constitutional Amendment 743 authorizing electronic bingo in Greene County. The Solidarity Meeting Committee consisting of Val Goodson, Beverly Gordon and Patricia Edmonds sponsored the meeting.
Two hundred supporters of bingo attended and heard statements from community political and organizational leaders in support of electronic bingo and its benefits to the community.
The meeting was held in response to a recent lawsuit filed by Alabama Attorney General Mike Marshall to stop bingo in five counties around the state including Greene, Lowndes, Macon, Morgan and Houston where bingo has been authorized by voter support of Constitutional amendments.

Sheriff Joe Benison spoke and said he enjoys serving the people of Greene County with his staff of 34 employees and encouraged unity in the face of the attack on bingo by the Attorney General.
Hodges Smith speaking on behalf of the Greene County Volunteer Fire Associations said, “ Before bingo, we had to raise money for fire trucks and other equipment selling hot dogs and hamburgers. It was very difficult and we could not get all of the up to date equipment we needed. We do not want to be pushed backwards into the dark ages again. We need to stand together for bingo.”
Johnny Isaac, Chair of the E-911 Board also spoke in favor of bingo and the need for unity in view of the attack on Amendment 743.
John Zippert, Chair of the Greene County Health Systems Board of Directors said, “We received a distribution of $39,375, for the month of October, from four of the five bingo establishment this week which helped the hospital to meet payroll and expenses to continue to provide health services in Greene County to people who do not have any insurance.”
Mayor Raymond Steele spoke of the benefits of gaming to the City of Eutaw and other municipalities in the county that receive bingo funds. County Commissioner Allen Turner reported that the County Commission used bingo funds to match Federal funds for road and bridge repairs, which stretched the funds and made them to further to help the people of Greene County.
Luther ‘Nat’ Winn, CEO of Greenetrack said he was pleased to see people standing together to protect what we have. “I hope this sends a message to AG Marshall not to come to disrupt the jobs and economic progress we have made through electronic bingo.” Winn continued, “ I want you to know that we are not going to close our operations this time. If the state comes, I for one am going to stand in the doorway of Greenetrack and stop the State of Alabama from disrupting a gaming industry that employs hundreds and supports the county agencies and schools of Greene County. This is a part of our voting rights and civil rights and we are not giving up without a fight.”
Commissioner Marcus Campbell of Sumter County and Probate Judge Crawford of Hale County also spoke in support of unity to keep Greene County bingo working because it provides employment and other benefits to residents of their adjoining counties.
The Solidarity meeting was adjourned and a monthly Greene County Fire Association meeting went forward.

Eutaw City Council concerned about financial recordkeeping and reporting

At its regular meeting on Tuesday, September 12, 2017, the Eutaw City Council was unable to get a second and vote on a motion made by Councilman Joe Lee Powell to pay bills for the month of August.
Three Council members present, LaTasha Johnson, Jeffrey Carpenter and Sheila H. Smith expressed misgivings about paying the bills without a more detailed financial statement and record of the City’s finances and bank accounts. Councilman Bennie Abrams was absent and was not present to second or vote on the motion. Had Abrams been present, the motion may have resulted in a tie vote on paying the bills.
Councilwoman LaTasha Johnson said she sent Mayor Steele a letter asking for specific information about bills and bank accounts especially the funds coming from electronic bingo. Councilman Carpenter said he has been pushing for many years for the city to have a budget and pay bills based on a plan and a budget.

Mayor Steele said the City of Eutaw did not have its records in proper form to provide the reports and budget that were being requested. Steele said Council members could come to City Hall “at any time and request that the City Clerk show them any bills, bank statements or other financial data they want to see.”
Steele said that he had discussed this with James Gardner, the City’s CPA and accounting firm and was advised that additional funds were needed to train and support City Hall staff to enter information in the computer system to generate the needed reports. Steele said that he would invite Gardner to speak with the Council at a work session on Monday, September 18, 2017 to explain the situation.
At the Council Work Session, Gardner explained that the last audit for the City of Eutaw was done by him in FY2012 and that a Financial Compilation Report and Financial Statement was done for fiscal year 2014, through September 30, 2014. There have been no financial statements or reports done by his firm for the ensuing fiscal years of 2015, 2016 and 2017. Bank statements and files of receipts and expenditures are on file in the City Hall, which could be used to construct a financial statement and reports.
Gardner said that he would send an estimate of the cost to do these unaudited compilation statements by the next City Council meeting. Gardner said it would cost $4,000 to $7,000 to train City Hall staff to enter financial information in a modified QuickBooks system, for the city’s multiple accounts, starting October 1, 2017. Once this training was done and the system was properly maintained he could do an audited statement for the FY2018, which ends September 30, 2018.
Mayor Steele said that he would bring a report from the CPA firm on recordkeeping, accounting and financial reporting to the next meeting for the Council to make a formal decision.
At the Council Work Session, Mayor Steele reported that the City water system expansion project was moving toward conclusion. More new digitized self-reporting water meters will still be installed, including individual meters in Carver Circle taking the place of a single master meter.
Steele said the new water tank would be painted by the end of October and put into operation by the end of the year. This would allow the power pole to be moved from its temporary location in the street near the Courthouse to its permanent place. The Mayor also indicated that the water line contractor would return to fix other areas that were affected by the construction.
The Mayor indicated that the City’s knuckle-boom truck to cut and remove trees from city roadways was in the shop and would require $18,000 to $20,000 to repair. He reported that both City backhoes were also in the shop for repair and that the city workers were doing their best to pick up branches piled up on the side of roads and streets.
Steele said, “Our equipment is very old and in need of repair and upgrading. We are going to do our best to prepare for the Tour of Homes, scheduled for October 7 and 8, in Eutaw.”
At the September 12 Council meeting, Councilwoman Sheila H. Smith confronted Mayor Steele and tried to make a motion to deny the Mayor the use of a new 2017 Tahoe, he uses for conducting city business. Smith said the vehicle could be better used by the Police Department.
Steele said he needed the car to show visitors interested in the community, a positive image of the community. He also said he needed a reliable vehicle to travel to meetings to seek resources for the city. The Mayor suggested that Smith was taking these actions against him, as personal retribution, because he had requested that she turn in her city issued cell phone. The Mayor was successful in ruling the motion out-of-order but the issue lingers and may come up again in future meetings.

Alabama Power explains placement of power pole in the street

City & Benison.jpg

Shown above l to r: Councilpersons Bennie Abram, LaTasha Johnson, Shelia Smith, Mayor Raymond Steele, Sheriff Jonathan Benison, Mrs. Janice Benison, Councilman LaJeffery Carpenter and Councilman Joe L. Powell. Mayor Steele and City Council gives recogntion to Sheriff Benison.

At the Eutaw City Council meeting held Tuesday, August 22, 2017, Mayor Raymond Steele asked Dan Bott of Alabama Power to explain how the power pole got placed in the middle of the street alongside the courthouse. Bott stated that Alabama Power could not obtain an easement to place the pole on county property while the new water tank was being installed. He noted that a re-routing to place it on other property would have been too costly. “We had to consider the other hundreds of customers who are also served by that same line. That coverage extends to customers in the Knoxville and Jena communities,” he said.
According to Bott, it would have cost approximately $200,000 to re-route the line; placing it in the street, near the construction, cost about $30,000. Mayor Steele stated that this cost is included in the grant. It was noted that the work on the water tank should be completed by the end of September and the power pole will be returned to its original position.
At the opening of the meeting, Mayor Steele requested the removal of the agenda item which proposed a liquor license for John’s of Eutaw. A motion for the same was presented and passed. No explanation was given for withdrawing the item.
Councilwoman LaTasha Johnson noted errors in the previous minutes and asked that statements erroneously attributed to her be removed.
Councilman Joe Powell asked that travel mileage for Deadra Thomas be adjusted to the correct rate.
Since there was no old business on the agenda, the council approved the bills presented.
In his report, Mayor Steele again stated that the water tank would be completed in September, but there is still some work to be done on the water lines. According to Steele, by September, the city should be ready to read meters electronically. “Software will be installed next week and the staff will be trained,” he said.Councilman Powell stated that he does not want the city to cut grass if the workers will not remove the papers that get cup up. He said that limbs are also cut and left on site. Mayor Steele responded saying that the city has limited staff and cannot perform pick-up duty.
Councilwoman Johnson noted that there are similar problems on Kirksey, regarding cutting grass, papers and other debris and just leaving that there. Johnson also presented the sewer concerns for the residents of Lock 7. The mayor responded saying that there are no funding sources available for sewer grants at this time, until the water project is completed.
In the closing business, the Mayor and City Council presented a special recognition to Greene County Sheriff Jonathan Benison for his financial support of bingo funds to the city. Sheriff Benison and his wife were present to receive the award.
In public comments, Luther Winn, CEO of Greenetrack, Inc., gave a summary presentation on the initial purpose of the Bingo Bill passed by the community in 1973. He said that bingo was approved by the people with the expectation that significant resources would go to the primary institutions in the county. These included the school system, the first responders (Volunteer Fire Departments, Ambulance Service, E911) and the hospital. Winn noted that when there was only one bingo facility in the county and locally owned, the Greene County Hospital received approximately $120,000 a year in bingo funds. Now with five bingo establishments, hardly any bingo funds go to the hospital, which is struggling to remain open and in dire need of operating and upgrading funds. Winn distributed documents which supported his statements.

February Eutaw City Council meetings deal with merger of housing authorities, vicious dogs and buying new vehicles

city-councilThe Eutaw City Council met on February 14 and 28 to conduct business. The main issues dealt with were the merger of the Eutaw and Greene County Housing Authorities, implementing ordinances on vicious dogs in the city and the leasing of three new SUV’s for use by the police and mayor.
The City of Eutaw has a Housing Authority (EHA) that handles Carver Circle and other housing within the city. The Greene County Housing Authority (GCHA) was established to develop housing in the county. The GCHA administers the 200 houses in Branch Heights. Branch Heights was annexed into the city of Eutaw in the early 2000’s.
HUD which funds both authorities – EHA and GCHA – wrote to both housing authorities, starting in October of 2015, that they needed to consolidate their staffs and operations into one housing authority serving the area. The two five member boards have been meeting for several months to work out a merger planning which would keep a ten member board appointed by both the City and the County Commission.
James “Dee” Powell who is the chairperson of the Eutaw Housing Authority Board says, “Our boards have agreed upon a merger plan, that preserves a board appointed by the City and the County; agrees to preserve the employment of both directors and the staff and leaves open the possibility of building other housing in Forkland, Boligee, Union and other communities in Greene County beyond Eutaw.”
Powell says that once Mayor Raymond Steele was elected in October, “The Mayor decided that since all the public housing was in Eutaw, that he, as Mayor of Eutaw, should name all of the members of the new merged housing authority. He insisted on this even though three of the Commissioners from Districts 1, 2 and 3 take in parts of the city as well.”
Mayor Steele says that he is following the law, governing housing authorities and that the only authorities permitted are those serving cities and thus he has the power to appoint all of the board members.
At the February 14 meeting, the Eutaw City Council, at the recommendation of its Attorney, Ken Aycock, agreed to seek an Alabama State Attorney General’s opinion on the statute governing housing authorities and who had the legal rights and power to appoint the new merged housing authority board.
At the February 14th meeting, the Eutaw City Council learned that Mayor Steele had removed some of the EHA board members appointed by former Mayor Hattie Edwards in the final weeks of her term. These appointments were never brought before the Eutaw City Council because the Council did not have a quorum in its final October meeting before power shifted to the newly elected Mayor Steele and council members.
At the February 14 meeting, the Mayor said he replaced Ms. Faye Tyree and Ms. Janet Cockrell who were appointed to the EHA by Mayor Edwards. He replaced Ms. Tyree with Ms. Bertha Cockrell. When Ms. Tyree confronted Mayor Steele about her letter of termination, he said that her appointment was never made official in the minutes, so he could dismiss her because she was never officially appointed. The Mayor also suspended funding from the West Alabama Regional Commission for a part-time position that Ms. Tyree was serving in, which meant she lost her position.
Things were further confused because newly elected Councilwoman LaTasha Johnson was serving as an EHA residential board member until her election to the City Council.
Mayor Edwards tried to replace her on the board before she officially resigned.
At the February 14th meeting, Dee Powell said he requested to be put on the agenda to discuss the board merger but was not placed on the agenda. After some discussion, the Mayor and Council agreed to place him on the agenda for the February 28 meeting.
At the February 28 meeting, Dee Powell, who is the EHA Chair explained the efforts to merge the housing authorities and accused Mayor Steele of bad faith in saying that if things didn’t go the Mayor’s way then there would be no merger. Powell also questioned the Mayor’s role in changing the EHA board members without consulting the board. “We need to look out for the welfare of the tenants of these housing developments,” said Powell.
Mayor Steele said he was just trying to do things according to the law and awaiting the Attorney General’s opinion on the legality of the merger. The Mayor asked the City Council to approve the selection of Jackie Allen to replace LaTasha Johnson, as the resident member, and Bertha Hunter to replace Veronica Jones. The City Council approved these changes.

Vicious dogs ordinance

Another contentious issue came up about vicious dogs in the city. After a Thanksgiving incident where Channel Glenn’s pit bull dogs attacked two city residents and sent them to the hospital for care, the City Attorney sent Glenn a letter, which contained the City ordinance on vicious dogs. The ordinance states that “the dogs must be kept in an enclosure that is 300 feet from any public park, playground, public building or residence of another”. The letter indicates that Ms. Glenn’s dogs are in violation of this city ordinance,
In the public comment section of the City Council meeting, Ms. Glenn angrily charged that the City had “inflated” the ordinance since she received it some time ago and asked for an investigation. She also argued that people had breached her fence and that was why the dogs attacked them. When the police chief tried to counter her arguments, she stormed out of the meeting.
In other business, the Eutaw City Council approved the purchase of three sewage pumps for the lift stations at Boligee, Lower Gainesville Road and the Lagoon. The pumps will cost $5-8,000 each.
The City also approved the leasing of three new SUV’s for $2,300 a month. Two are for the Eutaw Police Department and one for the Mayor. Several Council members including Sheila Smith and LaJeffrey Carpenter were opposed to the Mayor receiving one of the new cars. The City Council also approved the sale of old vehicles after they are advertised.

Eutaw water tower taken down, first step in water improvement project

water-towerAt the January 10, 2017 Eutaw City Council meeting, Mayor Raymond Steele announced that the old city water tower behind City Hall was taken down as the first step in a $3.1 million water improvement project financed by USDA Rural Development.
The 250,000 gallon water tower, constructed in 1921 and deemed by engineers as too costly to repair, will be replaced with a new water tower as part of the project. The contractor with a large crane dismantled the tower in less than two days.
The City Council approved paying bills for December 2016 with the exception of bills from Babbs Engineering. The City informed Babbs that his contract was terminated around Thanksgiving but he did not receive notice until the first week of December and he had already been working for another month. There is also a large outstanding bill for engineering on the Prairie Avenue resurfacing project, which can be reimbursed from the ALDOT that contracted for this work.
The Eutaw City Council approved a resolution amending the Prairie Avenue agreement with ALDOT to include paving other side streets that adjoin Prairie Avenue.
The City Council also agreed in principle with a request from Mayor Steele to involve HERO Inc., a non-profit housing development organization from Greensboro (Hale County) in the development of houses on land on Harris Avenue in Eutaw.
The Council also approved holding a “Severe Weather Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday” later in the year for the sale of generators, batteries, flashlights and other supplies for emergencies. The projected dates for this holiday were not announced. The Council tabled a listing of excess vehicles for sale because the full list is still under development.
Councilwoman Sheila Smith requested a working meeting of the Public Safety Committee to discuss police procedures and needs. The meeting was scheduled as part of a working session on January 24 at 5:30 PM before the next regular City Council meeting.
In the public comment session two citizens raised complaints. Charles Swanson of Eutaw complained about ambulance service for his wife and Channel Glenn complained that people were trying to harm or steal her dogs, “which are just like my children” she argued. She also questioned the use of HERO Inc. as an effective housing developer.
The Mayor said he would look into both complaints. Steele told Ms. Glenn that her pit-bull dogs were of great concern to other residents of the community who were afraid of the dogs attacking them. He also said that he was going to have to enforce the ordinances against violent dogs that were not properly restrained.