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.

Countywide meeting held to support and defend Greene Co. Constitutional Amendment 743 for ‘electronic bingo’

groupMore than 250 people attended Tuesday’s countywide meeting at the National Guard Armory to discuss the recent decision of the Alabama Supreme Court deeming ‘electronic bingo’ in Greene County to be illegal. This decision made on an appeal by the State of Alabama on the 2010 raid which confiscated 825 electronic bingo machines from Greenetrack.The Alabama Supreme Court ruled that it has defined bingo as a game of chance played on paper cards and that the electronic bingo machines used at Greenetrack and other gaming facilities in Greene County are “illegal slot machines”.
This decision comes despite the 2003 vote by Greene County residents to enact Constitutional Amendment 743 authorizing electronic bingo. Greene County voters approved this amendment by an overwhelming vote.
Luther “Nat” Winn, CEO of Greenetrack presided over the meeting and introduced the county and legislative officials who spoke.
Winn said, “This decision by the Supreme Court is an illegal decision, they went against a Constitutional Amendment that we that we worked hard and legally secured for Greene County. The voters of Greene County have lost our basic right to vote and make decisions to help ourselves and build our county. The Supreme Court is taking 300 jobs from Greene County and millions of dollars of support for county government, municipal government and vital services. They have given us nothing in return. We are not going to accept this decision, we are going to fight it.”
Mayor Raymond Steele of Eutaw said,” This is going to be devastating for Eutaw and Greene County. There is no growth or new business in our area besides gaming. If the Supreme Court and the State take away bingo what will we have left. Do not touch Greenetrack until you bring us some jobs and revenues to replace it.”
Elmore Patterson, CEO of the Greene County Health System, warned that the hospital and nursing home would be forced to close without the jobs and revenues from bingo.
Hodges Smith speaking on behalf of the Greene County Firefighters Association said, “ We got tired of selling hamburgers and fish sandwiches to support our voluntary fire departments in Greene County. We supported Amendment 743 and went to the Alabama Legislature to get it passed because of the revenues that have been generated to support 14 fire departments across the county.”
Dr. Carol P. Zippert, District 1 School Board members said, “I cannot speak for the Board, but I can speak for the children of Greene County. We have not received enough funds from bingo but what we have received has helped the children of the county. This is a voting rights issue; the Alabama Supreme Court is taking our votes away. I had hoped that we had made some progress since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s but it seems that our children will have to fight the same fights all over again to protect our rights.”
Lester Brown, Greene County Commissioner said, “ We need to support Amendment 743. It provides that matching funds for roads and bridges in our county. It provides jobs for our people. The Supreme Court wants us to cross a bridge with out the money to build it – that won’t happen!”
State Representatives Ralph Howard and Artis McCampbell who represent Greene County in the Alabama Legislature also spoke. “We have Constitutional Amendment 743, what else do we need to have? We need to stand up for the rule of law… it is worth fighting for,” said Howard.
Kennard Randolph, Blackbelt Outreach Coordinator for Congresswoman Terry Sewell said the Congresswoman was supportive of gaming in Greene County and would help in any way she could.
State Senator Bobby Singleton addressed the group and said he had been involved in the original debates over bingo in Greene County and helped insert the language for ‘electronic bingo’ in the legislation for the Constitutional Amendment referendum in 2003.
“This whole fight against bingo is a conspiracy between AG Luther Strange, the Republican Supreme Court and the Republican Party. There is ex parte communications between Luther Strange and the Supreme Court. The Republican Party wants to cut out all possible sources of campaign funds for the Democrats. They went after the teachers (AEA), unions, state employees, trial lawyers and gaming, “ said Singleton.
Singleton said he serves on the Governor’s Task Force on Gaming and he learned, “That this issue of electronic bingo in Greene County stands between the state giving the Native Americans exclusive rights to gaming in the state; a state lottery and other issues. I am fighting for the people of Greene County, not just Greenetrack. We need jobs at livable wages and revenues from gaming to support needed government and community services.”
Near the end of the meeting, Probate Judge, Judy Spree asked Winn what was his plan of action. Winn said, “ We are going to fight to protect bingo but if you know people in high places then contact them and ask them to help Greene County.
Others suggested using social media like Facebook to spread the word of the impacts of the Supreme Court’s decision on Greene County people. A more detailed strategy of resistance and fighting back was left to future meetings.
Noticeable absent from this countywide meeting was Sheriff Benison, who is the county official who supervises bingo under Amendment 743, makes the rules and administers the funds coming from bingo. Also missing were representatives of the owner-operators of the other bingo parlors in Greene County – Green Charities, Rivers Edge and Frontier.