Eutaw Municipal Election Runoff coming next Tuesday, October 6th; Mayor Raymond Steele challenged by Councilwoman Latasha Johnson

News Analysis
by John Zippert,
Next Tuesday, October 6, 2020 there will be an important election to determine the coming four years of services, progress and direction for the City of Eutaw.
The municipal elections feature a runoff between incumbent Mayor Raymond Steele and challenger, current District 1 City Councilwoman Latasha Johnson.
In the August 25, 2020 election, Steele led the field of five candidates with 403 votes (33%) to 359 (30%) for Johnson, with the additional three candidates: Joe Lee Powell, Sandra Walker and Queena Bennett Whitehead, dividing the remaining 37% of the vote. A total of 1,219 (49.7%) of the 2,450 registered voters in the City of Eutaw turned out to vote in the primary.
The three losing candidates have endorsed Latasha Johnson in the runoff. She is also endorsed by the Greene County Chapter of the Alabama New South Alliance, College Young Democrats, the Friends of Retirees/Employees Political Action Committee and a number of other groups.
Mayor Steele, a retired military officer, dry cleaning proprietor and real estate developer, was the first African-America Mayor of Eutaw and served three terms as Mayor from 2000 to 2012. Hattie Edwards, a City Councilwoman, defeated Steele in 2012 and served until 2016, when the voters returned Steele to the position of Mayor.
The major issues separating the candidates center around the operation and direction of the city government. The Mayor often makes decisions on his own without consulting the council members.
When the Mayor made several purchases of surplus property from the State of Alabama, the Council voted to take him off the bank accounts as a signatory, so he could no longer make financial decisions on his own.
For this full four term, the City operated without a budget, and financial reports comparing actual revenues and expenses to budgetary projections. There has been no audit of city finances, including the Water Department, although an annual audit is required by USDA Rural Development which provided a $3 million grant and loan package to revamp the water system during the Edwards Administration.
Mayor Steele generally provides the Eutaw City Council with the bank balances for various accounts and a list of the bills owed. This has led to constant fighting between the Council and the Mayor over which funds to use to pay which bills rather than using a budget and an operating plan to determine what funds are used to pay which bills and which new capital expenditures, like cars, trucks and bulldozers, can be purchased.
Latasha Johnson says that she will have a budget, audits and regular financial statements to share with the Council and the residents of the city.
The management of the City Water Department has been a major point of contention. The Council had to vote to dismiss Steele as the Manager of the Water System to try and correct billing, meters and other problems. After a report from the Alabama Rural Water Association showed more than half of all water pumped by the City was not billed, resulting in a revenue loss of more than $49,000 per month, the Council voted 5 to 0, with only the Mayor objecting, to employ Water Management Associates, a consulting company to manage the system for three years to correct the problems.
When a team from the consulting company came to Eutaw on September 1, 2020 to begin work under the contract, Mayor Steele refused to allow them to come into the Water Department and threatened to arrest them for trespassing, if they did start working or took any records. Mayor Steele contends that the billing and other problems of the water system have been solved and the employment of the consultants is an unnecessary expense.
Latasha Johnson says people are coming to her everyday with inaccurate water bills and questions about their water meters so she knows the system is still not operating properly. She says she will bring in the consultants to straighten out the water system and to train local people to maintain the system. She even hinted that some of the council members may file a suit against Mayor Steele to enjoin him from preventing the consultants from starting work before his term ends in November.
Mayor Steele purchased the Carver School for the City, to be used as a community and recreation center. Latasha says the Mayor told her that he was going to purchase the school together with the County Commission to have a broader set of resources to draw on to develop the facilities. “Next thing I knew, he had taken some city bingo money and bought Carver School, without talking to the Council or working with the County Commission,” said Johnson.
“Now he doesn’t have enough money to really improve the Carver facilities. We need air conditioning in the gym; maybe we should build a swimming pool and exercise facility, but we don’t have the funds. We also don’t have a partnership with the County Commission to make the dreams for the center a reality. I will rethink this whole project, with the City Council, if I am elected Mayor,” said Johnson.
Mayor Steele deserves credit for working with the City Council and other agencies to attract the Love’s Truckstop to Exit 40 on the 59/20 Interstate. Love’s is providing increased fuel and sales tax revenues to the city but the Mayor has never made a written financial and narrative report on the budgetary impacts of this major project to the city – because he doesn’t have a budget or budget projections to relate to good news for the city.
The publishers of the Democrat are encouraging all residents of Eutaw to vote in the critical October 6th Municipal Election Runoff next week. On page 4, we have an editorial supporting Latasha Johnson for Mayor and we also have a letter from Mayor Steele answering some of the information we reported in last week’s newspaper.

Eutaw City Council reinstates City Clerk; takes no clear action to resolve water problems

By John Zippert,
At its regular meeting on Tuesday, February 25, 2020, the Eutaw City Council voted to reinstate City Clerk, Kathy Bir, to her position. Mayor Steele had dismissed her earlier in the week. The vote was 4-1-1 with the Mayor voting no and all other Council members voting yes, except Joe Lee Powell who abstained.
This action is part of a long running dispute between the Mayor and City Council over who is responsible for making decisions to operate the city. Mayor Raymond Steele asserts that he has “day-to-day” decision-making authority over city operations.
The Council asserts that they have fiscal responsibility and control over the affairs of the city. The Council has removed the Mayor as a check signer on most city bank accounts as a way of controlling his actions and determining which bills get paid. This conflict between the Mayor and Council makes it difficult for the city to make major decisions and move ahead to resolve problems.
This disagreement resurfaced around the issue of contracting with Water Management Services (WMS), headed by Kathy Horne and the Alabama Rural Water Association (ARWA) to correct problems in the operation and finances of the City of Eutaw Water System. At a February 18, Eutaw City Council Work Session, Rob White, Executive Director of ARWA and Kathy Horne of WMS presented a devastating report on the status of the City of Eutaw Water System.
They reviewed data on the Eutaw Water System for the period October 2018 to August 2019 and found:
• A water loss for the system of over 50% for each of these months, which compared water pumped at city wells with water billed by the system, 15% loss is considered ideal.
• A significant number of the new digital water meters are installed incorrectly; for others the meter number does not match up with the computerized billing system; in other cases there is a disconnect in the billing software for some of the meters.
• A monthly discrepancy between the total residential water customers (1353) and the average number billed (850) for water.
• A monthly loss of revenue for the system of more than $85,000 a month.
Council members who have been concerned for some time about the problems of the water system requested that the city attorney prepare documents to contract with Water Management Services to correct the problems. At Tuesday’s meeting, when this item came up for discussion, Zane Willingham, City Attorney, advised that since the water service contract would cost over $50,000, it would need to be competitively bid by the city and could not be awarded to Kathy Horne’s group (WMS) without a bidding process.
Mayor Raymond Steele pointed out that he was named Superintendent of the Water System, at the start of his term as Mayor and that “you cannot take away my authority to manage the water system on a day-to-day basis by bringing in a consultant to take over operation of the system.”
The City Council instructed Zane Willingham, City Attorney to draw up the necessary papers for their next regular meeting to bid out the management of the water system. Mayor Steele continued to assert that he was in charge of the water system and would meet with Kathy Horne and others to determine what management and technical assistance is needed to operate the system.
Speaking from the audience, Danny Cooper, Chair of the Industrial Board implored the Mayor and Council, “As a lifelong resident of Eutaw, I am distressed that you cannot get together to address the obvious and serious condition of the water system. We are losing revenues every month that we need to run the city. I receive the same minimum bill every month for water, which means the water system is not functioning properly. You need to come together to address this crisis.”
People at the meeting, including this reporter, left the meeting without a clear idea of what the next steps will be to resolve the City of Eutaw Water System problems.
In other actions, the Eutaw City Council:
• approved a liquor license for J&S Bartenders for a Delta Sigma Theta Sorority event on March13, 2020;
• approved a contract for Greene County Foster Parents to rent space, for $100 month, in the Robert Young Community Center;
• approved a contract from Jasper Means Construction for $25,000 to repair the street crossing at Sears Drive;
• approved purchase of equipment from the State of Alabama Surplus Property Agency consisting of a street sweeper ($15,000), lawnmower ($4,000) and trailer ($1,500);
• approved installation of surveillance cameras in Branch Heights, King Village and Carver Circle to reduce crime; and
• did not approve an ordinance to raise the salary of city council members, beginning with the next elected city council.

Eutaw City Council holds Special Meeting Dec. 19 to handle unfinished business

The Eutaw City Council met Thursday, December 19, 2019 to complete business left over from a meeting on December 10, 2019. The City Council tries to meet on December 17 but failed to muster a quorum for that meeting.
The Mayor and all City Council members were present at the Special Meeting on December 19, 2019.
The Council took up the issue of a contract with Greene County Foster and Adoptive Parents Association for an office at the Carver School Community Center. The original proposal in the contract was for a $300 rent, which the group and some members of the Council felt was too high. Councilwomen Latasha Johnson moved that the contract with the Greene County Foster and Adoptive Parent Association be for $100 a month rent.
Mayor Steele and Council members pointed out that there needs to be a uniform policy for the rental and use of the Carver facility so that all organizations needing space will be treated fairly.
The Council took up a proposal to grant each city employee including police officers a one time pay increase of $200 to be paid by the General Fund and a special additional payment of $300 for each police officer to be paid by the DARE fund. This resolution was approved unanimously by the Council.
The Council reviewed a resolution for a maintenance agreement with the Alabama Department of Transportation regarding roadway lighting at Exit 40 on Interstate Highway 59/20.
ALDOT will provide the lighting, which will enhance safety at the exit where there is significant truck traffic, related to the Love’s Truckstop.
The City will have to assist in maintaining the lights once they are constructed. The Council voted to approve the resolution.
The mayor in his remarks urged the Council to pay necessary bills to avoid cut off of service, equipment and supplies to the City.
Neither Mayor Steele nor the Council members raised the issue of problems with the city water system billing and finances. This matter was left to be considered and decided in future meetings in the next year.

Eutaw City Council recessed meeting for lack of quorum; Problems with water system continue

The Eutaw City Council meeting recessed on December 10 to December 17, 2019 was not held due to a lack of a quorum. Mayor Steele and Council members Joe Lee Powell and Bennie Abrams Jr. were present but members Latasha Johnson, LaJeffrey Carpenter and Sheila H. Smith were not present.
At press time, the Democrat received a call from City Clerk Kathy Bir advising that a special called meeting would be held on Thursday, December 19, 2019 to deal with three tabled items from the December 10 agenda. These were: contract with Greene County Foster and Adoptive Parents for use of space at Carver School; ordinance for a one time pay increase for all city employees and resolution of Lighting Agreement with Alabama DOT for Exit 40.
At the December 10, meeting before it was recessed, the Council approved action to set up a separate bank account for the TAPP Streetscape Grant; and to concur with an ALDOT request to re-route truck traffic, coming into Eutaw, to turn on Wilson Avenue, rather than the current route at the Episcopal Church off Mesopotamia Avenue (Alabama Highway 14).
Water problems persist
Originally, the December 10, 2019, Eutaw City Council agenda showed a meeting with the Alabama Rural Water Association was to be held at 2:00PM at City Hall on December 17, as part of the recessed meeting to discuss the status of the City’s water system.
The City’s water system has been plagued with problems since the construction of new lines, a water tower and installation of new self-reporting digital meters. Some city water customers have received no bills since the installation of new meters. Others have received a minimum bill, each month, suggesting that the digital meters are not operating properly or that the computer software connecting the meters to the billing process is not operating correctly.
Other customers have received bills that are so high that they cannot afford to pay them. Some water customers, especially in Branch Heights report “brown water” and other problems with the suitability of the water to drink.Representatives of the Alabama Rural Water Association have reviewed the City’s water system and they did meet, earlier on Tuesday, December 17th with the Mayor, Councilman Joe Lee Powell and some other residents of the city.
However, this meeting was not open to the press and Kathy Horn of the Alabama Rural Water Association declined to meet at the afternoon public session of the Eutaw City Council.
The Democrat has learned from sources that Ms. Horn, who is an expert and has extensive experience with rural and small town water systems said the “Eutaw Water System is in a state of emergency.”
Horn is reported to have said that the city water system can be salvaged and repaired to operate correctly and generate proper income for the City. She indicated that 294 meters are not operating properly and need to be adjusted. A new computer system is needed for the proper interface with the meters and the billing process. Some regular maintenance and flushing will be needed to clear the lines. Staff of the City water system can be trained to handle the problems on an-on-going basis once the immediate emergency situation is rectified.
The Alabama Rural Water Association is prepared to contract with the City to correct the immediate problems, including the defective meters; establish an accurate billing system that captures water usage; and trains local staff to handle administration, billing and maintenance of the system.
A new computer system costing $7 to 8,000 will be needed. The cost for the Association will depend on time and staffing needed for the repairs and adjustments to the system.
The Mayor and the City Council will need to come together to agree on solutions, not finger pointing and blame, said many observers of the situation. The improvements to the city water system are not on the agenda for the upcoming Thursday, December 19 meeting but may very well come up as pressing unfinished business.

Eutaw City Council approves non-controversial items; tables others for next working session

Deborah Henderson, Census 2020 staff member addresses the City Council about available jobs as census takers.

The Eutaw City Council acted on some non-controversial agenda items and pushed the others where there is disagreement and more time is needed for a resolution to its next work session.
At the beginning of its meeting, the Council heard a presentation from Deborah Henderson, U. S. Census Recruiting Specialist for Greene County indicating that jobs are available for census takers for the 2020 Census. These short-term jobs pay $15.50 an hour with a mileage allowance of 58 cents per mile. Henderson said that the U. S. Census was looking for 100 applicants from Greene County. Persons interested may call: 1-855-JOB-2020 or check on line for information and applications.
The Eutaw City Council approved an application from Love’s Truck and Travel Center for a license to sell beer and wine.
The Council approved accepting a $24,000 grant from ADECA for police equipment including computers, cameras and tasers. This grant has no matching funds requirement.
The Council also approved a travel request for City Judge, Josh Swords to attend a Fall Conference, September 26-28,2019 in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Attorney Zane Willingham, in response to questions from Council-members at last week’s working session, reviewed various personnel policies from the Employee Handbook with the City Council especially dealing with overtime pay.
Willingham said the personnel policies are clear that part-time employees are not entitled to holiday pay. He also explained that overtime pay is only accrued and should only be paid when an employee actually physically performs more than forty (40) hours of work in a weekly period. This means that vacation, sick leave, holidays, administrative leave, PTO hours are not considered hours worked when computing overtime.
To clarify these policies, the City Council unanimously approved a resolution stating, “Should you be required to work on a holiday, or if your regularly scheduled day off falls on a holiday – you will be given an alternate day off. You must be given an alternate day off within the same fiscal year.”
The Eutaw City Council voted to approve paying bills that were most needed from a list that was presented. In a previous meeting $200,000 was allocated from the bingo funds earmarked for Branch Heights roads to pay current bills. After these payments were made, using the $200,000, some critical bills remain to be paid.
Council members asked Mayor Steele to prioritize the bills that needed to be paid. The Mayor urged using more bingo funds to make these payments. Some of these decisions were referred to the next City Council Working Session.
Mayor Steele asked the Council to approve purchase of a generator, costing $44,763, through FEMA to use at the City Hall in times of emergency when no electricity is available. This FEMA purchase requires an $11,192 match from city funds. The Mayor wants to use bingo funds to pay the match. This decision was tabled for discussion at the next working session.
Councilman Carpenter brought up the issue of raises for city staff. The Mayor said some staff received a raise because they were promoted to a supervisory position. The Mayor said he was not sure there was enough funding to provide all staff with a raise. The Council said some adjustments in pay were needed for staff with CDL, Heavy Equipment Operator and other skill certifications. The Council then voted to hold a Special Called Meeting to deal with staff salary adjustment on Monday, September 30,2019 at 6:00 PM at City Hall.
Mayor Steele reported that he purchased an air compressor for $7,500, which was put to work fixing water leaks in Branch Heights and other locations. The Mayor says he still needs to purchase a small tractor for use in street repairs.
The Council said to bring this request to the next working session.
Councilwoman Sheila Smith moved to use some of the bingo funds in the earmarked account for resurfacing the roads in King Village. This motion passed over the objections of the Mayor who said this item was not on the agenda and the expenditure might not be needed based on the City’s overall finances and other more critical needs. While the motion passed, it seemed that this long unresolved issue was headed to the next working session before it is resolved.
Smith also questioned the Mayor about exercise and weight room equipment at the Carver School community center. Steele said this long awaited equipment, donated by the Auburn Cooperative Extension Program, arrived last week and had been set up. Rev. Barton, Director of the Center, will soon send out a press release with information about the hours and usage of this weight equipment by the public.
In the public comments section, Mary Johnson complained about her water being “milky looking”. Mayor Steele said that was an indication that there was air in the lines from repairs and that she would need to run her water until the air came out of the pipes. He promised to send someone to check on the problem. Councilman Joe Lee Powell suggested that the City purchase a supply of bottled water to give to residents when there were problems with the City water system.

Eutaw City Council approves ordinance for police officers to drive cars home; Sunday liquor sales; and tables action on matching funds for downtown development

Shown above Mayor Raymond Steele, City Council members and Eutaw Police Officers.

The Eutaw City Council took action on a variety of outstanding issues but tabled a major downtown development and beautification project until Mayor Steele provides more information on the city’s finances and budget.
The Council approved a resolution allowing members of the Eutaw Police Department to drive their official police car home and to use the car to commute back and forth to work from their home location, even if it is in another county. The cars are not to be used for personal purposes but only for the commute from work to home and home to work.
The TS Police Support Foundation, a local charity connected with the Palace Bingo in Knoxville, agreed to pay the additional mileage, gas and maintenance costs for cars used by police officers to commute to work. The resolution acknowledges the contribution of the TS Police Foundation to make this resolution possible. Councilwoman Sheila H. Smith, who also works as an officer of the charity helped spearhead this effort.
The Council approved a first reading of an ordinance to permit alcohol sales on Sunday in the city limits of Eutaw. Eutaw Bait Shop and 12 Roots Restaurant, a new restaurant under renovation at the Thomas Gilmore Courthouse Square, requested this ordinance. The original resolution, which must be approved by the Alabama Legislature, named only the two establishments that requested the change. The City Council decided that this opportunity should be extended to all businesses that request expanded Sunday alcohol sales.
The Council also approved a policy that the City would no longer accept cash payments effective the first week of February. Only checks and money orders will be accepted for water bills and other municipal charges to reduce the chance for losses. Councilman Bennie Abrams inquired if the council members had checked on the impact of this policy on low-income people who did not have checking accounts. The other Council members felt this policy was best for the city. The Council also approved Joe Lee Powell, LaJeffrey Carpenter and City Clerk Kathy Bir as signatories on the municipal bank accounts.
The Council approved an ordinance to declare a storage building adjacent to the National Guard Armory as surplus not needed for public use. Councilwoman Latasha Johnson has been pushing this ordinance as a way to allow the City to lease this building to REACH Inc. for its used furniture distribution service, which has been evicted from the Robert H. Young Civic Center (formerly Carver School).
Mayor Steele objected to the resolution because he contends that the storage building is used and needed for storage of the city’s Christmas lights, ornaments and other supplies. The Council approved the resolution as a first reading as an ordinance subject to a second reading and approval at the next City Council meeting. In the public comments section, some nearby residents said they did not want a furniture business on the grounds of the Armory.
Mayor Steele requested approval to begin engineering work on the TAPNU-TA grant, a $600,000 grant awarded to the city for sidewalks, lanterns and other improvements to the downtown Courthouse square area of Eutaw. The Mayor indicated that he was seeking $210.000 in matching funds for this project by grant and loan funds. The Council tabled further action on this TAPNU-TA grant until the Mayor responds to their questions on city finances and a budget.
The Council felt that without clarity on the city’s finances, including revenues and expenses, in a budget, it could not determine the affordability of borrowing to do new projects. This concern over the City’s finances has been a recurring theme of Council opposition to the Mayor’s plans to revitalize and improve the city.
Council members Latasha Johnson, Joe Lee Powell and LaJeffrey Carpenter made a motion to approve the appointment of Attorney Joshua Swords as Municipal Judge for Eutaw. Councilman Bennie Abrams asked if the other council members had discussed this choice with the Police Department. Councilwoman Sheila Smith asked if the current Municipal Judge, Attorney William ‘Nick’ Underwood, had retired or resigned and why we needed a new judge. The appointment of Swords was approved on a 3 to 1 vote with Abrams abstaining. Mayor Steele also objected to this appointment but it was approved by a majority vote of the City Council.
The Council approved travel for the Court Clerk to a regional seminar for municipal court officials in Birmingham on April 4 and 5, 2019. It also approved an increase in the travel mileage rate to $0.58 per mile in conformity with Federal standards.
Mayor Steele reported that resurfacing of the roads in Branch Heights had been completed and that Central Asphalt did a good job;
clearing of the site for the Love’s Truck Stop has begun and the sewer extension project will begin on January 25, 2019 . He further stated that he was working to pay the most urgent outstanding bills first and work on a report for the Council so they will understand the city’s financial situation.

2018 – Year in Review

In this article, we will review the highlights of local news stories that affected Greene County during the past year – 2018.

Love’s Truckstop planned

The most notable development for Greene County during 2018 was the announcement that Love’s corporation had secured an option to purchase land at the Exit 40 intersection with Interstate Highway 20/59 on the outskirts of Eutaw. Love’s plans to build a truck stop with 87 spaces, a convenience store with three fast food outlets and other services for trucks and travelers.
The development of the project was contingent upon the City of Eutaw extending sewage lines about a mile to the project site at an estimated cost of $900,000. In July, Mayor Steele announced a $400,000 grant from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) toward the sewage project. This was followed in August by an announcement by the Delta Regional Authority (DRA) of a grant of $372,425 for the project.
The Greene County Industrial Development Authority agreed to loan the City of Eutaw, the balance of funding needed to complete the sewer line. At its December meeting, the City of Eutaw accepted bids for construction of the sewer line.
On October 15, 2018 a groundbreaking was held at the site, where Love’s confirmed that it was building its 470th Travel Center and Country Store in Greene County at the Interstate 40 interchange.
Governor Kay Ivey, Congresswoman Terri Sewell, State Senator Bobby Singleton, members of the Love’s family and management, and many other dignitaries attended the groundbreaking
The $16 million travel stop will be built on a 13.9-acre site and is expected to bring an estimated 43 permanent jobs to the area with a projected 1,000 trucks per day. The facility is expected to sell 8 to 10 million gallons of fuel and have retail sales of $4 to 6 million per year, which will significantly increase tax revenues to Greene County and the City of Eutaw.
Construction of the Lowe’s project is expected to begin in January 2019 and be completed by late Fall of 2019.

Electronic Bingo

The Greene County Community continued to benefit from a gaming and tourist industry authorized by local voter approval of Alabama Constitutional Amendment 743 in 1986.
Five bingo parlors at Greenetrack, Green Charity, Frontier, River’s Edge and the Palace provide 600 or more jobs and over $4.5 million in revenues to the Board of Education, County Government, Sheriff’s Department, Municipalities and the Greene County Hospital and Health System. Additional contributions to E-911, the Greene County Volunteer Firefighters Association and other civic charities are also made.

Each month, the Democrat had a photo and story on the basic fee distribution by the Greene County Sheriff’s Department. The monthly distributions averaged over $370,000 each month for the year.
The Greene County Hospital and Health System received $540,000 in bingo fees ($25 per bingo machine) for 2018, the first full year it was included in the monthly bingo fees distribution. This helped stabilize the finances of the Greene County Health System and insured the continued operation of these critical health facilities.
Electronic bingo in Greene County and throughout the state is under attack as “illegal slot-machine gambling” by State Attorney General Mike Marshall, who was re-elected in November. In September 2018, we reported on a status conference, in front of special Circuit Judge James Moore of Fayette County with representatives of the State and all five bingo operators, to discuss a calendar of future motions and hearings in this critical case.
State AG Marshall is continuing to push the case to end electronic bingo in Greene County despite the catastrophic implications for this industry in lost jobs and revenues, in a historically persistent poor county of the Alabama Black Belt.

2018 Local and Statewide Elections

The past year was a major election year for state offices and the Legislature in Alabama and also local elections for Sheriff, Circuit Clerk, Probate Judge, Coroner, County Commission and other political positions.
Numerous candidates for state and local offices qualified by February 9, for the Democratic and Republican primaries on June 5. Several positions were uncontested: Terri Sewell for Congress in the 7th District, Bobby Singleton for State Senate, A. J. McCampbell and Ralph Howard for State House seats involving Greene County.
In the June 5 primary, Greene County voters chose to re-elect Sheriff Jonathan ‘Joe” Benison, Ronald Kent Smith for Coroner, Veronica Morton Jones for Circuit Clerk and for Commissioners: Lester Brown for District 1, Tennyson Smith for District 2, Corey Cockrell for District 3 and Allen Turner for District 4.
Six weeks later after the July 17th primary run-off, Rolanda Wedgeworth triumphed over Jeremy Rancher for Probate Judge and Roshanda Summerville was chosen to be the nominee for District 5 County Commissioner. Since there were no Republican challengers on the local level, all Democrats running for local and legislative positions were elected subject to no independent or write-in challenges in the November General Election.
At the statewide level, Greene county voters helped Walt Maddox, Mayor of Tuscaloosa, to be the Democratic nominee for Governor and Joe Siegelman to be nominee for Attorney General, in the June primary. However, despite strong support in the November 6 General Election, in the Black Belt, Maddox was defeated by incumbent Governor Kay Ivey and Siegelman was defeated by AG Mike Marshall,
In November, Alabama voters continued Republican control of all major statewide offices and a solid majority in both houses of the State Legislature. This despite Maddox’s promise to “expand Medicaid to 300,000 uncovered people in the state on my first day in office” and Ivey’s
Promise to protect Confederate monuments where they were in the state.
Alabama Congressional delegation remained with six Republicans and one Democrat – Terri Sewell.
In June 2018, Governor Kay Ivey appointed Barbara McShan, longtime Revenue Clerk to the position of Greene County Revenue Commissioner to serve out the term of Brenda Goree, who retired.
In November, the five County Commissioners were sworn-in and selected Tennyson Smith as Chair and Roshanda Summerville as Vice Chair for the next four years.

Mayor Raymond Steele and Eutaw City Council often at odds

From the very first meetings of the Eutaw City Council in January 2018 there were fissures and disagreements between Mayor Raymond Steele and City Council members. The disagreements centered around use of city facilities and vehicles, development of a budget for city finances, payment of bills, operation of the water department, repair of roads in Branch Heights, and the addition of items to the meeting agenda without prior consultation with the Mayor.

The Mayor and City Council generally agreed on support for the Love’s Truckstop project but disagreed on practically everything else. There were concerns about the use of the National Guard Armory after a shooting in the –parking lot after a January party at the facility that ended after midnight. City Councilman Jeffrey Carpenter, also a sheriff’s deputy was injured in the shooting.
In March, Mayor Steele purchased the Carver School from the Board of Education for $213,000 with a $50,000 down payment and four years to pay the balance. The Mayor wants to use the school classroom and gymnasium facilities for after-school and weekend youth programs, adult education and cultural programs and other community activities. Council members argue that the purchase is too costly, no operational plan or regulations exist for use of the facilities, and the purchase should have been coordinated with the County Commission and other agencies.
The Mayor and Council have disagreed about the closing-out of the $3.1 loan and grant package with USDA Rural Development for improvement of the water tower and water system. Many of the water meters were incorrectly installed and may not be providing accurate billing reports. Billing has been behind and late which has placed financial hardships on the City in paying its bills.
Several Council members have called for a budget to determine how city finances are being used, when decisions were made such as using $115,000 of funds set aside for Branch Heights roads to pay other bills. Later funds were contracted for Brach Heights roads repairs but the contractor has not started work as yet. Council members are also calling for an audit of city finances but the cost seems high in relation to the benefits.

Other News and

Greene County Board of Education continued to make progress during 2018 on improving student learning and performance. LaVonda Blair was hired early in the year to be CSFO to handle school finances after the departure of her predecessor. The TieTying for new ninth graders at the High School continued. New courses in welding, auto mechanics and computer coding were added to the curriculum. A virtual high school program was added to serve persons who dropped out or could not attend classes. At its last meeting the Greene County Board of Directors voted 3 to 2 not to continue the contract of Superindent James H. Carter. Unless this decision is rescinded, the Board will spend much of 2019 searching for and interviewing candidates to replace Carter.

Mills Pharmacy opened for business in July in Eutaw in the old Solomon Drug location giving residents a choice in purchasing their drugs. The General Dollar in Eutaw was remodeled giving more space for food items. A new General Dollar opened in the Clinton community at the end of the year. The Super Dollar store closed and the Family Dollar store burned down and the remains cleared away during the past year.
Greene County celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King’s Birthday on January 17 with a breakfast, a march through downtown and a rally at the Courthouse, which featured Dr. Cynthia Warrick, President of Stillman College. In March, many Greene Countians participated in the 53rd. Bridge Crossing Jubilee in Selma, Alabama to celebrate and agitate for voting rights. In July, the Alabama Civil Rights Museum sponsored the 49th anniversary of the 1969 Special Election in Greene County, which was the beginning of Black political control of Greene County.
In August, the community celebrated National Night Out and Back to School Rally on the Courthouse Square. At the end of the month, the 43rd annual Black Belt Folk Roots Festival was held on the Courthouse Square. In December the Chamber of Commerce sponsored the annual Christmas Parade.

Many other news and community events were held during 2018 – too many to mention in this summary.

Eutaw City Council approves proposals for infrastructure improvements at the Interstate Exit 40 location of Love’s Travel Center

This is a report on the past two meetings of the Eutaw City Council on November 27 and December 11, 2018.
The City Council approved a proposal from the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) for $600,000 for enhanced lighting of on-and-off ramps at Exit 40 on Interstate 20 and 59, where the proposed Love’s Travel Center and truck stop will be located.
ALDOT will finance the improvement of the lighting with the expectation of getting repaid for half of the costs – $300,000 – beginning in 2023 when the project will be generating increased gas and sales tax revenues for the City of Eutaw and Greene County.
The City Council also approved bids for the extension of the sewage line along Highway 14 from the city limits to Love’s proposed location. The low bid of $728,731.50 for construction of the sewer line came from Cornerstone Civil Contractors of Northport, Alabama. The total cost of the sewer line project, including engineering and administration will be $897,406.50.
The City of Eutaw has $772.425 in grants for the project from ADECA and Delta Regional Authority, which leaves $124,981.50 to complete the project. The Greene County Industrial Development Authority has agreed to loan this amount to the City with repayment based on revenues from taxes over time.
Mayor Steele announced that based on his discussions with Love’s officials that construction of the Travel Center and truck stop will begin in January 2019 and be completed in nine months by the late Fall of 2019. Once Love’s is in operation it will generate $ 4 to 6 million in retail sales and 8 to 10 million gallons in gas and diesel sales per year.

In response to questions from Council members, Mayor Steele said he would contact Central Asphalt and tell them they must begin immediately on the repairs to the roads and streets in Branch Heights or the project will be rebid.
In other actions, the Eutaw City Council:
• approved the reappointment of Theresa Beeker to a four-year term on the Greene County Industrial Development Authority;
• adopted a holiday schedule providing December 24 and 25 as holidays and December 31 and January 1 as holidays, employees may take additional time off using annual leave based on arrangements with their supervisors;
• cancelled the second monthly Council meeting for December, which falls on Christmas Day;
• voted 3 to 2 to declare a shed at the National Guard Armory as surplus, so it can be leased to REACH, a non-profit organization for storage of its furniture project. Mayor Steele objected to this proposal saying the building was needed for storage of Christmas lights and other city equipment;
• agreed to a Christmas toy giving program to be held at the Robert H. Young Civic Center (formerly Carver Middle School), which the City of Eutaw is co-sponsoring, provided that the proper paperwork for use of the facilities is presented;
• voted down, by a tie vote of 3 to 3, a proposal by Councilmember LaJeffrey Carpenter to name local Attorney Joshua Sword as Municipal Judge.
At the end of the meeting, several Councilmembers reminded the Mayor of the need for a budget and audit report as well as a regular reporting of bills paid which had been left off the past three Council meeting agendas.

Eutaw City Council votes to allow $50,000 in bingo funds to pay bills

At its special meeting on September 27, 2017, The Eutaw City Council voted to move $50,000 from its special ’Capital Improvements Fund’, funded by monthly distributions from electronic bingo to its ‘General Fund’ to pay current bills from August and September.
Mayor Steele requested that the City Council allocate $30,000 from the Capital Improvement Fund to the General Fund to pay bills. Several council members asked if this was enough money to pay bills including for repair of city equipment like the knuckle boom truck and two back hoes which were at the repair shop. The Mayor said the $30,000, he was requesting was to help pay bills at the end of the city’s fiscal year.
Councilwoman LaTasha Johnson moved to reallocate $50,000 from the Capital Improvement Fund to the General Fund to help pay bills and get the needed equipment out of the repair shop.
The motion was approved with Councilwoman Sheila Smith voting against. “ I cannot vote for this transfer of bingo funds from capital improvement for other uses without seeing a full accounting of the uses of the bingo funds since the beginning of the year,” said Smith.
Based on numbers provided by the City Clerk on all city accounts, Councilwoman Smith said that the reported August 31, 2017 balance of $88,418.25 in the Capital Improvements account “was below the amount it should be based on monthly contributions from bingo.”
Smith asked for a full accounting of the Capital Improvements Account for 2017, showing all deposits and withdrawals. Mayor Steele said he would work with the City Clerk to provide this information.
The Mayor also distributed to the City Council proposals from Mason and Gardner CPA’s for two projects, a compilation report of income and expenses for the fiscal years ending September 30, 2015, 2016 and 2017, based on bank statements and other available data.

Mayor Steele reports on Water Tower progress


At Tuesday’s regular Eutaw City Council meeting, Mayor Steele reported on the progress of building the new water tank and tower behind City Hall. “The structure of the tower is going up and the bowl for the tank should be set this week,” said Steele.
The photograph with this story show the size and impact of the new water tower which will be linked to the new water lines, fire hydrants and water meters being placed as part of the $3.1 USDA Rural Development loan and grant package to update the city water system.
In other actions:
• The City Council agreed to a certificate honoring Sheriff Joe Benison for his help to the city with funds from electronic bingo.
• Approved a license for alcohol sales to Get Well Drug and Dollar Store.
• Approved a promotion to Sergeant for Police Officer Rodriquez Jones; Councilwoman Latasha Johnson voted against this motion because of concerns she has about the officer’s treatment of citizens of Eutaw.
•Discussed and tabled a proposal from Mayor Steele to seek a grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund for constructing a pavilion, bathrooms and a concession stand in the City Park on Lock 7 Road. The project is estimated to cost up to $100,000 with a 50-50 match from the city that is required.
• Approved use of the National Guard Armory for ‘New Hope – New Visions’ organization.
• Approved providing chairs and tables from the Armory for a program of the Senior Olympics in Eutaw.