Eutaw City Council votes to use $200,000 in ‘earmarked account’ to pay necessary city expenses

At the end of a long and raucous meeting, filled with arguments and motions to table issues, the Eutaw City Council voted 4 to 2 to take $200,000 from an account earmarked for Branch Heights Roads to pay necessary and accumulated bills for the city. Councilmembers: Latasha Johnson, Benny Abrams, Joe Lee Powell and Mayor Steele voted in favor while Councilmembers: Sheila Smith and LaJeffrey Carpenter voted against.
The City of Eutaw utilized $500,000 earlier this year from its gas tax accounts to resurface the roads in Branch Heights and place speed-bumps where needed. The Mayor said these funds were now needed to pay accumulated bills for needed items, like chemicals to treat the city water, repair costs for city equipment, and other expenses where vendors are threatening to cut the city off for non-payment of past bills.
City Attorney, Zane Willingham, said that he could find nothing in the Greene County Constitutional Amendment 743 authorizing bingo that restricts or earmarks the use of funds. The Sheriff’s bingo rules and the City Council’s decision to place funds in ‘earmarked accounts’ was a policy decision that could be changed by the Eutaw City Council that initially placed restrictions on the funds but now needs them for other purposes.
Mayor Steele said the city’s problems with finances are because the city tax base has not expanded over the past thirty years. “The opening of the Love’s Truck and Travel Center in October 2019, will help to employ more people and expand our sales and fuel tax revenues. But we will need more economic expansion to fully cover the costs of city services and operations.”
The City Council also agreed to purchase a new truck (estimated cost -$35,000) and a new tractor (estimated cost $20,000) for the city street department, from the gasoline tax funds.
The Council received a report from Rob Pearson, with Mason and Gardner Accountants, who presented a draft report of budgets for the City General Fund and Water Department. He said that both budgets showed a deficit with expenses exceeding revenues. After many questions from Councilmembers it was agreed to hold a more detailed discussion of the budgets at a work session to be held on the third Tuesday in September.
Mayor Steele reported that the Alabama Rural Water Services had visited and reviewed the city’s water system including the new meters, softwear and billing systems. They found 294 problems and have corrected 200 of them. “They plan to be back soon to correct the remaining accounts and get the system operating properly,” said Steele.
The Council tabled a number of controversial issues that come up regularly at meetings, such as the policy not to accept cash, undercover tags on city vehicles, use of city facilities for meetings and activities of non-city agencies and organizations, drainage repairs on private property, salary increases for staff, disposition of the Assistant Police Chief and others.

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.