Eutaw City Council appoints zoning board, discusses ways to enforce ‘mask mandate’ for greater safety of Eutaw residents

The Eutaw City Council met for its regular meeting on January 12, 2021 at City Hall since there was no heat in the Carver gymnasium, where the Council had been meeting to assure greater social distance between the Council and city residents attending the meetings. The Council members were separated by plastic partitions and about twenty people were allowed to sit six feet apart in the Council chamber.
Mayor Latasha Johnson distributed a list of standing committees and boards to the Council and asked them to help in naming people to these boards and committees. Johnson indicated that the terms of current members had ended and in some cases there were vacancies because the past appointees had died, moved away or were unable to serve for health reasons.
Johnson said it was critical to name the Zoning Board since several businesses had requested re-zoning or zoning variances over the past six months and these requests had not been acted upon because the Zoning Board had not been able to meet. The Council named the following persons to the Zoning Board: John Zippert, Shirley Ann Edwards, Shermaine Stewart, Cynthia Cooper and Corey Cockrell and urged them to meet soon to act on the outstanding issues.
The Council also discussed safety for City Hall in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic. Councilwoman Tracey Hunter raised the question of how well the City is enforcing the ‘mask mandate’ for local retail businesses.
“Some are enforcing the mask requirement and some are not,” she said. She recommended that the police visit the businesses in town and urge them to make sure people are wearing masks in businesses.
Mayor Johnson said,” We have a mask mandate and fines for not wearing masks in public and maintaining safe social distance. So, we will ask our police department to visit with businesses and ask them to enforce mask wearing to help protect all of our citizens.”
In other actions, the Eutaw City Council:
• Approved a liquor license for Sleepy’s Bar and Grill in West End.
• Heard a report from Mayor Johnson that an audit of the city’s finances for fiscal years 2018, 2019 and 2020, are still in progress by Rick Harmon, CPA of Tuscaloosa.
• Heard a report from Ralph Liverman, financial consultant, who is preparing a budget for the City’s current fiscal year. He said that he had a preliminary budget with six separate funds: General Fund, 3 Cent Gas Tax, 7 Cent Gas Tax, Streets, Water and Sewer and Capital Improvements, that he was working to refine. Liverman indicated that the City’s finances were in better shape than he expected. He said the City had three major debts, for purchase of Carver School, an IRS lien for past unpaid employee taxes and a loan for the City’s matching finds for expanding the sewer line to serve the Love’s Truckstop, which need to be repaired.
• Heard a report from City Engineer Babb on revising the building permit regulations. He said these updated regulations will be available by March.
• Heard a report from the Mayor that the City is inventorying all water meters to make sure they are all working properly and can interact with the city’s billing computer software to insure accurate billing. The Mayor also announced a Council work session on January 19, to meet with Kathie Horne on her agreement to serve the City in correcting and improving the water system.
• Heard a report from the Mayor on her efforts to work with the County Commission and Industrial Development Authority on steps to improve the Exit 40 area on Highway 20/59 including better lighting and attracting other retail business and motels to the intersection. The three entities have pledged to work together on this and other common issues.
• Discussed leasing of offices and space at the Carver School. The CRFD bingo operation and Liberty Tax, a business, have requested space in the school, which now serves as a community center. The Council needs to set a common policy on the leasing of space in the center to help with maintenance and improvement of the space.
In the Council and public comments section of the meeting. Several Council members requested more information on the budget and the committees and boards that they need to appoint. The Mayor said the coming work session on January 19 would help provide more information to Council members.

Eutaw City Council meeting continues to discuss Water Department

As of May 20, 2020, at 9:00 AM
Alabama had 12,701 confirmed cases of

coronavirus with
508 deaths
Greene County had 86
confirmed cases
with 4 deaths

The Eutaw City Council met for its regular meeting on May 12, 2020. The meeting with full attendance met at the Carver School gymnasium to allow for property social distancing of Council members and the audience.
Most of the City Council meeting was devoted to a continuing discussion of the need to correct problems of water meters, computers and software to read the meters, conformity in water billing and making sure that the water was generating sufficient revenues to support the City budget.
The City Council reaffirmed its decision by a 4 to 1 vote to remove Mayor Steele as Superintendent of the Water System, however, there was dissension relative to taking the next steps to correct the problems in the Water Department.
Council members, led by Sheila Smith and LaTosha Johnson, want to declare an emergency in the Water Department and contract with a company, headed by Kathy Horne, to come in and correct the management and billing problems. Horne’s firm and the Alabama Rural Water Association presented a report to the City Council in February recommending changes to improve the city’s water system.Mayor Steele insists that although he is no longer Superintendent of the Water Department, as Mayor he still has day-to-day supervision of the water system. He says that he is reluctant to bring in consultants to correct problems that he says have already been resolved.
The Mayor says that the current corrected water bills that have been sent to residents will generate an additional $30,000 in revenues for the city. He also says 90 of the new digital water meters have been reinstalled properly or replaced.
City attorney, Zane Willingham, backed the Mayor and said if the Council wants to bring in consultants, they must advertise and bid out these services under the laws governing municipalities like the City of Eutaw. The City Council voted to bid out a contract for management of the water system, however, at press time the Democrat has received no legal notice to print soliciting bids for management of the water system.
The Council also discussed the need to build more storm shelters to protect the residents of the city from storms and tornados. Councilman Joe Powell brought some cost estimates for shelters. There was a discussion of building shelters in different sections of the City with grants from FEMA. The Council voted to table the discussion of shelters until electronic bingo resumes operations, after the coronavirus, to provide matching funds for the construction of shelters.
In other business, the Eutaw City Council:
• approved a resolution honoring first responders and frontline health care workers, scheduled for May 14, 2020;
• approved a resolution supporting the renovation of Elmwood Manor;
• approved a “Back to School – Sales Tax Holiday”, scheduled for July 14-19, 2020;
• agreed to pave M & M Drive as soon as funds are available;
• discussed pending insurance claims;
• requested a list of all purchases made by the City, since the beginning of 2020, to determine if supplies are adequate;
• discussed street washouts in the City and how to contract, with FEMA funding for their repair.

Eutaw City Council approves 24 hour curfew due to coronavirus

Members of the Eutaw City Council sit at social distance a part for Special Call Meeting at which curfew was adopted.

At a special called meeting on Wednesday, April 1, 2020, the Eutaw City Council approved a detailed resolution imposing a 24 hour curfew on all non-essential activities in the city. The curfew resolution was passed “to limit and mitigate the spread of infectious diseases by reducing risk of exposure during a time of outbreak”. The curfew was enacted to begin on April 1 and run until further notice.
The Eutaw City Council action was followed four days later by a statewide “Stay-at-Home Order” imposed by Governor Kay Ivey. Both actions were prompted by the corona virus pandemic affecting the entire nation. Both the curfew and the Governor’s order have exemptions for essential personnel and for essential and allowable activities by residents.
At press time in Alabama on Wednesday April 8, 2020 there were 2,328 confirmed coronavirus cases in Alabama with 48 confirmed deaths. Greene County has 10 confirmed cases with no reported deaths.
The Eutaw curfew provides that all non-essential business be closed, including entertainment venues, electronic bingo halls, athletic facilities, close contact service providers as barbershops and hair salons and retail stores, selling non-food items.
All businesses including pharmacies, grocery stores, gas stations, hardware suppliers and financial institutions can be open but must operate with social distancing and institute sanitation plans in accordance with CDC guidelines.
Restaurants may only operate drive through or curbside pick-up service with no on premises consumption of food or drink.
Persons exempted from the curfew, include public safety, emergency service, first responders, public health, hospital and healthcare workers; food and package delivery services; persons seeking essential services or commodities; members of the media; persons employed by federal, state, county or city government.
Public and private gatherings of 10 or more persons or gatherings where people cannot maintain a consistent distance of at least six feet are prohibited.
People may leave their residence to engage in essential activities such as seeking medical care or supplies, obtaining grocery items for themselves or to help others and for legally mandated government purposes. People may also engage in outdoor activities and recreation provided they might maintain social distancing requirements.Mayor Raymond Steele said, “The basic purpose of these regulations are to encourage people to stay at home and not to gather in large groups, like playing basketball or other sports or community activities that bring lots of people together and have the potential to spread the virus. We will enforce this curfew and the $500 fine for violations but we are hoping that most people will comply for the main reason of protecting public health.”
In other actions, the Eutaw City Council:
• accepted a bid from Central Alabama Asphalt and Construction of Tuscaloosa for $75,615 for resurfacing the roads in King Village; council members stipulated that the company replace current speed bumps or that the city would spend additional funds for this purpose;
• agreed to hold a regular meeting on the second Tuesday of April at 6:00 p.m. at the Carver gym, to allow for social distancing;
• agreed to pay all bills with the exception of claims dealing with insurance claims; and
• approved accepting a private $2,500 grant for a food pantry for Branch Heights residents.

Mayor Steele reports to Eutaw City Council on recent positive progress

Shown L To R: Mayor Raymond Steele, Anita Lewis Executive Director of Branch Heights and Greene County Sheriff Jonathan Benison inspecting newly paved road.
Sgt. Jones displaying guns that were confiscated from juveniles in
an arrest on O’Neal Street.

After some routine matters, the January 8, 2019 first meeting of the new year was devoted to a report by Mayor Raymond Steele on positive progress by the city over the past weeks.
The Eutaw City Council agreed to table discussion of bills and finances until a working session scheduled for January 15, 2019. The area of finances, a budget, audits of prior year finances and a general handle on the revenues and expenses of the city remain a concern to a majority of the Council members.
Mayor Steele reported that work on resurfacing the streets in Branch Heights was underway. Central Asphalt Company of Northport was doing a good job. The major streets will be done first and then if funds are left in the contract, the individual cul de sacs in the community will also be resurfaced.
The Mayor indicated that some supplement might need to be added to the contract to complete the full road and street resurfacing project in Branch Heights. This work is being funded by a special allocation of bingo funds and the city’s road repair tax account.
Mayor Steele reported that site work for the Love’s Truck Stop project at the Interstate 59/20 exit would begin later in January. Some equipment has been pre-staged by the contractor for use in site preparations for the project.
The Mayor thanked Rev. Barton for his work with youth at the Robert H. Young Community Center (formerly Carver Elementary School) including a basketball tournament, exercise and weight room and improvements to the exterior and interior of the buildings.
Darren Cook of Unity in the Community, a non-profit organization, has assisted Rev. Barton with the youth program and sponsoring the holiday basketball tournament. Cook, who is a native of Tishabee community in Greene County, now resides in Huntsville raised funds through his non-profit to help with charitable projects in Greene County. Cook said his organization also provided bicycles for poor children through DHR and Christmas baskets to forty senior citizens in the community.
Cook’s organization recently provided 30 table coverings for the Robert H. Young Center. Council members thanked Cook and praised the city administration for moving ahead in a positive way. Rev. James Carter indicated that he had employed three young people, in his family construction business, who he met at the basketball tournament.
The Mayor announced that Auburn University was sponsoring a conference on economic development on April 4, 2019, in Eutaw, in conjunction with the city and surrounding communities.
Police Chief Coleman and Sgt. Jones displayed two automatic guns that they had confiscated from juveniles in an arrest the previous week on O’Neal Street. The weapons which were modified to fire continuous rounds automatically looked dangerous and raised many questions as to how and why young people in our city should be carrying weapons of war suitable to a third world battlefield and not the streets of small town Alabama.
In other business, the Eutaw City Council:

  • Approved use of the Eutaw Civic Center by the National Wild Turkey Federation, for their special annual event on February 22, 2019, including approval of a license to serve alcohol at the event; and
  • Approved travel for Chief Coleman to attend the Alabama Chief of Police Conference in Montgomery on February 17-21, 2019.

Eutaw City Council meeting aborted before conducting any business

The Eutaw City Council attempted a meeting on Tuesday, April 10, 2018, but the meeting was aborted shortly after it was opened. Prior to the council getting into its business, Councilman LaJeffery Carpenter requested to place additional items on the agenda. He made reference to a list of items he said he brought to the Mayor the previous week. Mayor Raymond Steele responded that Carpenter’s list was out of order. “I have asked council members to come in to talk with me about their concerns and suggestions and Councilman Carpenter did not do that,” Steele said.
In his comments, Steele explained that most of the items on Carpenter’s list are administrative concerns. Carpenter responded that these are concerns that the Mayor refuses to address administratively. Councilman Carpenter moved to amend the agenda and have his list added. Councilperson Sheila Smith offered the second and the motion passed.
Councilman Joe L. Powell asked the Mayor to state where on the agenda the added items would be placed. Mayor Steele responded that he would proceed with the original agenda and the council could then deal with the other items as they saw fit. Powell repeated his request of where the added items would be placed on the agenda and Mayor Steele repeated his same response. “ This city council just does not want to work with me,” Steele stated.
According to Councilman Powell, “ When a council members asked to have something placed on the agenda it should be put on the agenda.”
Councilperson Smith rose with the response that “Communicating and working together is a two-way approach. Mayor, you have to make an effort as well to work with us.” Councilperson Smith apologized to the audience as she proceeded to walk out of the council meeting.
Amidst the back-and-forth of some council members and the mayor, Councilperson LaTasha Johnson stated: “We cannot have this kind of conduct,” and moved to adjourn the meeting. There was a second and a vote and the council members and mayor rose to depart.
Councilperson Johnson clarified that she wanted to close the meeting because it was becoming a waste of time. “ We started the meeting arguing and I felt that we were not going to accomplish anything. Arguing and arguing get us nowhere,” she said.
No official business of the Eutaw City Council was conducted that evening.
Councilpersons Johnson and Powell agree that the work sessions could help the council and mayor work better together and support scheduling those again.
Some of the items Councilman Carpenter wants on agenda for the entire council to address include the following: All city owned vehicles should have municipal tags; Usage of city vehicles and/or equipment for personal use should be terminated; City personnel policy should be updated and changed; Charges on city credit card should be approved by the council; Council members should receive copies of employees timesheets; All employees must be paid out of payroll account; Only city employees, mayor and council should have access to City Hall; Specific pay raise increase for designated employees; Allow Greene County Ryder’s Club to use city park; Purchase council members shirts for municipal conference; Executive session for good name and character.