Eutaw City Council moves forward, secures help with finances and operating water system

Tommy Johnson take oath of office as new Police Chief of Eutaw on Nov. 2, from Judge Josh Swords; his wife holds Bible.

By John Zippert,
Co-Publisher
The new Mayor and City Council of Eutaw met for its first regular meeting on November 10, 2020 at the Carver School Community Center gymnasium. The City Council held an Organizational Meeting on November 2nd after they were sworn-in to handle procedures and appointments.
Mayor Latasha Johnson said that she had spent most of the past week learning about the operation of the City’s water system and securing a needed permit from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, which had expired in the Spring of the year.
Mayor Johnson indicated that she had received help from Kathie Horne of Rural Water Management, a consulting firm, that the previous mayor had barred from working at the City Hall. “We worked most of last week and weekend with ADEM to secure the permit to operate our water system. We were about to incur fines of $10,000 a day for being out of compliance but we have resolved this issue,” said Johnson.
Johnson, City Clerk Kathy Bir and Assistant Clerk Joe Lee Powell have worked with Rural Water Management, the computer softwear company that handles the water billing and others to begin to unravel the billing and water loss problems of the Eutaw Water System.
Powell said, “By January 2021, we should have a pretty good handle on the water meters, billing and revenues; in November, we billed for over $90,000 water, sewer and garbage bills. We are also enforcing a “no cash policy” which means residents must pay their bills with checks or money orders.”
Johnson presented a proposal from former City Council member, attorney and financial management consultant to York and Livingston, Ralph Liverman, to provide financial management services to the Eutaw City Council including preparing a budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, monthly financial reports, a four-year capital and infrastructure improvement plan and budget. Council approved this agreement with Liverman, which will cost no more than $1,500 a month.
The Council appointed Mayor Latasha Johnson as “City Water Superintendent” for a compensation of $800 month in addition to her salary as Mayor. When asked, how the City was going to pay for all these expenses, Mayor Johnson said, “We have found and deposited over $30,000 in checks and cash this week, that was casually lying around in the office, in drawers and cabinets. Also, we are expecting better revenues from the Water Department, as we straighten it out and there are some positions we discontinued and will not fill, until we are sure we can afford them.”
In other actions, the Eutaw City Council:
• Received a proclamation from Alabama Governor Kay Ivy extending the state “Safer at Home” health order, which includes mandatory mask wearing, from November 8, 2020 to January 7, 2021. Councilwoman Tracie Hunter suggested that the City check with local businesses and urge them to enforce the mask mandate because some are not requiring mask wearing.
• Agreed to advertise available city positions for 3 weeks in both local newspapers. The positions include: Utility Clerk, Assistant Utility Clerk, UCR Clerk and Assistant Clerk, Water/Sewer Workers and Street/Garbage Workers.
• Approved a new City employee pay scale which will raise wages for most employees.
• Approved purchase of an overnight deposit bag for Merchants and Farmers Bank.
• Agreed to celebrate Veterans Day (November 11) as a paid holiday for city employees.
Chief of Police, Tommy Johnson introduced has staff of new officers and said all would wear unforms rather than other forms of dress.
Mayor Johnson asked Council members with resident’s complaints about streets, drainage and other concerns, to put them in writing and submit them, so she and the city staff can be sure to respond and correct any problems.
Councilwoman Jacqueline Stewart asked that the City Council members be informed between meetings of any new hires for city positions so that they would know before their constituents questioned them about new people.
Councilwoman Valerie Watkins asked for a training in Robert’s Rules of Order, so they would know the proper way to make motions and conduct city business.
Councilwoman Tracie Hunter asked the audience “To pray with us and for us and be patient as we learn how to be a good City Council.”

Eutaw City Council approves proclamation honoring E-911

Mayor Steele and Eutaw City Council members present proclamation to E911 staff and officials and new officer’s : Tommy Johnson, Jr. and Christopher Gregory

At their regular meeting on Tuesday, April 11, 2017, the Eutaw City Council paid its March bills and claims, approved Good Friday as a holiday for the staff and approved a proclamation honoring the E-911 staff for National Public Safety Communications Week.
After taking these positive steps, the City Council and the Mayor began arguing about past issues and discussions.

The issue that precipitated the arguments was a motion by Councilwoman LaTasha Johnson to advertise in the newspaper for four weeks, the contents of a bill to be introduced in the State Legislature to change the selection process for members of the Board of Directors of the Eutaw Housing Authority to give the Council a role with the Mayor in appointing these board members.The Eutaw City Council, the Mayor and the city and county housing authority boards have been in an uproar for the past several months over who was properly appointed to the Eutaw Housing Authority Board and how to proceed with the merger of the city and county housing authorities.
Mayor Raymond Steele strenuously opposed the motion to advertise changes in the Alabama statute on the selection of members to a city housing authority. He said, “You are trying to take away powers given to me by the law, I am not trying to take away your powers as the City Council.”
Latasha Johnson replied that the purpose of her amendment was, “To share your role in appointing housing authority board members not to take away your authority.” She went on to say, “ In a way we are married for four years, the Council and you the Mayor and we need to learn how to work together.”
Councilman Joe Lee Powell said he was concerned that the mayor seemed to want to have “a dictatorship over the City Council.” Powell indicated that he was still concerned that the Mayor would not accept documents that he provided showing that Veronica James was incorrectly removed from the Eutaw Housing Authority Board and should be reinstated.
Mayor Steele complained that the City Council was retaliating against him by proposing to change the legislation to share the power of appointing the Eutaw Housing Authority Board. The Council then voted 4 to 2 to approve advertisement of the bill proposed by Latosha Johnson. The Mayor and Councilman Bennie Abrams voted against the motion.
Mayor Steele raised the issue of revisiting the rules and procedures for community groups to use the National Guard Armory for meetings, social events and fundraisers. The mayor said that he would like to discuss his concerns about improving and maintaining the facility at the next City Council work-session scheduled for next Tuesday, April 18. Councilman Powell reminded him that community groups charging admission or raising funds at activities using the National Guard Armory needed to come before the City Council if they were seeking a waiver of the rental fees.
Mayor Steele said the air conditioning and heating system in the building needed to be updated and other improvements made to the building. The Council agreed that a community group that had reserved the Armory for a music concert on April 15 could proceed with their event.
Council members said that they approved payment of the bills and claims but wanted a better reporting of funds and a budget against which to approve expenditures in future meetings.
Councilwoman Sheila Smith asked about the status of enforcement of the vicious dogs ordinance. Mayor Steele said the Eutaw police were issuing summonses for people to register their animals and to see if sufficient space was available to keep the animals in the city. If the owners were not complying with the ordinance then the police were taking action to correct the problems with stray and vicious dogs.
Valerie Watkins, a resident in whose house there was a sewage back up asked when the City was going to make the repairs to her home. Mayor Steele said that he was working on the claims with the City’s insurance agent and would be able to respond soon.
In the public comment sessions, several citizens rose and spook to urge the Mayor and City Council to work more closely together.
David Spencer distributed a written letter to the Mayor and City Council members concerning his allegations of voter fraud in the October 2016 Municipal Election Runoff.