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City Council Part II: code enforcement, drainage, budget 

Updated: Nov 20, 2022

Adapted from Swainsboro City Council Minutes by Deanna Ryan

On Monday, November 7th at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall Mayor Greg Bennett, council members Gregory Quarterman, Bobbie Collins, Julian Sconyers, Johnny Ray Stafford, John E. Parker and David J. Davis III, along with city attorney Jon Levis and city administrator Melissa Kirby met to discuss two items of old business and eleven items of new business.

The first six items of the meeting were presented in last week’s paper. This article will cover the final seven.

Mayor Bennett turned the meeting over to Mayor Pro-Tem Collins due to a conflict of interest. Building Inspector Bruce Kirby presented a recommendation from planning and zoning to accept the final plat for the Crossroads Subdivision. Kirby stated that the only difference between this plat and the preliminary plat is the final plat has the right of way width of the road. Motion was accepted unanimously.

Building Inspector Bruce Kirby presented a recommendation to council to accept the road dedication for the city portion of Paris Avenue. Kirby stated the road has been put in and is to the city’s asphalt specs with 6 to 8 inches of crush-n-run. Councilperson Davis asked about drainage. Kirby stated with permanent vegetation the city would not have any problems. Councilperson Parker asked who would be responsible for the road? Kirby stated that once the road is accepted, the city would be responsible for maintenance of the road. City Attorney Jon Levis stated the county entered into an agreement with the developer and lender to wait for two years. He went over the agreement the county has regarding the subdivision and recommended the city have safeguards to protect against any damage or issues for whatever time the city deems reasonable and to avoid any cost from structural or construction issues. Levis stated there needs to be some provision where the city is not responsible. Councilperson Parker asked if the attorney could draft an agreement like the one that the county has. Councilperson Davis made a motion to mimic the county’s agreement and accept the road dedication. The motion passed unanimously.

Meeting was turned back over to Mayor Bennett.

Mr. Moses Archie, a local lawn repairman and veteran, addressed the council regarding the process of blight property code enforcement. He stated when he was first approached by the code enforcement officer, his wife had been sick. She has since passed. Mr. Archie stated the officer has been to his property multiple times regarding junk on his property. Veteran Richard Claxton stated he is concerned about the effect the ordinance citation process is having on Mr. Archie’s health because his blood pressure has been extremely high. The total amount of the fines Mr. Archie ended up paying over $800 for failing to have his property cleaned within a two year span. Lashon Corley stated the accumulation of junk ordinances affect a lot of elderly people in the area. Mr. Corley stated Mr. Archie was placed on probation after Mr. Corley and two others moved the stuff to the back of Mr. Archie’s property. They couldn’t understand why he was on probation when they thought the problem had been rectified. Mayor Bennett asked Police Chief Randy Ellison if this was an ongoing investigation. Chief Ellison stated it was, and that Mr. Corley came and talked with him regarding the matter. Chief Ellison stated Mr. Archie was going through things with his wife when he was first cited, and they put it on hold for a while. Chief Ellison stated the property today is nowhere near as bad of a nuisance as it was when they started this case and stated there were many cases in the area. City Attorney Levis advised based on the documentation he was provided a final ruling had been issued from the municipal court. Mayor Bennett stated the matter was not one the council could vote on, but a police matter. Chief Ellison said the police were enforcing the city ordinances in place. Councilperson Collins called upon the council to show heart while addressing ordinances that affect the elderly like they had Mr. Archie. Councilperson Parker made a motion to cease and desist with the enforcement of accumulation of junk until the council meets again. Councilperson Davis asked if this is residential or commercial? Councilperson Parker stated residential. City Attorney Levis stated the fine was issued by the municipal court, and he does not think that the city has the authority to stop the enforcement of the municipal court judge’s ruling. Levis asked council to recall the issue of the blighted property next to Mrs. Jacqueline Brantley’s property on Green Street that has yet to be resolved. Chief Ellison stated the 37 active cases that they have will be transferred to state court and prosecuted under state law. Council voted on Councilperson Parker’s motion. The motion passed four to two with Parker, Collins, Quarterman and Stafford voting for and Sconyers and Davis voting against.

Ms. Rita Faulkner addressed the council regarding the budget. Ms. Faulkner stated she was aware of two lawsuits the city had and asked if there were more lawsuits and how that affects the budget. City Attorney Levis stated there is a personal injury case that has been outstanding since 2018 and the city’s insurance company is handling that case. Levis stated the matter regarding the three council members that was filed in 2021 with regards to an injunction that is still an open and pending case. He also stated he believed the OMI case is still open and pending until paid in full. He concluded that off the top of his head those are the only three pending lawsuits the city has today. Ms. Faulkner asked if Mr. Lawson’s lawsuit had already been done. Levis stated that was a threat of litigation, and they resolved that with the council so that has not been filed but resolved prelitigation. Ms. Faulkner stated so he never filed a lawsuit. Levis stated that they threatened a lawsuit, and they provided a spoliation letter as well as some other documents requested in preparation for litigation.

Ms. Faulkner moved on to ask if the theater project and the Gumlog gym project were in this year’s budget. Mayor Bennett stated the attorney just finished looking at the contract and as soon as he makes the changes to the contract and the contractor agrees with the terms the city will set up a meeting with the contractor to obtain a cost so that the city can determine how much and where the funds will come from. Ms. Faulkner asked if it was in the budget. Mayor Bennett stated that there are parts of it in the budget. Ms. Faulkner stated that she was told that there were monies in the budget for the Robin Road project but when it came down to it, they had no monies in the budget. Ms. Faulkner stated that she did not want the Gumlog Gym to get lost in the sauce. Ms. Faulkner stated that she took a lot of time to get easements when there were no monies in the budget. Ms. Faulkner stated that was why she was here tonight. Councilperson Parker stated that he did not see anything budget wise for the gym or the theater. Mayor Bennett stated that some of the funds would come from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Councilperson Parker asked if you had to identify where you were going to spend that money with ARPA funds? City Attorney Levis stated that essentially ARPA had different categories and one of the categories was lost revenue. Lost revenue under ARPA allows the city to utilize funds in normal operating expenditures of the city; however, that money does have some restrictions on it. Levis stated if ARPA funds are used, the requirements must be stated in the contract. Councilperson Parker asked how the two projects could be funded if they were established prior to ARPA funds? Levis stated it is a prior debt, and that the city never executed the process and incurred the debt on these projects. Councilperson Parker stated that we have incurred some debt. Levis stated that ARPA is not paying for those incurred by service. Mayor Bennett stated we do not have any debt on those two projects. Ms. Faulkner again asked if there was going to be money in the budget for the gym and theater. Mayor Bennett advised there was about $375,000 from another governmental source going towards the theater. He also stated the city had about $485,000 from other sources. The council is trying to figure out the percentage of that can be spent on the theater for tourism. Mayor Bennett stated that is going to leave a balance of around $400,000 that may be pulled from ARPA for both projects. He acknowledged another governmental source that was going to donate around $150,000 for the gym project. Ms. Faulkner asked the council to make sure these two projects are funded.

Council considered the memorandum of understanding regarding the East Georgia Regional Airport. City Attorney Levis stated it was sent to Jerry Cadle and Mr. Cadle asked him to add in a provision that all airport income as well as the taxes be deposited into a segregated bank account to be used for the operation of the airport. Levis stated they are looking at doing this by the end of the year. Levis stated if council approved this it would be sent over to the county for approval. Councilperson Davis made a motion to approve the memorandum of understanding on the airport. The motion passed unanimously.

Council discussed the 2023 budget. Two budgets were presented: one with no increase on water, sewer, and residential garbage and another with a 3% increase on these items. City Clerk Kirby stated the budget with no increase had some items removed from the wastewater treatment plant, sewer and water repairs line items and these items could be paid out of ARPA funds. City Clerk Kirby also mentioned a 3% increase would result in an approximately $1.25 increase on a minimum monthly utility bill. Mayor Bennett stated that the council needs to decide which budget they want to proceed with for advertising. Councilperson Sconyers made a motion to advertise the 3% increase budget. Councilperson Davis seconded the motion. Vote was three to three. Mayor Bennett requested that the 2023 budget with no increase be advertised.

Mr. Matthew Bright, a resident dealing with a drainage issue on his property, stated citizens should not have to come to city hall and pay a fee to obtain information regarding the progress on the drainage issues on Robin Road and other roads. Mr. Bright asked for an update from the council on his drainage issue. City Clerk Kirby stated the engineer has been out to view all three drainage issues and that council members were sent an email with updates from the engineers. Councilman Davis asked if the email reached all council members. It was confirmed that it did. Davis asked, “Who’s district is Mr. Bright in?” and later, “Why did no one reach out to him from his district?” Comments were made about the council informing constituents. Councilperson Quarterman stated, “I was home that Monday when the engineer was supposed to come by. My house is here.” He placed his hand close to him. “His truck was here.” Quarterman placed his hand further away. “The damage is in the back of the house. He never got out. So how can he say what was going on?” Councilperson Collins stated there are some other drainage problems in the DeAlva area. Mayor Bennett stated that he has already spoken with Chris Morton regarding the issue. A future workshop was proposed to discuss drainage issues.

Councilperson Sconyers discussed Wreaths Across America and stated the local veterans working with the national organization will put wreaths on veterans’ graves during a ceremony on December 17th. He mentioned the community has raised approximately $22,000 and purchased 800 wreaths to place on graves in Emanuel County with the majority in the city cemetery. He requested that anyone knowing of unmarked veteran graves to please let the group know so they can place a wreath on it the morning of the ceremony. Councilperson Sconyers advised the shelter at the cemetery had been damaged and requested it be repaired prior to the event and that the cemetery and park be cleaned prior to the event. Councilperson Parker asked why the damage had not already been repaired. City Clerk Kirby stated the city received a quote and submitted to the offender’s insurance for payment. The insurance company requested an itemized quote which the first contractor never provided. The city has reached out to another contractor and received another quote that has been provided to the insurance company. The city is currently waiting on a response from the insurance company’s adjuster. Councilperson Sconyers made a motion to proceed with repairing the structure and seek payment from the offender’s insurance company or directly from the offender. The motion passed unanimously.

Fire Chief Strobridge presented council with a check for $609,490.06 for the annual insurance premium payment that the city receives annually. Police Chief Randy Ellison stated that this year he and City Administrator Kirby applied for the grant through the Department of Justice and presented the council with a COPS hiring grant check for $316,653.

Councilperson Collins congratulated the Swainsboro High School football team for being region champs. Councilperson Sconyers made a motion to go into executive session.

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