The subject of pay in lieu of insurance for city employees was a much-discussed topic at a special called meeting of the Mayor and City Council on Monday, March 17. Councilperson Parker reminded Council that the insurance had been handled in the same manner it is being handled now for 25 years. Parker asked if an open records request had been submitted to the city from Crossroads Chronicle regarding pay in lieu of insurance for the mayor and council. Parker also questioned how city employees could continue to receive the pay in lieu of insurance and the council not. Parker then asked Mayor Bennett if it was common practice that every elected official take it except for him, upon which Mayor Bennett replied that he has not taken any salary, insurance, or reimbursements.
Councilperson Sconyers asked the city clerk to provide the cost difference between employees taking the insurance versus taking pay in lieu of insurance, and the city clerk responded that there was no cost difference to the city. Mayor Bennett stated that the city is looking into a company to perform a salary study for the city employees. Councilperson Parker requested that the city cease and desist until it was found in previous minutes that a city employee can get compensation in lieu of insurance. Councilperson Stafford stated that the council voted to give all elected officials and employees health insurance, and city attorney, Jon Levis, stated that every single member present had a copy of the minutes in 2001 where health insurance was extended to every single councilmember. Levis stated that, in 1999, Councilperson Stafford brought up offering payments in lieu of insurance for employees, and Councilperson Sconyers motioned to put off any change in insurance until October for any city employees. The motion passed 3-3 with Mayor Bennett breaking the tie.
Councilperson Parker also discussed the charter regulations, specifically the code of ethics regarding financial interest. Councilperson Parker stated that it is a conflict of interest for Mayor Bennett to have anything to do with issues regarding Crossroads property (also known as Crossroads Landing subdivision), when it comes to his position as mayor, due to his financial interest in the project. Parker also stated that when the mayor or any members of council have any interest in an agenda item, they must leave until the item has been voted or a decision has been made. Parker stated that Mayor Bennett violated this when the vote was made on the Crossroads property, and city attorney, Jon Levis, stated that if there is an issue, then an ethics violation can be filed following the proper procedure. Parker stated that he has requested to know who is on the ethics committee and has yet to receive an answer. Mayor Bennett stated that he would have a committee by next meeting.
In additional council business:
•Council once again discussed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and SPLOST funds. Mayor Greg Bennett told Council they were still waiting on bids to come in on the theater and gym projects. Councilperson John Parker asked if SPLOST funds could be used to pay for these two projects. Attorney Jon Levis explained that these funds could only be used if the project was voted upon by the citizens.
•Following a motion to amend the agenda to discuss the purchase of a tractor for the public works department, Mayor Bennett presented three quotes from Clearwater as follows: J&B Tractor, $56,800.00; Mid-State Tractor, $61,565.00; Blanchard Equipment, $61,000.00. Council considered the bids and opted to purchase the tractor from Blanchard Equipment due to the October 2022 delivery date of the J&B Tractor. Councilperson Stafford made a motion to purchase the tractor from Blanchard Equipment with SPLOST monies. The motion passed 6-0.
•Councilperson Parker inquired about a forensic audit. Councilperson Stafford stated that this had been looked into and there was no target for this type of audit. Councilperson D.J. Davis informed the group that he had checked with GMA Auditors regarding a forensic audit and was told if the audit was done, the city would be ineligible for any federal or state funding. Mayor Bennett informed council that the city is audited every year. “We have an audit going on right now,” stated Stafford. Councilperson Bobbie Collins told council she was not accusing anyone of anything but citizens in her district kept asking about the misuse of funds. Mayor Bennett explained that you could not have a forensic audit without accusing someone. “Do you know what that would cost the city to do a forensic audit for the last 25 years? This would shut down every grant the city has…the water tower grant, the ARPA money, all that’s gone if we do that,” said Mayor Bennett. Councilperson Sconyers made a motion to appoint Councilperson Collins to use the $40,000 that was budgeted in a prior year to get a forensic audit for 25 years on the former city administrator. Mayor Bennett informed Council that there were no funds appropriated for a forensic audit in this year’s budget. Councilperson Sconyers withdrew his motion due to lack of funding in this year’s budget.
•Councilperson Sconyers made a motion to adjourn the meeting. Councilpersons Sconyers, Stafford and Davis voted in the affirmative, and Parker, Quarterman and Collins voted against. Mayor Bennett broke the tie and the motion passed.
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