The Swainsboro City Council held their regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, January 10. The meeting opened with prayer by Rev. Jonathan Hampton of Life Application Ministries, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance. Councilman Johnny Ray Stafford was not present.
Minutes from the December 5 meeting were brought to the table for approval. Councilperson Bobbie Collins requested the minutes be amended regarding the increase in Council’s pay. The December vote was to increase Council’s pay to $800 monthly beginning in January and passed 6-0. However, Collins stated she wanted the minutes to say she voted ‘no’. “My vote was counted as a yes but I would like for my vote to be no now. It was carried before I could vote. I didn’t vote and I didn’t abstain. I was counted as a yes. Now I want it to be no,” said Collins. After much discussion, Council amended the minutes to say 5-0, with Collins abstaining. The vote to amend the minutes was 4-1, with Collins voting no.
The next order of business was the recommendation from the Downtown Development Authority Board to hire Melissa Kirby as the new DDA Director. Anna Gambrell, newly elected Chair on the DDA Board, made the recommendation to Council to hire Kirby. Councilman John Parker questioned Gambrell regarding how many board members voted, how many applicants there were, the level of education required and what the by-laws state. “At the time of the vote, we only had one other applicant and we felt that she wasn’t qualified because she was fresh out of college,” stated Gambrell. Parker continued to question Gambrell about the number of applicants, with Gambrell explaining again that there was only one other applicant when the vote by the DDA Board was made. Gambrell informed Council that the city would lose the Main Street 101 Designation if the position is not filled by January 25. According to Gambrell, Kirby has been working with the DDA Board for months to keep the Main Street Designation.
Mayor Bennett reminded Parker that Council voted 6-0 at the December meeting to hire Kirby. The minutes of the December 5 meeting read as follows: Councilperson Davis made a motion to recommend to the DDA the hiring of Melissa Kirby as the DDA Director at the DDA rate of pay. Ms. Kirby will also serve as the Assistant City Clerk and the difference in the rate of pay of the Assistant City Clerk position will be funded out of the administrative budget. Ms. Kirby has agreed to provide on call and emergency assistance to the City Clerk as needed. Motion by: DavisSeconded: Collins Vote: 6-0.
Mayor Bennett called for a vote with Councilmen Julian Sconyers and D.J. Davis, voting yes and Collins, Councilman Greg Quarterman, and Parker voting no.
Following the vote, Kirby left the meeting. Before leaving she reminded everyone that over the years there had been many transfers in departments.
“So just to be clear, ya’ll voted to lose the Main Street 101 Designation,” said Davis.
Council discussed scheduling interviews for City Administrator. “It is my understanding we have five applicants. Apparently, we need to interview real soon because apparently, we don’t have an administrator. I would like to interview all five people and I would like the whole council to be at the interviews,” said Bennett. Attorney Jon Levis reminded the mayor and council that there were applicants from out of state and that would take some time to get them here. Mayor Bennett informed Council that he would contact the applicants and set a date and time.
Council approved the game room application for Dirghayu V Patel dba Sarvi Enterprise LLC located at 202 East Main Street. 5-0
Council approved the game room application for Shaishav Patel dba A & D Mart LLC located at 504 East Main Street. 5-0
Mayor Bennett asked Council to consider hiring a contractor to perform a topographical survey of the Yam Grande Creek area regarding the drainage issues. Sconyers stated that he had a topographical map and would give them to the city at no charge.
Matthew Bright once again addressed the council regarding the drainage issues on Brown Street.
Council discussed a resolution regarding de-annexation of land at the airport subject to local legislation by the Georgia General Assembly. Attorney Jon Levis updated Council on the progress of the project, explaining that the paperwork should be ready this week and if not, next week.
Reverend Jonathan Hampton addressed council regarding the NAACP commemoration program.
Shayna Boston, a Bicentennial Committee Member, asked everyone to wear red for ‘Wear Red Day’ on February 3 to bring awareness to heart health.
Council considered for advertisement the alcohol license application of Niranhan A. Patel dba H.K. Bottle Shop located at 414 South Main Street Suite A-6 (next to the Tobacco & Vape Shop near Wal-Mart) for wine, alcohol, and liquor. Councilperson Parker questioned the distance between the front doors of Suite A-6 and the Calvary United Methodist Church. Attorney Levis said that the state requires a minimum distance of 100 yards to issue a license. Mayor Bennett advised the applicant to get a surveyor to measure the distance. Mayor Bennett and Councilperson Davis recommended that the city building inspector also confirm the distance. As these requirements are not applicable at the advertisement stage of the process, Councilperson Parker made a motion to approve the advertisement of the application. The motion passed 4-1, with Davis against.
Council approved the request from Fire Chief Mike Strobridge to get Ladder #7 repaired. The cost will be $6,441.82 and will be paid for with general funds.
Council unanimously approved the request by Chief Randy Ellison for a new police cruiser. Council approved the purchase of a Dodge Charger at a cost of $39,500 to be paid with SPLOST funds.
Due to illness, Chris Morton was not available to discuss the following agenda items: the Georgia Department of Public Health Drinking Water Fluoridation Award to the city; the 2022 Repairs and Maintenance account refund check to the city.; quotes for a lease with purchase option for a backhoe. These items were tabled until the next council meeting.
The intergovernmental agreement with Emanuel County for election services was approved unanimously. Total cost will be $9,600. This includes the Primary, General and Run-off elections.
LMIG Projects for Sepia Street, Ben Street and Victory Drive were approved 5-0. Total cost for the project will be approximately$169,500. Available LMIG funds for this project are $139,691.57 and the budgeted city portion is $13,969.16. Mayor Bennett recommended to council to find the additional funds somewhere to complete the entire streets.
The upcoming CDBG application was tabled until the next meeting due to the lack of information council had on the project. Parker questioned the deadline for the project. Mayor Bennett explained that they did not have the information and Administrator Kirby had left so he would have to look into it and get back with council.
Council considered the Stormwater Management Extent of Service Policy, as written by Roberts Civil Engineering. City Attorney Levis informed Council that if the city implemented the policy, changes may have to be made to the zoning policy and other existing policies. For that reason, Attorney Levis did not recommend that the Stormwater Management Extent of Service Policy be signed in the form it is in. In its current form, the policy in question is a well-written policy but not specifically catered to the city. Attorney Levis said he would revise the policy to match the city’s circumstances, and submit it to the city for consideration.
Council approved the reallocation of funds for the building inspector. In last month’s meeting, council approved the purchase of a truck for Building Inspector Bruce Kirby at the price of $46,000 through the American Rescue Plan. Funds will now be allocated to pay for the truck through the city and Kirby’s salary will be paid through ARPA.
The next order of business was nominations for Mayor Pro-tem. Mayor Bennett called for nominations and received four nominations - Johnny Ray Stafford, Greg Quarterman and D.J. Davis declined. John Parker encouraged Collins to decline the position. The motion passed 3-2. After Collins accepted the nomination, Parker seemed very unhappy with her decision and went into the crowd of guests and said, ‘I’ll be “?$&!.”
Mayor Bennett made committee assignments for 2023. He added the oversight of the Fire Department to the Finance committee. The Finance/Fire Department Committee for 2023 will comprise of Councilpersons Stafford, Davis, and Parker. The Water and Sewer Committee will comprise of Councilpersons Sconyers, Quarterman and Collins. The Parks and Cemetery Committee will comprise of Councilpersons Stafford, Davis, and Parker. The Streets and Sanitation/Police Department and Animal Control Committee will comprise of Councilpersons Sconyers, Quarterman and Collins.
Before going into executive session, Davis made a motion to amend the agenda to add a discussion of the nomination of an interim city administrator. The motion passed 5-0. Parker made a motion to nominate Chu Lin Ooi as the Interim City Administrator.