The Statham City Council meeting devolved into a talking-over-each-other free-for-all for a few minutes Tuesday, Sept. 17.
The subject was the “relocation of the Statham Police Department.”
The council voted 3-1 to move the city offices to a house the city purchased at 1921 Broad St., adjacent to city hall, and move the police department to city hall. Council member Dwight McCormic cast the dissenting vote.
The issue arose because the Statham Public Library received a grant to expand the library in the spring. It was reported the city has until Dec. 1 to move the police department. In May, Mayor Robert Bridges told the council the house was nearly ready for occupancy.
In making the motion, council member Betty Lyle said she was going back to the “original” plan. After the motion passed, McCormic objected to the vote and said the city denied a “woman’s request to do business at that location.”
A number of people in the audience raised questions. Some asked permission to speak; others just spoke up with comments and questions.
The council voted at a called meeting Thursday, Sept. 12, to cancel a planned auction of the 1921 Broad St. house. The council had advertised the sale in August.
The council never voted to auction the house. The action was not discussed publicly.
The motion to cancel the auction was made by McCormic after a brief closed session of the council. Part of his motion also was to remove the sign from in front of the house.
The house, 1921 Broad St., was bought for $65,000 and has had extensive work done on it since. An appraisal done by a Winder appraiser in July said the house is worth about $135,000.
The city advertised an auction of the house for noon Sept. 28. Eddie Jackson said after the council meeting Sept. 12 that a minimum bid of $145,000 had been set.
When the house was purchased, it was in poor condition. City employees and inmates from a state prison have worked on the house since.
The auction, the house nor a minimum price has been discussed publicly in a council meeting.
The subject was on the Sept. 12 agenda. City attorney Thomas Mitchell said “some desire” had been expressed by some council members for an auction.
Council member Perry Barton suggested the topic would be better in a closed session. Council member Dwight McCormic asked if the session had to be closed.
The council adjourned for a closed session that lasted about nine minutes.
McCormic then made a motion to cancel an auction and remove the sign from in front of the house, which advertised it.
Jackson objected to the council’s closed session Sept. 12 and to the council not discussing moving city hall.
At one point, Barton said an item was not on the agenda and should not be taken up. A man in the audience challenged him because he said moving city hall was not on the agenda. Barton said moving the police department into city hall raises the question of what happens to city hall.
McCormic said he was “blindsided” by the moving of city hall. He called for a public forum on the subject to hear from residents and discuss it. He said the city does not have a plan to renovate city hall for the police or to ready the house on Broad Street for city offices.
Rudy Krause, who is running for mayor, asked if the council had discussed security at the house. He pointed out the employees in the city hall building have “lockable” doors. Security is an issue for government offices and schools, it was noted.
“Three months ago, you all were in favor of selling the house,” Jackson said. “I was told it was postponed.”
Jackson said during the closed session Sept. 12 that council “had approved” the auction. He repeated that assertion when asked after the meeting.
However, Jackson would not go beyond that, saying he signed a nondisclosure agreement about closed sessions. Jackson would not say that council members voted on an auction.
LOOK AT OPTIONS
Cheryl Venable, wife of Gary Venable, who will be a new council member, said the council should look at all of its options before making a decision.
Gary Venable asked about cost projections for any move of the police department.
Barton told her, “We’ve actually discussed everything” she raised as a point of discussion. The council has had no public discussion about the house or its potential uses.
Bridges commented the council can do what it wants. He said he will not be there. His term ends at the end of the year and Bridges is not running again.
During the discussion, Bridges said the house could be a temporary solution and city hall could be moved elsewhere.
McCormic noted the council has several options for moving the police. He listed renovating the former planning and zoning building, using a building on Furr Lane in Robert Bridges Park or renting an empty building in the town.
No discussion was held on the next steps to take.
In other business, the council:
•passed the second reading of an amendment to the town’s home rule charter that provides for a planning director. That function is now being done by a contractor, Bureau Veritas.
•passed the second reading of an ordinance that provides for city notification of “small cells” for phones, cable TV or other electronic uses to be placed in the rights-of-way for utilities and the city. The state legislature passed a bill that allows the new technology to be placed on poles or towers without city permission or permitting.
•discussed for several minutes questions raised by the tree committee about a form property owners are asked to sign, about stumps to be ground up and about refurbishing some crosswalks downtown.