Candidates for Statham mayor and an open city council seat were in agreement Monday, Oct. 14, that the city’s audits and the water supply are critical issues.
Three candidates for mayor and four for a special election for the vacant council seat of Eddie Jackson, who is one of the mayoral candidates, said completing the audits are the top priority so that the city can then apply for grants.
The Barrow County Chamber of Commerce sponsored the candidate forum, which went nearly an hour over its specified time.
More than 70 people attended the more than two-hour session at Statham Elementary School.
Candidates for mayor are Jackson, who touted himself as a businessman and native of Statham; Rudy Krause, who said he would bring extensive knowledge of infrastructure and who has lived in Statham for 32 years; and Joe Piper, who is “the new kid on the block,” having been in the city for three and a half years and who said he managed a branch office for a company for four years.
The council candidates are Tammy Crawley, who has been attending council meetings for months; Stephen Boughton, who said he was in banking for 40 years and has a background in municipal bonds; Scott Penn, a paramedic in Jackson County who said he has been in public service for years; and Tim Terilli, who said he has been active in Statham festivities for 20 years.
The city has missing audits from 2017, 2018 and 2019 that have not been completed and turned into the state. Statham also was late turning in the 2015 and 2016 audits. The 2019 audit will be late if it is not turned in by the end of the year.
The council recently hired a new auditing firm, Bates & Carter, of Gainesville.
Audits “should never be behind,” Crawley said at the beginning of the forum. All seven of the candidates quickly agreed.
“Our audits are behind and have been since I moved here,” Crawley said.
Boughton added the city has “just an awful image.” He added, “It is unimaginable to me not to have the audit done.”
Boughton echoed other candidates when he said unfinished audits mean the city does not know its financial position.
“We’ve got to know where we’re starting from,” Terilli said.
Krause said, “We all know” audits are a problem and he said some preparation for changes can be made while the audit work is being done.
“It all comes down to the audits,” Terilli said, but he added that city hall staff should balance the city’s books each month.
Jackson said the “lapses of reporting (for audits) will not happen on my watch.”
Piper pointed out the city is on the fiscal year 2020 budget and the 2017 audit is not done.
“It’s probably safe to say you out there (the audience) don’t work on your checkbook from three years ago.”
Only Jackson issued a warning about city finances. He cautioned that a difference exists between the city’s budget and the annual audits. The city cannot, and does not, spend more than it takes in, he said. He noted the city’s budget is balanced.
The candidates also agreed that water is a problem in Statham.
Crawley referred to water problems as “always” a concern. She said the questions have been “pushed off” into the future by past councils.
“We’re going to take care of that,” she said.
Terilli said the water quality “is questionable” and pointed out the water and sewer systems for the city are more than 60 years old.
Krause said the city cannot dredge its reservoir until “we have money coming in.”
The city’s reservoir has had algae problems for months and resolving it creates muddy water that sometimes smells. The algae is caused by warm water and the water rising to the top and going to people’s homes.
Krause said he knows where to get correct answers for the city’s water problems through his work experience and his contacts on a regional and state basis.
Piper said when city residents get services, such as water, they expect, and should get, quality service.
Customers are paying for the water service now and also buying bottled water for consumption, he said.
Jackson said Statham processes 75,000 gallons of water a day but is approved by the state for 200,000 gallons a day. That is a result of the algae problems.
Jackson also said the city’s water problems will be helped by colder weather and that the reservoir, which is very shallow, should be usable by November.
He said the city does not need a new water plant, but the existing one does “need some work.”
Piper said a leak in a hydrant on Broad Street has been reported to the city multiple times in the past months.
He said a “conservative” estimate of wasted water at the hydrant in the past seven months — since he reported it — is about 1.5 million gallons of waste, for which the city has paid.
The city council should be more “transparent,” candidates agreed. They said information should be available for citizens before votes are taken.
Terilli suggested “more time” between the city’s work session and voting session for the council. The work session is now held on the second Thursday of the month and the regular council meeting is the following Tuesday — three business days.
Piper said the council now has too many closed sessions.
Several candidates said the city should use its website to post information for citizens.
Only Jackson said he would support keeping the city’s police department. Terilli was the only candidate who said he would vote to turn the policing function over to the Barrow County Sheriff's Office.
The other candidates were more cautious, promising reviews of the personnel and procedures. Piper said the city police have “a stigma that needs to go away.” He said the council “should be up front” and that the police department is about one-third of the city’s budget.
Some candidates said Marc Lofton, who was sued over arrests he made, is no longer on the police force.
All the candidates supported the city being more “friendly” to golf cart use. Some said safety for golf cart riders and for pedestrians can be a question. Jackson said the city has issued 50 permits for golf carts since the council adopted an ordinance for it.