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Sergent now chairman of Commerce BOE

Paul Sergent, veteran Commerce Board of Education member, was elected chairman of the board Monday night, Jan. 13. Sergent was chairman before for “two or three years.”

He has been on the board since 2002. He is a physician in Commerce.

Two BOE incumbents, including the chairman, were defeated in the November election.

Nathan Anderson was elected vice chairman.

Sergent represents District 5. He won re-election in November by six votes, 71-65.

Incumbents Rodney Gary and Bill Davis lost their elections. Kyle Moore, a past BOE member, and Knox Smith were elected in Districts 4 and 3, respectively.

In the only business of the board, Smith proposed that the board meetings be moved from the second to the third Monday of the month.

It came up during the board’s look at meetings scheduled in 2020. Smith said the change would put more distance between the work session and the board meeting. He said board members could do research on issues if needed.

Smith said it also would give the public “more than four days” to register comments if an issue generated those.

Sergent said issues now could be tabled for a month if needed.

The list of meetings for the year were not approved. The list was left until the February meeting. The meetings will be held Thursday, Feb. 6, and Monday, Feb. 10.

Superintendent Joy Tolbert reported the district ELOST – education local option sales tax – fund is about $1.996 million. She said the balance at the beginning of January was a bit more than $2 million. The big deposit for the month was $149,000. The district paid $190,000 as part of its ABM Solutions contract for energy conservation.

Tolbert also recommended, and it was approved, that the Gainesville firm of Harben, Hartley and Hawkins continue legal representation of the board. The firm of Hulsey, Oliver and Mahar was recommended as legal “backup” in case of a conflict for Harben, Hartley and Hawkins.

It is the first time Tolbert has recommended two firms. Harben, Hartley and Hawkins represent about two-thirds of the school boards in the state, including the Georgia School Boards Association.

Hoschton council 'on vacation'

And then there were — just — two.

With only two sitting members left, the Hoschton City Council's ability to hold votes and conduct business will be on ice until April.

Although the council had a meeting slated for Jan. 13 — and did a preliminary call to order with a roll call, a prayer and the pledge to the flag — the council couldn't hold an official meeting to discuss or transact business since it no longer has a quorum of members.

Following last week's resignation of council member Hope Weeks, who qualified to run for mayor and had to relinquish her council seat to do so, only two members of the council are left — Shantwon Astin and Adam Ledbetter. (See other story for city election updates.)

City attorney Thomas Mitchell told the small crowd of citizens that without a quorum, the city can't do business and that the meeting "fails for the lack of a quorum."

If there is some kind of major emergency before the March election to fill two empty council seats, Mitchell said the city would have to go back to court and seek a solution that would allow just two council members to vote. The town had previously gotten court clearance to hold votes with three members, but without a mayor following the resignation of Theresa Kenerly in December.

Saying there would likely not be any meetings until April, mayor pro tem Ledbetter joked that the next three months would be "a vacation for everyone."

Ledbetter and Astin did take some comments and questions from citizens on Jan. 13, including a comment from planning and zoning board member Jan Gailey who questioned why Ledbetter had attended the Jan. 10 meeting of the city's planning and zoning board, saying that was improper.

Ledbetter said he had never attended a planning board meeting before and wanted to see how it operates. Mitchell said it wasn't improper for Ledbetter to attend the meeting.


While the council may not be able to meet for a few months, it did anticipate the problem and last week, adopted a tentative spending plan that will allow the town to function financially without an official council vote.

In a called meeting Jan. 9, before Weeks resigned her position on Jan. 10, the council approved a resolution and a spending policy plan that raises the threshold of spending limits that won't require council approval.

In the past, any spending above $2,500 by the city that fell outside the budget required council action. But that would tie the hands of the city today in an emergency, or an immediate need.

The new system drafted by the town's lawyer and financial consultants would require bids and council member approval set at various thresholds, but won't require a city council vote. The new system would allow the town to respond to immediate needs, but still have bids and informal consent of council members.


Several actions were tabled by the council Jan. 9 and could be on hold until April.

The council had hoped to appoint a city court judge to hear code violation citations, but ultimately tabled action following a lengthy discussion. The city has not had a municipal judge in several years, a situation that prevents enforcement of city code violations.

Two people have submitted resumes to be named city court judge — Dennis Still, who is city court judge for the City of Lawrenceville, and Eric Crawford who is chairman of the Jackson County Board of Elections.

There was some discussion as to whether or not Crawford could legally serve as municipal judge while also serving as elections board chairman. City attorney Mitchell said he was "85 percent sure" that Crawford could do both. The BOE's bylaws only prevent board members from holding elective office, but not appointed offices.

Weeks said Still's rate would be $175 per hour with a $350 minimum per court session while Crawford's rate would be $100 per hour with no minimum.

Ledbetter made a motion to table action on the matter. Astin agreed to second the motion to table action after learning that the city would have to also hire a court clerk.

The council also tabled action on appointing a citizens' advisory committee, a project spearheaded by Astin. He said the council was still researching how to set up such a council and exactly what it would do.

The council also took no action on appointing members to the city's ethics commission after learning that Ledbetter, acting as mayor pro tem, could proceed with that on his own. Ledbetter will appoint three people to a committee and those three people will create a pool of six citizens who can be called on to hear city ethics complaints.


In routine action Jan. 9, the council:

• agreed to get estimates on fixing a broken sidewalk due to tree roots in the Village of Hoschton subdivision. The trees, road and sidewalks are on city right-of-way and have been an ongoing problem. Residents in the subdivision said they would like to keep trees along the streets, but the roots are causing damage. Some council members said they would attend the next HOA meeting in the neighborhood to further discuss a longer term solution.

• approved spending up to $10,000 to update the city's online municipal codes.

• approved 10 city events for 2020.

• approved allowing American Street Rodders the use of the city square on the third Saturday of each month April through October.

• approved allowing the Hoschton Heritage Arts Council to use the train depot for three dates in 2020.

Hoschton mayor, council races contested

The upcoming March 24 special elections to fill the unexpired seats of Hoschton mayor Theresa Kenerly and councilman Jim Cleveland will both be contested.

Hope Weeks and Shannon Sell qualified for the Hoschton mayor’s seat during qualifying last week. Weeks, who has served on the council since 2018, had to resign her seat on the Hoschton City Council since she is seeking the mayor position. That leaves the city council inoperable until the March 24 election since only two council members remain (see related story).

Meanwhile, the election to fill Cleveland’s seat will also be a contested race, with Raphael Mayberry facing James Lawson.

Jefferson mayor wants stronger communication through city’s webpage, social media

Jefferson mayor Steve Quinn wants to increase the city’s web and social media presence and recommends the hiring of a part-time employee to make that happen.

Quinn proposed the position — which he termed a “citizen liaison to the council” — to the Jefferson City Council at its Jan. 13 meeting. The position will be voted on Jan. 27.

He proposes a 20-hour-per-week, $20,000 a year position with no benefits. The employee would work remotely. The mayor, in a memo to the council, said the employee would help city manager Priscilla Murphy “facilitate some of the needs of the council.”

One of the major duties would be disseminating city information through frequent updates of its webpage and through social media. Quinn said he would want a person proficient with social media to fill position.

“We, right now, don’t have a social media presence from city hall that we can put out and let citizens know what we’re doing,” he said.

Tasks would also include attending some county and non-profit events and reporting to the council.

“This position would be proactive about going out and talking to the non-profits, to the schools, the county, other cities about what events are going on and keep the council updated on current events so to speak,” Quinn said.

Quinn expressed concerns that the city’s webpage is rarely up-to-date, noting that it still displays information regarding Thanksgiving events. As for social media, the mayor pointed to a younger demographic moving into Jefferson that would likely stay more abreast of city issues and events through that platform.

Councilman Steve Kinney asked if someone already within the city staff could perform these duties, but councilman Mark Mobley was in favor of creating a new position. Mobley said his support of a new hire is not an indictment of the city staff, but rather a desire to not “drown” already busy city staffers with those responsibilities.

“To me, it makes sense to add another position,” Mobley said. “I don’t know if it’s 20 hours a week, but it does make sense to add another position.”

Councilman Malcolm Gramley disagreed, saying he didn’t see any responsibilities that couldn’t be handled in-house. He said the duties could be assigned to the city clerk. A new hire, Gramley said, “seems to me to be a waste of time and money.”

Murphy said she was unaware of the high priority and need for this position, noting that it wasn’t discussed during 2020 budget meetings. She said she could assign these duties to city staff, saving that money to go toward an additional police officer, which she believed had been the council’s priority.

Gramley asked Quinn if he’d involved Murphy with this, and the mayor said he had not. Quinn said he sought to expedite the process.

“I’ve been asking for six years for this stuff, and to tell you the truth, Malcolm, I’m tired of asking for it,” Quinn said. “If we want to get to brass tax, I’m tired of saying these things need to be done, and they’re not getting done … The first year of being mayor, I stepped back and I watched and learned and I listened. The second year, I tried to work with staff on getting things done.

“This year, things are going to get done. And if I’ve got to do it myself by bringing it to the council, that’s what I’m going to do.”

New councilman Clint Roberts said circulating information via social media has its value. He said he did not want these responsibilities to be merely a side job for someone on the city’s staff.

“If there’s someone on the city staff that can manage it, that’s great … Because if it’s somebody’s side job, it doesn’t get the priority that we think it really needs,” he said.

Kinney said he had reservations about designating this as a work-from-home position, contending that an in-office role provides more accountability.

Quinn, who said he’s worked remotely in his job since 1998, said making this a strictly in-office position could potentially reduce the candidate pool, saying that a stay-at-home parent might be suited for the job. He added that making this a remote position would save the city the cost of creating an office space.

Mobley said changes in the way the city communicates are needed.

“There came a point in every city’s history … where they said, ‘We need to communicate better,’” Mobley said. “I think that we’re at that point.”

In other news, the council:

•voted 5-0 to draft a resolution opposing house bill 302. Quinn said the bill would remove some local control for design standards and requirements. “For them to tell us or other cities that we can’t control what our citizens would like to see in our own community, I think is something we should oppose loudly,” he said.

•was presented with alternative siding options for the Jefferson Downs and Jefferson Trail subdivisions. City planner Jerry Weitz said the council could either agree that the craftsman-style siding (which is mostly positioned vertically) fits the zoning conditions or change the zoning conditions if it wished.

•reviewed an intergovernmental agreement with Jackson County for soil erosion, sedimentation and pollution control plans.

•was presented with budget adjustments for sound equipment at the recreation department, helmets for the fire department and matching grant money for designs for improvements to the Roosevelt Theater.

•reviewed both a statewide mutual aid and assistance agreement and Jackson County’s hazard mitigation plan.

•announced that Roberts, the newly-elected councilman of District 5, is scheduled to serve as the new mayor pro-tem. The duties are rotated each year between district.

Madison County asks Jackson for water

Madison County is asking the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority for water — and a 30-year agreement to boot.

Authority manager Eric Klerk said the request is a big decision because if approved, it would be the first time the county would provide water outside of the four member counties of the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority.

During a meeting held Jan. 9, the board reviewed Madison County's request. Klerk said other members of the UOBWA — Clark, Oconee and Barrow counties — would have first right of refusal before the authority agreed to sell to Madison County, which isn't part of the UOBWA.

The request for water came from Sen. Frank Ginn, who also serves as the executive director of the Madison County Industrial Development Authority.

Ginn requested the authority consider going outside the standard three-year water sale agreement and instead enter into a 30-year agreement at a cost of $2.30 per thousand gallons.

Ginn was apparently under the impression that the amount is what Braselton currently pays for water. But Klerk said that is old data and under the current agreement, Braselton is paying closer to $3.00 per thousand gallons.

Klerk said if the authority were to agree to sell water to Madison County, staff would recommend an assessment of a $7,000 minimum monthly fee to help offset the cost, estimated at $225,000, that would be incurred to run 2,200 feet of line to make the connection.

Ginn said the expense to Madison County would be significantly higher than the cost to the authority due to the amount of line needed to meet the authority connection and an agreement of more than three years would be needed in order to recoup that expense.

“I think 30 years is a lot to ask, particularly since Braselton, Commerce and Jefferson are getting three (years,)” said board member Pat Bell. “This authority, and my job here, is to protect the water in this county for the people in this county.”

No action was taken by the board, but authority chairman Dylan Wilbanks said he would like for the board to continue conversations with Madison County.


In other business, the authority:

• approved a conditional availability letter for a proposed residential project to be constructed south of Nicholson along Chandler Bridge Rd. The project is in the preliminary stage and an official design and layout has not been determined. Klerk said the request is not the usual application for water and sewer services. “In order to get sewer for this project, we need a sewage treatment plant in the area of the development,” Klerk said. In 2006, the authority adopted a policy to allow a developer to construct a treatment facility in lieu of payment for sewer connection fees. In this case, the connection fees would be around $2 million. The developer will be required to construct the treatment plant and obtain the required discharge permits. Ownership and operation would then be turned over to the authority. Klerk said the benefit of the authority accepting the treatment plant would be to establish a presence in the southern part of the county. Preliminary design of the project calls for cluster housing, totaling 300 to 400 units, around an existing lake; construction of a golf course and layout for residential farm land. The authority approved a conditional availability letter for the proposed project, which the developer will take to the county to work on zoning and county regulations. Board member Pat Bell voted against the request.

• approved a water sales agreement with the City of Commerce. The agreement will allow Commerce to purchase or sell water to the authority, on an as needed basis, up to 750,000 gallons of water per day from each of two separate locations, with a total not to exceed 1.5 million gallons per day. In turn, the authority agrees to the same arrangement to sell or purchase water from Commerce. According to Klerk, it is estimated the new SK Battery facility will require two million gallons of water per day and the current amount required by the Commerce water customer base is equal to this amount. If Commerce reached a point of purchasing 1.5 million gallons of water per day, fire flow and system pressures could continue to be maintained as well as keeping storage tanks at capacity. “They (Commerce) are looking for a replacement and they don’t want to stretch themselves thin while keeping in mind any future growth,” Klerk said.

• voted to reappoint Dylan Wilbanks as chairman of the board; Judy Smith as treasurer and Karen Johnson as secretary. Upon the recommendation by current vice chairman Pat Bell, Christopher Nichols was appointed vice chairman.

• approved a request from Sterling Residential LLC, Mark Rudolph, developer, to provide water to Hickory Flat. The development will be located on Brockton Rd. and will consist of 25 single family homes.

• accepted a bid from Universal Underground Utility Contractors to replace water lines in the Pleasant Acres development. With the approved bid of $1.49 million, this will bring the total project cost, including contingencies, design, replacement of meters and purchase of the system, to a little over $2 million.

MLK dinner, community service projects planned

A dinner and day of community service projects are planned in observation of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

A celebration dinner is planned for Saturday, Jan. 18, at the Commerce Civic Center at 6 p.m. The event will feature speakers, live musical acts and a catered meal.

The MLK Day of Service Steering Committee has selected seven service sites to host Jackson County's Inaugural Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service on Jan. 20. These service projects include beautification, painting, repairs, landscaping and light construction at the following county locations: West Jackson Elementary School, Gum Springs Elementary School, The Tree House, Commerce, East Jackson Comprehensive High School, Off the Chain, North Jackson Elementary School and Maysville Elementary School.

Volunteers may find more details and sign up online at https://givepul.se/turg9z.

The effort is also looking for sponsorships from local businesses and individual donations to cover the costs of supplies and materials, T-shirts and miscellaneous expenses.

For more information, contact Melody Herrington at jcmlkdayofservice@gmail.com or on Facebook.