The Statham City Council unanimously eliminated the position of city administrator and hired a new police chief at a called meeting Friday night, Jan. 3.
The council met with two new members, including a new mayor, who recommended both actions. The council held about a 20-minute closed session before the actions.
The council also elected Dwight McCormic the vice-mayor on a 3-2 vote. That vote was done by secret ballot. According to the state's open meetings law, that was an illegal vote. Secret ballots are not allowed under that law.
MainStreet Newspapers registered a complaint with Mayor Joe Piper and copied new council members, McCormic and city attorney Thomas Mitchell and asked that the vote be re-done publicly.
Joe Piper, the new mayor who took the oath of office Thursday morning, Jan. 2, recommended the elimination of the administrator position and Ira Underwood, a sergeant for the Auburn Police Department, as the new police chief.
Mai Chang, who was the city administrator, was not at the meeting. She was named administrator in early 2019 by former Mayor Robert Bridges after Michelle Irizarry, who had been the administrator for about a year, took another job. Chang was the Statham city clerk for about two years prior to being named administrator.
Allan Johnston had been the Statham police chief. He resigned that position in December and Officer John Wood, who was the assistant, turned down the head position after the council rejected a proposal to give him a year’s contract and guarantee him six months' salary if he were fired from the job without cause.
The council also agreed to take bids on converting the current city hall to administrative offices and the police department so that the Statham Public Library can be expanded. The library has a grant for expansion and is supposed to start that work April 1.
Piper said the city had one bid from "the previous administration." The bid was from Tarpley Construction.
The council agreed to take bids after Piper said the city only had the one bid and several people in the audience questioned the process.
Mike Holcomb, who said he has been a home builder and renovated numerous projects, including the Statham police department, said the work would only take a few days and could be done much more cheaply.
Holcomb said during the closed session that he would bid on the project, but he said it should include exactly what the council needs to be done.
Holcomb and another man said the area for the police department would need to be sealed off from the remainder of the building, including to the roof of the building, for security purposes.
City hall now has a drop-ceiling in the building and space is above the ceiling. Piper agreed that only the police should have access to its offices.
A rough drawing – that was Piper's characterization – accompanied the bid.
Piper said he recommended the single bid because of the time crunch.
"We're going to have to make a change on where we're going to have our police department," Piper said.
Council members Betty Lyle and Hattie Thrasher complained about the process. Lyle said she was "not given anything about it (the move)." Thrasher asked about a "Plan B" if the one bid were deemed inadequate.
Piper characterized the move as a "temporary" one until the council can decided on a permanent solution.
McCormic suggested the council hold a "public forum" to get comments from Statham residents.
New council member Gary Venable first made comments favorable to Piper's recommendation, but he later made the motion to take bids and asked any builder with an interest for a price.
According to the one bid, Piper said, the renovation of the current city hall would use the side door as the entrance to the police department and it would include a foyer for people to enter.
Codes would be required to go further in the police offices, he said. Piper also said a steel door is in the rear of city hall which would provide another entrance and exit for the police.
Under that plan, the city council meetings would be moved to the community center.
The Winder City Council is generally supportive of building new public restrooms at the city-owned Chimneys golf course but was not comfortable with the price proposed at its work session Monday, Jan. 6.
City staff recommended the council approve an amount “not to exceed” $50,000 in funding for the restroom facility, which would have running water and a septic system, but several council members balked at that price.
“I don’t think $50,000 would be required to build them, in my mind,” said councilman Sonny Morris, who has spoken in favor of the public restrooms, which he said are needed at the course. Morris made the motion to table the item until more information could be obtained, and it was removed from the agenda for the council’s voting session on Tuesday, Jan. 7.
City administrator Donald Toms said staff had looked at the cost of a concrete slab as well as the cost of running a water and septic line, while leaving some room for the actual construction. But he said actual price quotes for the whole project had not been obtained.
Councilman Chris Akins said those quotes and other details were needed in order for the council to make “an intelligent decision.”
“(The restrooms are) an accommodation we ought to provide,” Akins said. “If we’re going to run an efficient business, a good business, it’s something we need to offer, but I think it needs to be priced out and quoted.”
Councilman Travis Singley said council members should determine what building materials they wanted for the restrooms to help with getting a more accurate price quote.
Monday’s meeting was the first for new council members Kobi Kilgore and Holly Sheats, who were sworn in by city attorney John Stell prior to the meeting. Kilgore defeated incumbent Al Brown for the Ward 2 seat in November, while Sheats was elected to the at-large seat previously held by Michael Healan, who chose not to seek re-election.
Mayor David Maynard and Singley were also sworn in Monday for their third terms. Maynard ran unopposed while Singley fended off a challenge from Holt Persinger for the Ward 4 seat.
The council also voted Monday for Morris to remain the mayor pro tem.
In business at Tuesday’s voting session, the council:
•approved an agreement with Peachtree Recovery Services to assist the city with recovering funds owed to the city in the event of third-party property damages. The program is offered through the Georgia Municipal Association. The agreement gives PRS the ability to retain 16.5 percent of all amounts recovered for each claim after the deduction of any paid administrative fee. At a December work session, the council also discussed proposals offered through GMA for hotel/motel tax revenue management and alcohol excise tax management, but those ultimately were not recommended to the council.
•approved an event permit for the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom March on Monday, Jan. 20, from 10 a.m. to noon. The march will begin at Quality Foods, 280 North Broad St., proceed through the downtown area and end at White Oak Spring Missionary Baptist Church, 123 East New St.
•approved an agreement with First Christian Church to develop additional access points to the Chalice Walkway in an effort to improve sidewalk connectivity.
Also Tuesday, the city’s board of zoning appeals, which consists of the mayor, council and a representative from the city planning board, approved a request by Simplex Advantage of Lawrenceville, for an increase in the number of units allowed in an assisted living facility in a B-2 General Commercial zone from 30 to 40. The board voted in July to grant Simplex a variance to go from 22 to 30 units. The company plans to build a more than 40,000-square-foot facility on Resource Parkway off Loganville Highway.
Tyler Lo, a representative for Simplex, said the company was requesting another increase so the project could be feasible. Under the variance granted in July, the units must be at least 350 square feet. City planning director Barry Edgar said the company has room to expand by 10 units and will have to add some parking to the site.
Classroom teachers in Barrow County may get $1,000 on the local supplement for the fiscal year 2021.
The Barrow County Board of Education got a proposal Tuesday, Jan. 7, to increase the local supplement.
It would cost the school system about $1.3 million for the $1,000 per teacher. If it is approved, the added supplement would be in the budget that starts July 1.
Superintendent Chris McMichael said the local supplement has not been changed since the FY2015 budget.
Jennifer Houston, assistant superintendent for business services, warned the board that if the millage rate were to drop below the current 18.5 mills, the supplement probably would not be possible.
No one objected to leaving the millage rate at 18.5 mills.
Cindy Beggs, assistant superintendent for planning and personnel, said the proposal is for 995 teachers. It does not include other certified personnel such as counselors, media specialists or administrators. Beggs said after the meeting the other certified people have different supplement schedules.
Beggs also presented the board with two other proposals: a $1,500 supplement and a $2,000 one. Those would cost, respectively, $1.9 million and $2.5 million.
Board members were uniformly supportive of the increases. Board member Rickey Bailey termed it “long overdue.”
Recommendations for costs of renovations at Apalachee High School and Westside Middle School were made at $5 million for AHS and $1 million for Westside.
Joe Perno, assistant superintendent for system operations, said the AHS work would be done over two summers, 2020 and 2021.
He said most of the work is on the HVAC systems at the high school.
The work at Westside Middle School is mostly finished on the common areas of the school, Perno said.
He said the WMS work in summer 2019 was concentrated on classrooms and the 2020 work would be in hallways, gym, cafeteria and other common areas of the school.
Perno also reported work on the district’s third high school, Barrow Arts and Sciences Academy is “on time and on budget.”
Lee Bane, director of innovative learning, and Brandy Alexander, academic director for the University of Georgia, outlined the Georgia Global Pathway program, a new effort that aims at black, low-income and first-generation college students for study abroad.
A release from UGA said research shows that students who study abroad “enjoy significantly higher four- and six-year graduation rates from college.
Bane said after the meeting that the program seeks to expose students to the benefits of studying abroad. He said students from better educated and wealthier families get those benefits. First-generation students, he said, are often happy just to be in college and don’t recognize programs that can broaden horizons.
The J.W. Fanning Institute at UGA will work with Barrow County administrators on the program.
Bane said the program is in its first year.
Houston made a presentation on property taxes to the board. She said the presentation has been made to the Winder City Council and the Barrow County Board of Commissioners.
Administrators and board members have complained for years that the district has less revenue than comparable-sized school districts.
Houston said the Barrow County school system has the second-lowest amount of school taxes among the seven counties that includes Barrow and surrounding counties. Barrow County has about $40 million in school taxes, including bonds. It does not include city school districts.
It has the third highest number of students in those counties, behind Gwinnett and Hall, both of which are much larger than the others. Jackson and Oconee counties are the smallest with about 8,000 students. Gwinnett is the largest district with 185,000 students.
Barrow County has the third-highest millage rate at 18.5 mills. But Walton and Jackson counties also have millage rates with more than 18 mills – 18.6 mills for Walton and 18.858 for Jackson. The lowest school district is Oconee County at 16.5 mills and the highest is Clarke at 20 mills.
Houston said the median Barrow County home value is $134,300. Based on that number, a property owner would pay about $957 in school taxes. According to the schools, the local share of education is $2,845. Jackson County is the highest at $6,983. It would take about 40 years, Houston said, to pay the local share of a student’s education.
“The discussion (among senior citizens) that ‘I have already paid for my child’ is usually a false discussion,” Houston said.
Barrow County’s school taxes are near the bottom, when considering surrounding county schools, Houston said.
Board member Stephanie Bramlett said Debi Krause and she talked to a man about the tax numbers. She said people are “listening” to the school’s story about the district. She said the man had a different interpretation and different numbers. She pointed out that Cobb, DeKalb and Forsyth counties, which are mentioned at the beginning of the presentation, have much larger numbers of students than Barrow County.
In other business, the BOE:
•agreed to hire Derrick Maxwell as interim principal for Winder-Barrow High School. He will replace Al Darby, who will move to the central office next week. Darby will work in the student services department under assistant superintendent Ken Greene. He will work on transportation issues and district-wide athletic questions.
•saw a report that shows the district had 14,319 students on the 80th day of school. At the same time in 2018, the schools had 14,058 students. The gains continue to come at the middle school and high school area. Both county high schools have a little more or little under 2,000 students. Haymon-Morris and Russell middle schools each have more than 900 students. Russell has 977, nearly 1,000. Two of the district’s elementary schools, Yargo and Kennedy, have more than 900 students. Kennedy had 933 on the 80th day and Yargo had 927.
The Barrow County Martin Luther King Jr. Day Committee will host its annual MLK celebration Sunday and Monday, Jan. 19-20.
The MLK Gospel Concert will be held at 6 p.m. Jan. 19 at White Oak Spring Missionary Baptist Church, 123 East New St., Winder. Church choirs and various singing groups will perform. All MLK community choir members are asked to contact Cathy Simmons at 678-963-8243 for choir rehearsal schedule. Each church choir will be asked to perform two selections.
The annual march through Winder will be held at 10:45 a.m. Jan. 20. The march will begin at Quality Foods on Broad Street and take about 40 minutes to complete, ending at White Oak Spring Baptist Church. All of those needing transportation to the beginning point of the march are asked to meet in the parking lot of the church no later than 10 a.m.
The annual MLK ceremony will be held at 11:50 a.m. in the church sanctuary and is scheduled to last about two hours. The keynote speaker will be Tommie Smith, a 1968 Olympic gold medalist in track and field and a promoter of human rights around the world.
The theme of this year's celebration is, "Your life begins to end, the day you become silent about things that matter."
The Winder-Barrow High School graduating class of 1962 will have a mini-reunion luncheon at Golden Corral in Winder on Monday, Jan. 13, at 1 p.m.
Those planning to attend are asked to contact Dianne Fleeman at 678-425-2531 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The American Red Cross has the following upcoming blood drives planned in Barrow County:
•3-7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 13, at Winder Wesleyan Church, 64 East Midland Ave.
•1-6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 29, at Saint Matthew Catholic Church, 25 Wilkins Rd. SW, Winder.
•11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 22, at the Winder Housing Authority, 163 Martin Luther King Jr. Dr.
To donate blood, download the American Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit RedCrossBlood.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or enable the Blood Donor Skill on any Alexa Echo device to make an appointment or for more information.
All blood types are needed to ensure a reliable supply for patients, leaders state.
A blood donor card or driver’s license or two other forms of identification are required at check-in. Individuals who are 17 years of age in most states (16 with parental consent where allowed by state law), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements.
FreeLife Church, 476 Jefferson Hwy., Winder, will be reaching out to the community with a storehouse ministry from 9-11:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 18.
Free food boxes, diapers, clothes and socks will be given to those in need.
For more information, call 770-867-4123 or email email@example.com.
The Diabetes Support Group of Barrow County meets at 6 p.m. on the third Monday of every month in the third floor conference room at Northeast Georgia Medical Center-Barrow, 316 North Broad St., Winder.
The next meeting is Monday, Jan. 20.
The Barrow County Food Pantry, in partnership with the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia, will hold its monthly food distribution day at 8 a.m. (rain or shine) Thursday, Jan. 23, at Holly Hill Mall, across from Hill's Ace Hardware, 186 West Athens St., Winder.
This month's event is sponsored by Nikki Vanluan and friends and the Rotary Club of Winder. It is open to all Barrow County residents who meet USDA income-eligibility requirements. Proof of county residency is required. Food will be served on a first-come, first-served basis.
The event is held the fourth Thursday of every month January through October and the third Thursday in November and December.
Adult Literacy Barrow will host the 27th annual Literacy Ball on Saturday, Jan. 25, at The Georgia Club, 1050 Chancellors Dr., Statham.
Hors d'oeuvres will be at 6:30 p.m., followed by a dinner at 7 p.m. and live music and a raffle from 8-11 p.m. Justin and the Marquess Band will be performing.
Funds raised will support the following efforts and more:
•GED teachers and textbooks.
•GED test scholarships.
•English as a Second Language classes and scholarships.
•Free transportation for students.
•Little Lakers Daycare Center for the children of students.
•GED classes at the Barrow County Detention Center.
•adult reading classes.
•children's book giveaway program.
Individual tickets are available for purchase at the Adult Literacy Barrow office in the Wimberly Center for Community Development, 163 Martin Luther King Jr. Dr., Winder. They can also be purchased online at www.adultliteracybarrow.org. Various sponsorship levels are also available.
For more information, contact Sally Brown, Adult Literacy Barrow executive director, at 770-531-3369, or Lynn Hammond, gala chairperson, at 770-307-8450.
A public information open house on a proposal for a new interchange in Barrow County, part of phase 3 of the West Winder Bypass, will be held from 4-7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 6, at the Barrow County Senior Citizens Center, 80 Lee St., Winder.
The county board of commissioners is hosting the open house to allow the public the opportunity to learn more and ask questions about the proposed project just east of Patrick Mill Road at State Route 316 and provide comments on the proposal.
The open house will be informal, and the public is invited to attend any time during those hours. No formal presentation is planned.