Monday Night City Council Meeting Includes Many Proposed Items from our New Mayor Including Honoring Hillary Lindsey, Changes to Who Can be Appointed and Continue to Serve on Boards and Decorum for City Officials

Published on 11 February 2024 at 14:29

The Washington City Council meeting, to be held Monday February 12 th at 6:00 PM at the Pope Center, will be the second meeting of the newly assembled council. The agenda is one indication of what each member of the council and mayor find priorities for the citizens and the city.


The meeting agenda has not been posted at the Pope Center as required by law nor have documents regarding proposed changes to policies, that have been provided to council members, been made available to the public. I emailed city administrator, Jerry deBin and mayor Bruce Bailey on Friday evening, requesting these documents and Bailey replied to me saying he has contacted deBin and he will be sending them to me. As of today, I haven’t received them.


You can see on the agenda (posted below this article), there are many items proposed by Bailey as well as items proposed by councilman Cullars Sr., Hill and city administrator deBin. There are no items from any of the district 2 council members which seems to be consistent with the past. Seldom did district 2 council members have items on the agenda but they did make motions for items the former mayor, Bill deGolian, proposed and voted in favor of them most of the time. Time will tell if this district 1 vs. district 2 appearing pattern will continue or if the new  mayor's stated commitment to unification, listening respectfully and considering the constituent's opinions will come to fruition. This will only be the second meeting of the council with Bailey, Fisher and Gunter being new to city council service. A period of acclimation is to be expected.


I have been told by reliable sources, the changes proposed by mayor Bruce Bailey, include adding a stipulation to serving and continuing to serve on a boards, commissions, authorities or committees. It would prohibit anyone who is delinquent in any tax or fee including utility payments or taxes from being appointed or allow for their removal. There are many questions to be answered including, does it include persons who have been delinquent in the past and paid so are not currently delinquent? Who will be monitoring this for all boards, commission, and authorities? (there are more than 20 and more than 100 members) Does this include members appointed who live in the county but not in the city limits and if so, who is going to monitor if they are current in their utility payments? Is this mandatory or does a board have any power to waive this stipulation for a member they feel offers value regardless of a late utility payment? Will there be a grace period if this proposed change is implemented or will it go into effect immediately and current board, commission, committee, and authority members will be removed? This proposal also makes even more important, having very clear policies in place regarding disconnections and delinquency. In past conversations I have had with Jerry deBin regarding utilities, he has said he decides if concessions will be made in certain situations for citizens who fall behind in payments. He said he decides this based on their circumstances and if they have a pattern of delinquency.  However, when the ability to serve in an authority position and be involved in decision making in the community, is tied to utility delinquency, there is a greater potential for a perception of discrimination unless a clear contract and policies are agreed upon when utility service is first initiated and implemented for everyone. The policies for exceptions need to be the same for everyone and made very clear.


It does not appear there are any other stipulations proposed in regard to board appointments.  The mayor certainly will have an opportunity to clarify and answers these questions at the council meeting on Monday evening.


This proposed change is also listed as an action item by the mayor but it hasn’t been discussed previously at a council meeting. Mayor Bailey had it listed on the January agenda but at that meeting, stated he was not going to address it because he wanted to find out what citizens felt about it. He mentioned the survey conducted by the Washington Wilkes Informer where there were many stipulations that citizens felt should be in place when deciding who can serve on boards, commission, committees, and authorities. He has not included a change that would prohibit anyone with a prior felony conviction from serving, as was indicated on the January meeting agenda.


The other document is regarding proposed changes to the code of conduct for city officials. It is unclear if this includes city employees and the change includes professional behavior requirements not only at the council meetings but at all times in public, during daily activities and on social media platforms. There is specific language stating mayor and city council members leaving a meeting without being properly dismissed or excused, is a violation.


Again, if I receive these documents prior to Monday’s city council meeting, I will make them public.


An update on documents I have requested


I have received the documents involving open records requests made in September. I have not received any of the records pertaining to utility deposits paid when citizens have their utilities disconnected. I have had multiple citizens contact me directly sharing the number of times they have been disconnected and additional deposits they have paid. For many people these deposits are more than $1000. It is still unclear if these deposits are returned or where they are held. I will continue trying to get these documents to get accurate information on how much is being collected each year from citizens who have utilities disconnected, how much it costs the city to do the disconnections each month as well as the personal stories of why people are struggling to pay their utility bills.


Many contacted me last month when the proposal to make citizens who have delinquent utility bills, ineligible for serving on boards, commission and authorities was first presented. Some feel it is an appropriate stipulation but that there should be many other stipulations in place as well. A great many others felt it is further disenfranchising people who are living in poverty already and facing what some view as potentially discriminatory, accelerated “deposits” that may never be returned and keeping them from participating in how their children’s educations, recreational opportunities, affordable housing and even senior support are managed in Washington by not allowing them to have a voice in these decisions. It is unclear why this particular stipulation is so important to mayor Bailey and the only one he is moving forward with proposing. Again, he will have the opportunity to share his reasons on Monday evening. As always, citizens are invited to sign up to share their comments at the beginning of the meeting.


A recording of the meeting will be available on the Washington Wilkes Informer YouTube Channel.


Written by Michelle Chaffee

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April Puccetti
2 months ago

Good work. Keep digging.