February City Council Meeting Included Unanimous Votes, Moments of Contention and Collaboration

Published on 13 February 2024 at 20:53

The February 2024 city council meeting was held on Monday, February 12 at the Pope Center in Washington, Georgia.


The mayor and all members of council were present in person, as well as city attorney Adam Nelson and city administrator Jerry deBin.


The first item was approval of the meeting minutes from the January meeting. Followed by approval of the agenda.


Cullars Sr. said that the mayor’s action items on the agenda should be removed because according to the municipal code, the mayor cannot make motions. Bailey responded by saying he has city council members who are going to make motions on those items. A discussion was had about the current process for mayor and council members to submit items to the agenda and the city attorney, Adam Nelson, confirmed the mayor can submit an item to be considered but a council member is the only one who can make a motion for an item to be voted on. The agenda was approved.


Public Comments


Mary Wylie spoke during public comments about Sessom Place apartments and said it is an “eyesore.” She asked what is going to be done about it because it is in dilapidated condition. Jerry deBin said he will talk to code enforcement about the issue. The council and administrator engaged in dialogue with the citizen which has not been allowed in the past and when citizens have asked questions, it was made clear in the prior administration, the council would listen but not respond. The conversation was very cordial and a commitment to action on the concern, made.


Mayor’s Topics


Bailey said they are currently trying to get working microphones for the council meetings. Debin said they have had two quotes and are waiting on another.  Bailey said he hopes they will be fixed in a few weeks. Working microphones will also make the video recordings that are posted on the Washington Wilkes Informer YouTube channel, easier to hear.


They then moved on to the mayor’s action topics. Bailey began with the proposed change regarding decorum of city officials that includes their behavior not only during meetings but in public and on social media platforms. He specifically mentioned mayor or city officials leaving a meeting without being “properly excused.” Bailey held up a folder he said was full of emails, letters and social media posts from the last election that have been brought to his attention. HE said city officials need to do better. He said he spoke about the proposed change with several council members and he then asked for a motion to adopt the change. Councilman Anderson made a motion to “adhere to or approve as stated by the mayor.” Anderson then brought up a question regarding the social media aspect of the proposed change. He said he wondered how it will be enforced. Attorney Nelson said that the current rules regarding ethics violations would be utilized.


Councilman Mahoney said he could not agree with the proposed motion because there is already a policy in place regarding decorum and expanding that to outside the role of city business, is something he doesn’t agree with. He also said that the right to leave a meeting is akin to the right to protest. Nelson said the code of conduct and violations of, are subject to the same consequences as an ethics complaint but state and federal laws, such as the right to protest, supersede a city policy. Mahoney also said he believes citizens should be involved in making decisions when there are ethics violation complaints.


Mahoney also said that the meeting was not properly posted per the open meetings law. He said it was not posted at city hall or on the door of the pope center. Bailey said it was posted on the new LED banner at the Pope Center on Friday afternoon and deBin confirmed saying it was posted on the new sign and is on a loop to show up every 20 seconds. Mahoney said that his constituents contacted him because the meeting date and time was not posted on the door at city hall or on the door of the Pope Center. He also pointed out the agenda is not on the LED sign and there is no way to place the agenda on that sign. Attorney Nelson read from the open meetings statute that states the notice should be posted at least one week in advance of the meeting and placed in a conspicuous location at the place the meeting is held. He said whether or not it needs to be on the door or the LED sign, would require a court challenge and a judge making a decision. As for the agenda, he said the law states it is to be made available upon request and should be posted as soon as reasonably possible but within a time period of two weeks prior to the meeting. He said the current process of council members and mayor setting the agenda is that they must submit requests for items to be placed on the agenda by the Friday prior to the meeting. Mayor Bailey did mention in January’s meeting, trying to get the agenda available earlier. Ultimately, it is up to the council members to decide, within the guidelines of the law.


Cullars Sr. said constituents also contacted him asking about the meeting and that he had no idea there was a change to it being posted on the sign instead of on the door at city hall and the Pope Center.


Mahoney moved on to say that Bailey isn’t allowed as mayor to place action items on the agenda as he did. Hill then said that at the beginning of the meeting, Bailey said he spoke to council members about the decorum issue but that district 1 council members were not contacted and it was not discussed. Bailey said he spoke to Cullars and Mahoney. Cullars and Mahoney said he did not speak to them about it. Bailey asked if they would like him to play audio of the recording and they said they would like to hear it. Bailey said, “we can go back to the audio.” An audio recording was not played at the meeting. Hill said his point is, that there needs to be more communication about items before they are brought to the agenda as action items. Bailey asked Hill if he received his text messages and emails. Hill said he didn’t realize that was the communication Bailey was referring to.  


Mahoney said that Bailey stated in the January meeting, that they should not bring action items to the agenda without first talking to constituents and talking to fellow council members. He also said that it seems like Bailey has been talking to district 2 council members but not district 1 members of council. He said he thinks it’s more important to talk about bringing business development and jobs to the city rather than chastising people and the voters should decide if they are happy with a council member’s behavior.


Bailey replied asking Mahoney if he would support an action item at the next meeting where each council member would name a citizen who they would have sit on an ethics committee and Mahoney said he would support that. Bailey then said that Mahoney knew what the action items were that he placed on the agenda, before the meeting but didn’t say anything about it until now. Mahoney said he went to pick up the agenda on Friday at 12:00 pm and it wasn’t ready so when they did get it, if was after business hours on Friday.


Bailey said to make things easy, he would take his action items off the agenda and he will discuss them before the next meeting.  Anderson said that is a very “magnanimous and prudent thing to do at this time.” Anderson asked if the mayor could add items for action on the agenda. Attorney Nelson clarified the mayor can add items for action but a motion cannot be made by the mayor. Mahoney clarified that on the document they are required to utilize to put items on the agenda, they must state whether or not it is an action item and if so, write out what the motion is. He said it was an issue when the prior administration implemented it and it’s an issue now. Bailey offered to take his discussion items off the agenda as well and made a commitment to speak to every one of the council members about the items he wished to discuss or have action taken on.


They then went on to discuss the mayor’s recommendation for board appointments. They were looking at a document that was not made available to the public so it is unclear what all the recommendations or open seats were. A motion was made by Anderson to accept the mayor’s recommendations, it was seconded and then discussion was had. Mahoney recommended Wilbur Jordan be recommended to the housing authority board and the mayor accepted that recommendation. There was a question because Angela Booker had not been on the list of active members of the housing authority but the mayor said that was a misprint and her term is current.


Mahoney thanked the mayor for reaching out to them for recommendations for the boards. He pointed out the mayor was not obligated to do so. Bailey placed himself on the health department board and said he had a request from that board to become a member and there was a request to remove Cullars Sr.  Cullars said he wasn’t aware of that request. He asked for the reason and Bailey said he didn’t know but would ask them. Several additional board appointments were made and accepted by the council. I have asked administrator deBin for a list of the newly appointed members of the boards so I get the names and spellings correct. I will publish that list when I receive it.


See full list of board, commission and authority members received from deBin on February 14, 2024, below this article.



Councilmen Topics


Cullars Sr. requested for senior citizens to not be assessed late fees on their utility bills. Debin answered that in 2022 there were new utility rate policies adopted and that replaced all prior policies that included all fees. Cullars Sr. disagreed and said when the new policy was adopted it was not agreed that there be a change to the way senior citizens were assessed fees. He said the motion deBin is talking about was different and didn’t include a change to senior citizens being assessed late fees. Debin claimed that policy was done away with when other changes were made as a whole. Bailey said it needs to be looked at and brought back for review at the meeting in March. He said it’s important to give seniors as much relief as possible.


Cullars Sr. also discussed deBin’s role to notify council members as well as mayor of any issues. He said he is not to only tell the mayor. He again brought up the new sign at the Pope Center and the change to how meeting notices were made public. DeBin said he sees Cullars Sr. more than he sees any other council member and said he is “amazed at the number of little surprises he gets” when he comes to the meetings. DeBin said he does a very good job of keeping everyone informed. Cullars Sr. said when anyone is hired or fired the council is to know about it but they are not being notified. He said deBin has seven supervisors meaning each member of council and the mayor. Cullars Sr. gave an example of trying to call deBin and deBin not answering. DeBin said that, in that instance, he sent a reply message saying he wasn’t available at that time and would call back. DeBin said, “I will work with you but I’m not anybody’s hay boy.”


Mahoney said that it is reasonable that there will be times deBin will have discussion with the mayor alone and that there are policies as to how the governing body will function. Anderson said that deBin must have the autonomy to do the job to the best of his ability, knowing what the duties and job description are and that he has ultimate trust and confidence that deBin is doing what he is to be doing. He said it’s ridiculous to say deBin has seven bosses. Cullars Sr.  said Anderson was blowing it out of proportion and that deBin has a responsibility to do what “he is supposed to be doing.” He brought up the sign again and that he didn’t know about the change.  Anderson laughed and said “Is that really…(didn’t finish his statement)”


Hill brought up a concern with having an issue when attending training presented by the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) that provides training to Georgia elected officials throughout the state. He said the card that the city reserved the hotel rooms with, was not able to be used for incidentals and the hotel required a physical card to be presented so ultimately, he had to use his personal card. He was asking if there was something that can be done in the future to make the process better and so that councilman didn’t need to use their personal credit card. Bailey asked what Hill wanted the motion to state and Hill said he wanted incidentals to include parking but not things like room service or alcohol. A motion was made and seconded. Bailey said he hasn’t seen the current policy but would like to. Mahoney said one option would be to allow a council member to utilize the city credit card to use in those situations. Councilman Gunter said that incidentals are not parking rather, “what you might do to the room” and that it shouldn’t be covered by the city. Debin said the current travel policy works pretty well and the policy includes a rate for mileage, hotels and they even have cut checks numerous times before the council member even goes to the event. He said hotels do want a physical card on file and that there is one city credit card that he has and it can’t be given out to everyone. He said he hopes each council member will use their personal card for incidentals. Hill said it took him two hours to check in. He said he did use his personal card and did get reimbursement but that it was a hassle.


DeBin reiterated the current policy covers the hotel room, parking and mileage are included. He also said on the day the issue Hill and Cullars described, he was doing back-to-back performance reviews all day. He received the calls and replied via text that he was unavailable and would call them back. He said “I will not apologize for that, that’s the job I do. I will not be bullied; I will not be intimidated.”


Anderson said that in the corporate and business world, it is standard to use your personal card and to submit a request for reimbursement and that he believes that’s the way it should be done. He said to Hill “it took you two hours to check in but you could have put your credit card down like 99.999% of Americans do.” He went on to say the city is nice enough to pay for the hotel rooms and mileage and that he thinks the citizens would like to see and he would like to see what “this travel for training costs the city.” He said it’s not mandatory and that they “decided to go for three nights” which costs around $1300 for three nights. “Let’s make it public.” Anyone can request this information per the Georgia open records act, including councilman Anderson if he would like to.


Hill clarified it is Georgia municipal Association training and that they go there to learn to resolve conflicts and collaborate with other agencies and other mayors and city councils to bring information and skills back to benefit Washington. He also said it is primarily district 1 councilmen who attend the training. Mahoney said that he wanted to make it clear that the GMA training is encouraged for all city officials to attend and that attending the trainings have led to him bringing programs to Washington and the ability to meet with other state representatives and legislators. He said they are “scanned in and scanned out” at the beginning and end of the training and if they don’t attend, they have to reimburse the city. He said many, many elected officials across the state of Georgia attend the training. Baily said the training is great and he is looking forward to the training for newly elected officials that he will attend this month. He said he will be driving back and forth to Athens for the training and not spending the night. Councilman Fisher asked if it was safe to say there was a mistake made in Hill’s case. Cullars Sr. said it wasn’t the only time there was a problem. Attorney Nelson pointed out that the current policy already covers expenses so Hill withdrew his motion.


A proclamation was presented to Martell Davis, a music executive who is from Washington Georgia and who has had a great deal of success in the music industry.


City Administrator Items


DeBin stated there will be a public hearing on a CDGB grant project utilized for sewer expansion in the industrial park. He also stated that February 16th is national arbor day and Washington is a tree city. He asked for a proclamation to officially adopt February 16th as Arbor Day in Washington. A motion was made and passed unanimously. He also recommended an adoption of a resolution for a federal emergency hazard mitigation plan. A motion was made and passed unanimously.


Executive Session


A motion was made to go into executive session. It was not stated on the agenda or verbally, what the legal criteria was for executive session, as required by law. There are very few reasons a council can go into executive session and they include pending or active litigation, real estate sales, discipline of city employee or official. Any votes made on anything discussed in executive session are required to be taken in public and the issue being voted on, also stated. There was no vote taken after the executive session.


A video recording of the entire council meeting can be seen on the Washington Wilkes Informer YouTube Channel.


Written by Michelle Chaffee

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