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City to decide on transport system

By BETH ALSTON

AMERICUS — The Americus mayor and city council will meet Thursday for their regular monthly meeting. Several items are on the agenda for action during the meeting, which starts at 5 p.m. at the Russell Thomas Jr. Public Safety Building.
At the agenda setting session on Jan. 12, there was much discussion on whether to approve an agreement with RMS for transportation services. Josh Roth, city planning and inspection director, has been overseeing the current public transportation system since Ben Andrews, former city employee, left, over a year ago. The city currently has three vans, and three full-time drivers and one part-time.  Roth said if a van is out for repairs, the other two have trouble keeping up with demand. RMS, in a presentation to the mayor and council in December, said the company has vans running all around South Georgia and all that is required is that customers call 24 hours in advance when they need transportation.
Council member Juanita Wilson said she couldn’t vote for privatizing public transportation because RMS won’t provide “immediate attention” but requires 24-hour notice. “I hate for citizens to lose that personal thing,” she said, referring to the local drivers. RMS has said it will retain the current employees.
Council member Nelson Brown echoed Wilson’s sentiments.
“I still don’t understand it,” Brown said, “even after a two-hour meeting (with RMS). In the future, we need to be given advance notice so we can have input.” Brown said he had asked Roth for a survey of users and he found there had not been a survey in the past two years. “I don’t care if we have to spend more money,” Brown said. “This is too soon for us to make a decision now … We need to give this real serious thought before making a decision. The citizens come first. I’m compassionate about this.”
Council member Shirley Green-Reese commented, “With any issue that comes before this council, I always research it completely … I listen to the representatives and the employees. We have to look at the whole picture. My individual decision is based on my constituents. I talk to the people in my district … However, I vote according to my constituents who put me in office, the people who make a difference, people who care about Americus. I don’t consult with anybody except my constituents before making a decision.”
City Manager, Steve Kennedy said they had been discussing this issue for about five months now and the citizens would be the ones impacted by the decision.
“I have nothing but high regard for the employees and what they do,” Kennedy said. “The idea of calling and having service in half an hour, that’s not the situation now. These are assumptions not based on facts … For 22 months now, the recommendations that I and staff have made are about the citizens of Americus and what’s best for them.”
Saturday service by RMS was also discussed. “Their (RMS ) entire method of service in on demand,” Kennedy said. “The buses are sent to where the demand is greatest … Currently, if we have a van down, service is impacted and people don’t get service.”
Brown continued to ask questions about getting more vans and inquiring why service isn’t available during lunchtime. Roth explained that hours of service currently are 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. with employees taking lunch from noon-1 p.m.
“The number of requests for rides has declined steadily each year,” said Roth. “We can’t get more vehicles from DOT because of this.”
Brown asked if public transportation is “advertised.” Roth explained that the department has a $500 annual advertising budget. He also said RMS’ service would be available Monday through Saturday, 24 hours a day.
Council member Daryl Dowdell asked Roth why there was currently no Saturday service. “It needs to be restructured,” Dowdell said. “It’s fallen apart. You’ve got too many titles (referring to Roth). That department’s been throwed away.”
Roth explained that, in the past, there have been attempts to improve the system, but it would require taking more money from the city’s General Fund.
Kennedy said, “The new system will be of benefit to the citizens.”
That item, along with the following, will be on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting.
• Consider approval of an alcohol beverage license for Jeffery Carr, new manager of Harvey’s.
• Consider renewal of alcohol beverage license for Dillinger’s, located in downtown Americus.
• Consider renewal of alcohol beverage license for Aramark, located on the Georgia Southwestern State University campus.
• First reading of the city’s personnel ordinance. Kennedy said a committee made up of employees had been reviewing the changes for more than a year, and that city attorney, Jimmy Skipper had looked at and approved, and the city’s labor lawyers in Atlanta had also looked it over. Nelson Brown said he needs more time to review the changes. Mayor Barry Blount said they would table it until the February meeting to provide “ample time” for council members to review. Kennedy asked what “ample time” is.  He said he wants to keep on “somewhat of a schedule” on the ordinance. “In the future,” Brown said, “when we’re considering something like this, when you get so many chapters done, ask us to come and talk.”
Council member Lou Chase said council members had been sent the information on Jan. 5. Blount suggested putting the first reading on Thursday’s agenda. Chase said they don’t need to delay after February, and if council members have questions, they should ask Kennedy.
Council will also vote on two appointments. Daron Butler has submitted his resignation on the Americus Housing Authority. This is a mayoral appointment. Betty Ellis has resigned from the Walk of Fame Committee and will be replaced.
The Honorary Council member, Barbara Gammage, will be recognized. She is the mother of Council member Carla Cook.
Brinda Middleton, administrative assistant to Police Chief Mark Scott, will be recognized as she is retiring.
The mayor will administer the oath of office to Andrea Ingram, who has been appointed to the Sumter County Board of Health, and to Summer Murray, who has been appointed to the Tourism Council.
The Airport Authority has been invited by mayor and council to give a brief update.