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City Council to consider personnel manual, alcohol license for Dillinger’s

By Beth Alston

AMERICUS — The Americus Mayor and City Council have a several matters to consider during Thursday’s regular meeting at 5 p.m. at the Russell Thomas Jr. Public Safety Building.
Only two items are on the consent agenda, both “housekeeping matters,” according to Diadra Powell, city finance director. They are closing a federal bank account at Wells Fargo and transferring the funds, “a little over $10,000” to the General Fund; and opening a bank account a Citizens Bank for the Downtown Development Authority. Both need to be approved by council.
Other items on the agenda include the following.
• Consider for a second and final reading an ordinance for the adoption of the City’s Personnel Manual. This subject generated some discussion during the agenda setting meeting of Feb. 16. Council member Nelson Brown had questions about the employee grievance process. City Manager, Steve Kennedy explained that employees currently can appeal an action against them to the mayor and city council, and the new proposal is to have appeals go to the city manager and he would then ask the municipal judge to sit over the appeals hearing, to provide “an unbiased party to listen the facts and make judgments on the facts.”
Brown said he had “heard” that subordinates “like council to be involved.” He said he is against Kennedy being involved because “It’s almost like you’re the judge and your subordinates carry out what you want.” Kennedy said that’s why he would have a judge sit at the appeals hearings to provide impartiality. “My preference is to keep personnel matters from getting political,” Kennedy said.
City attorney, Jimmy Skipper explained that there is a difference between a grievance and an appeal. He said he doesn’t recall the mayor and council hearing a grievance since he’s been with the city, since  1986.
Brown asked Kennedy what was wrong with the “old way” and Kennedy said nothing. “Anything we do is based on experience,” Kennedy said.
Skipper said they have already had the first reading of the ordinance and if amended, the changes will have to be voted on and approved by council … “If we have an ordinance in front of use, the changes must be in the form of something you can vote on.”
“That was the reason we went from January to February” so the mayor and council could read and review the changes, Kennedy said.
The mayor asked if there were concerns from other council members and most said no; however, Brown said he was confused about page numbers and section and chapter numbers. He also said he had questions about job classifications with pay raises, saying he wanted to know about those before they are approved. Blount explained that when the budget is approved, any internal changes such as an employee leaving and replaced, would already be included in the budget. Brown said he also wants to know about “shifting funds form one position to another.” Kennedy explained that a department head can restructure their department and have nine positions instead of 10. “It doesn’t need to go before the council; that’s operational. If it’s outside the budget structure, we would have to come back to you and ask about it.”
Kennedy asked Brown if the appeals process was the only thing he wanted to change and Blount asked Skipper for “clarity.”
“If Mr. Brown made a motion to go back to the way it was (appeals heard by mayor and council), the process is a motion, and require a second to the motion to go back to the old way in that area,” Skipper said.
Brown made that motion, which died due to the lack of a second.
• Consider approving an alcohol renewal license for Dillinger’s, 120 N. Lee St. This topic too, spawned much discussion during the agenda setting meeting.
Kennedy said the city had notified Michael H. Cox, the official license holder, by registered mail setting forth the city’s expectations for the bar in regard to underage drinking, noise, fights, and other disturbances. As of Feb. 16, the city had not received a response, he said. He said it’s up to council to approve the renewal or not. If it is not, Dillinger’s can appeal the decision. “We’ve provided them our expectations,” he said. “The license holder received both registered letters of concerns from council.”
Americus Police Chief Mark Scott said there had been no additional incidents at the bar since Jan. 28 when an 18-year-old used a friend’s ID and “drank until he passed out and fell and gashed his head.” The police chief said that person’s blood alcohol level was .276 and he was charged with underage consumption.
Council member Chase asked if the decision before council was to renew the license or not. Kennedy said that before the license renewal is granted, the city cannot suspend the license or anything else, according to the city attorney. “If you approved the license, you could put them on probation,” he said.
Chase commented, “I’ve stated many times, ‘once it’s approved, it’s hard to take it away.’”
Skipper told council that if they approve the license renewal at Thursday’s meeting, they can immediately put the establishment on probation. He said the city met with Cox on Nov. 22 or 23 and Cox was supposed to write a letter to Kennedy saying he understands all the city’s expectations regarding trouble at the bar.
Kennedy said he wants Cox to tell the city that he has heard and understands what the city has asked for and that any further behavior or activity could result in the loss of the alcohol license. He said Cox agreed to that during their meeting but hasn’t responded in writing.
Council member Daryl Dowdell asked if there had been any further incidents at the bar. Kennedy said yes, and the police chief gave details of an 18-year-old female who had become intoxicated and fallen, and a 21-year-old female who so intoxicated that she fell and had cut her thigh and “bled all over the bathroom and sidewalk.”
“You’re not supposed to keep serving someone when they’re that intoxicated,” Scott said. “But they (Dillinger’s) will serve you until you pass out.’ He said there had also been several police calls for fights at the business.
“The record is 40 pages of incidents last year (at the bar),” according to Kennedy.
“They’re not in compliance with what they’re supposed to be doing,” commented Brown.
The decision will be made Thursday.
• Another matter to be discussed is a recent letter to the city from the Sumter Humane Society (SHS) regarding the city’s contract for service by the SHS. The mayor said the letter makes it clear that the money the city gives to the SHS is not a donation but a contract for services, and that the SHS wants to change the terms of the contract so they can receive the funding every month.
Council member Juanita Wilson expressed concern that “sometimes we might not be able to do that.”
Blount asked Kennedy if this request from the SHS is because of a cash flow problem. Chase commented that the SHS shouldn’t have problems with the “half a million dollar gift” they received.
“This is a contract for services,” Blount said. “They (SHS) provide services to the city by housing cats and dogs picked up … The county decided not to renew the contract with the Sumter Humane Society. None of this really concerns me. I have no problem with a new contract.” The mayor suggested a new contract be drawn up to be voted on Thursday.
• The mayor and council will also consider several appointments to various boards and authorities. In addition, the mayor will recognize Honorary Council member Jessie Smith with a proclamation as well as Kaylon Harvey for his participation in the Food Network’s Kids Sweets Showdown. He will administer the oath of office to Tommy Harrell who has been appointed to the Walk of Fame Committee, and to Jessica Wright, who has been appointed to the Americus Housing Authority. The Americus Sumter County Hospital Authority has also been invited to the meeting to give a brief update.