City discusses amendment to alcohol license ordinance, again

Published 8:45 am Tuesday, August 22, 2017

By Beth Alston

AMERICUS — After a two-hour-plus agenda setting public session on Aug. 17, the mayor and city council holds the regular monthly meeting at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Russell Thomas Jr. Public Safety Building.
Perhaps the lengthiest discussion at the agenda setting was on service distribution relative to the city’s retirement plan.
In 2012, a question arose when Council member Nelson Brown, who had retired from the city, was elected to office. As it stood, the rule, which had been in effect since the 1970s, was that when a retired city employee returned to work, he/she would only draw 50 percent of their salary. When the question arose, city attorney, Jimmy Skipper asked the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) for recommendations. They provided three options from which the council could choose. Council voted to have the policy apply to all employees paid by the city, including elected officials.
On Thursday, council member Shirley Green Reese expressed concern that the amended ordinance went into effect the same year it was changed, and argued for giving Brown his full salary as a council member. She asked Skipper if the council considers Brown a city employee. Skipper said the city’s retirement plan considers him a city employee. She suggested that Brown be paid his retirement on a “pro-rated basis. He’s entitled to it.”
Skipper agreed, and said Brown has earned his retirement. Reese asked Brown if he was retired, to which Brown replied, “retired with no pay.” Brown’s position with the Americus Police Department was phased out during a reorganization of the department after former Chief James Green left.
Skipper explained that what they are dealing with are definitions. “[The plan] says if you’re on city council, you are a city employee. You can change that if you want to. That’s up to ya’ll.” Reese said they need to study this matter. Brown lamented that council could have adopted another option “but the full council wouldn’t vote on that.”
“The GMA doesn’t control this; we do,” stated Reese. “As long as it’s legal under federal law,” Skipper clarified.
The mayor weighed in and said the city can’t afford to allow retired city employees to come back to work at full pay. Brown said he just wants it changed for city council members. “I can’t help that I was the exception to the rule and my job was phased out and then I was elected. You have to make allowances for the first. The majority of the council chose not to but now we have new council that needs to do what’s right.”
Council member Juanita Wilson made the motion to amend the plan to allow elected officials to receive full pay when returning after retirement in addition to drawing their retirement, which was seconded by Reese and passed unanimously. Skipper is to contact GMA to change the verbiage.
Another big discussion was on the first reading of an amendment to the Alcohol Beverage Ordinance which shifts the cost of finger printing and background checks for all employees who sell or serve alcohol from the employee to the city. Brown said he had concerns about the votes that were taken at the last called council meeting because there was some confusion about the ordinance section numbers. Council member Daryl Dowdell referenced a section that says anyone convicted of two alcohol or drug-related crimes within five years cannot be licensed to sell alcohol in the city. He said this will hurt people who are trying to help themselves. Wilson interjected that the ordinance is too detailed and limits who can keep a store that sells alcohol while the owner (license holder) is on vacation. “Why do we need this?” she asked. “The stores have been operating good up to this point. I think we’re putting too much on them [license holders].”
There ensued a back and forth between Brown and Blount about sentencing, stipulations and probation.
Wilson again objected to the language of the ordinance. “What has prompted us to do this if they’ve been operating all these years without is?” Reese interjected, “If’s it not broken … Times are hard in this economy. People are struggling. We need to be compassionate and let things go, and deal with other things.”
Council will vote on this matter at Thursday’s meeting.
At the agenda setting, they heard from Julio Portillo, a bicycle planner with the River Valley Regional Commission (RVRC), about a city bicycle and pedestrian plan for which the RVRC has received funding and has chosen Americus as the benefactor. He said the next steps are to create policy and design guidelines, to consider putting in bike lanes when resurfacing streets, and for the city to paint in temporary bike lanes to collect data. He said a public hearing will be held in November.
Charles Christmas was introduced as honorary council member of the month, invited by Carla Cook. On Monday, Christmas qualified to run for Cook’s district seat in city council.
On Thursday, other business includes the following.
• The mayor will present a proclamation to Patricia Crawford and Lynn Holiday who have recently retired from the City of Americus.
• The mayor will present a proclamation to Josh Roth in recognition of his service to the City of Americus.
• The mayor will administer the oath of office to Christie Ward who was appointed to the city’s Alcohol License Review Board.
• A representative from the Smarr-Smith Foundation will make a presentation to mayor and council.
• Cal Anderson, director of the Americus Housing Authority, will provide a brief update.
Two citizens are on the agenda to address mayor and council. Jacob Battle will speak concerning naming the park on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard after Millard Fuller; and Tore Mansfield requests a reconsideration of the Overlay Ordinance to include TK’s Lounge at 125 Bay St.
Mayor Barry Blount recommended the placement of a Public Safety Memorial at the Public Safety Building. The memorial will include the names of officers who died in the line of duty and an eternal flame, as well as bench. The estimated cost is $30,000 to $35,000 and will be paid for from outside sources. The council voted unanimously to accept the concept.
Other items on Thursday’s agenda include the following.
• Consider approving a resolution concerning health insurance coverage for employees eligible to retire early. HR director Dee Jones informed mayor and council that there are currently nine employees eligible as of June 30. If they retire early, they would be allowed to pay the exact amount of their health insurance premium. Even if retired, up to age 65,  the city would pay the employer’s portion. She said this would represent an estimated $530,000 in savings to the city. “If we fill these positions (if the employees take early retirement), they would be filled at lower salaries,” Jones said.
• Consider approval of the Americus-Sumter County 2017-2018 Comprehensive Plan.
• Consider accepting a bid of $24,701 for an animal control vehicle, truck only. The other part of the truck will be reused.
• Discussion of the County holding City elections.