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Mayor, council to meet Thursday

By Beth Alston

AMERICUS — The Americus mayor and city council meet Thursday for the regular monthly meeting.
During the agenda setting session of March 15, Mayor Barry Blount presented a proclamation to Tyler Clark of Americus who plays for the University of Georgia Bulldogs.
Jason Lawson, executive director of the Middle Flint Regional 911 Center, gave a brief update.
On the consent agenda for Thursday’s meeting will be approval of a resolution authorizing the execution and delivery of a quit claim deed in connection with a previously abandoned roadway on Swett Avenue.
Two appointments will be voted on. The term of Kitty Mays on the board of zoning appeal expires March 21 and its three-year term. The term of Bill Harris Jr. on the planning and zoning commission expired May 31, 2017.
There will be a first reading of the 2017 budget ordinance amendment. Council will consider approving a resolution revising and adopting the Sumter County Service Delivery Strategy.
Honorary Council member for March, Rick Hamilton, will be introduced and a representative of the Americus-Sumter County Airport Authority is to give an update.
Jeryl Pinnell Jr. has requested to address mayor and council on paving Columbia Avenue, and Johnny Key has requested to speak on his water bill. Both requests have been approved.
During the agenda setting session, city manager Steve Kennedy brought up the matter of the transfer of property at 714 Carver St. to the Land Bank Authority. He said the Fuller Center for Housing had acquired the property in a lot next to it that day and intends to build two houses there next month. This will put the lots back on the city’s tax rolls. Council member Daryl Dowdell moved to approve the transfer, which was seconded by Juanita Wilson and approved unanimously.
In other business for Thursday’s meeting, Kennedy asked for an item on the drug-testing policy for the maintenance policy procedure manual.
Kennedy also suggested that the mayor and council reserve 15 to 20 minutes during the agenda setting meeting each month to review city ordinances and determine if updates are necessary. This is something that came out of the city’s recent retreat, he said. The first will be the sign ordinance. The mayor said the matter of “banana” signs needs to be addressed immediately because Georgia Southwestern State University (GSW) and South Georgia Technical College (SGTC) are having events for which they need to display banana signs downtown. He wants city attorney Jimmy Skipper to put together a variance to be approved at Thursday’s meeting. Kennedy said the variance could be specific to GSW and SGTC. Juanita Wilson said others should be able to use the signs as well. Daryl Dowdell said he wants to work with the businesses as well, allowing them to use the signs. Kennedy suggested the variance be for schools and then take up other requests as they come in. Blount said there have already been other requests from businesses and they are in violation now.
Skipper said that recent rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court protect the right to free speech regarding signs.
“If you allow GSW to do the banana signs and not businesses, you’re regulating free speech, which you cannot do, according to the Supreme Court,” Skipper said. He recommended allowing those who’ve requested to have the signs and amending the ordinance later. Skipper will word the amendment for Thursday’s meeting.
Another item to be added to the agenda setting meeting’s agenda, at the request of Dowdell, was discussion of the city’s ordinance regarding closing times for establishments downtown that serve alcohol.
Dowdell asked Kennedy if there was a business wanting to locate in the former Dillinger’s space. Kennedy said a family-type restaurant that sells alcohol is contemplating this.
Dowdell said he is “not happy” and that the current closing time (12:30 a.m. last call and closed by 1 a.m.) is too early and “a hindrance to business.”
Skipper explained that if council wishes to add something to the agenda, it requires a majority vote. Dowdell moved to add the discussion to that day’s agenda, which was seconded by Kelvin Pless and passed unanimously.
Dowdell said he has had “several” people (seven or eight) to complain that Urban Bar and Grill in downtown closes “too early.”
“If we can keep the noise down, it shouldn’t be a problem going back to the old closing times and close by 2 a.m. There have been complaints about the downtown music too,” he said, referring to the piped-in music which plays downtown and is supposed to shut off by 11 p.m.
“Why was the time changed?” asked new council member Pless. Dowdell said “let Mr. Kennedy address that.”
The mayor said there have been multiple complaints from guests at the Windsor Hotel about noise from people leaving establishments and talking loudly. He said they still get complaints even after changing the closing time. Council member Charles Christmas, also recently elected,  said there had been 911 complaints about the noise within the last couple of weeks. Dowdell wanted to know where the noise was coming from in the complaints but Christmas said he didn’t know the details.
Council member Lou Chase said she thought that was the reason for the city establishing an entertainment zone to allow for later hours.
Dowdell said the owner of Urban Bar & Grill has “sunk his entire life savings into this business. If he’s not following the rules, he should be cited.” The mayor said it’s not the owner’s fault what happens on the street after the business closes. Pless wanted to know how complaints about music and people can be pinned down to one business. Wilson again brought up the complaints about the piped in music downtown.
Council member Nelson Brown requested seeing copies of the complaints that have come in through 911 recently. Kennedy said he would investigate further.