Nelson Brown decides to take over issues in Kelvin Pless’ district
Published 1:22 pm Monday, November 21, 2022
Tracy K. Hall
On the combined agenda setting and voting meeting of the city council on 11.17.22 the first agenda item was one Nelson Brown brought up. It is in regard to a sign which is already established on a property which is zoned for residential purposes. The property is currently a church within Kelvin Pless’ district. This topic has been brought up before by Brown and he wanted it made clear that he serves all of the city which makes him eligible to take over on districts outside of his own. At last month’s meeting, the topic fell into a chaotic conversation which had Brown making promises on behalf of the church and telling council he will be requesting the sign ordinance be changed to meet the outcome he desired. In addition, he educated the council on common practice which is to have an ordinance changed there would need to be two readings. Nelson took it upon himself to tell council they could waive the two readings and go directly to a vote. He also told them he will be making a motion in order to make this happen, giving the citizens no opportunity to have input into changing a city ordinance.
Members of the congregation were present for this earlier meeting, and he told them if Pless would not get it done for them then he would do so himself. At the time, Pless remained quiet on the situation and continued to let Brown pontificate upon his actions. Brown also made it clear there was a difference of opinion between Pless and himself. Pless kept his comments to a minimum but assured the council as well as those in the audience he was aware of the ordinance and the sign. In earlier meetings Brown had cut off arguments to the sign was lighted and bright. In a residential neighborhood this could cause potential problems. As he has many times before, Brown reminded the council he has been in law enforcement. His original argument was this should be encouraged as lighting was a detriment to crime. In this month’s meeting he changed his approach and said the lighting was similar to that of a nearby streetlight, “the streetlight overpowers the sign, in other words, the sign would not be a problem. I want to let you know we don’t have a problem with the light.” Last month’s chaotic discussion when on for about 30 minutes. This month’s meeting was more orderly; however, it also took up nearly 30 minutes.
Brown started with a power point presentation with pictures of the sign. By all accounts the sign is attractive. There is no issue with the appearance nor the purpose of the sign. The problem is it is violation of a city ordinance, which was approved unanimously at the time, this included Brown’s “in favor” vote. Former Councilwoman Lou Chase and Juanita Wilson had put in significant amounts of time to research and get the ordinance where it best served the citizens of Americus. Although Brown indicated the vote had been made three years ago, in reality the City of Americus Code of Ordinances reflects an update which Chase and Wilson presented was entered into record in 2021.
To open his comments, Brown made note that he wanted transparency and there had been a lack of communication. “you can not blame a citizen for lack of communication because they just don’t know.” He referenced the council by saying “we don’t know. We find out about it when we come across it.” As Brown continued with his power point presentation, he pointed out the church was located in Pless’ District Five. Using the map further he noted its relation to McCoy Hill Park, calling it a “a real trouble area. I appreciate this church, church members, for what you’re doing in that area.”
Then Brown addressed another point he wanted “to make this clear too.” “That’s councilmember Pless’ district. We serve on this council together. We work as a team on this board. I can talk about any district in the city. I just want this council to know, Mr. Pless and I, it’s nothing personal, because I wanted to follow Mr. Pless’ lead. But when something is brought to my attention, I talk to the council members. I say time and time again, if someone brings something to my attention, I say ‘Who’s your council member?’’’ He then admitted the sign should not have been put up, “the church knows that now, because I told them. They had no ill intent; it was lack of communication.” The insinuation being that Pless had not communicated with the church. “Now they want to know can we do anything to change that. We (council) can change that (ordinance) we can do whatever we want to do with that ordinance all within the law and the guidance of Mr. Skipper, the city attorney.” Brown then went into a lesson on parliamentary procedure to both the audience and the council. The council is well steeped in procedure as every meeting utilizes the same format. “I want everybody to know ahead of time, if the motion needs to be made, I will make the motion. Now, this church did not know about the second option, so I am going to talk about the second option, rezoning.” Brown then pontificated about what he thinks rezoning demands. He went on further to say, “the law is the law but that’s up to this mayor and this council to make those kind of decisions.” Brown continued, “I want everybody to know I am sympathetic to you, and I want everybody to know too, that I’m not politicking, this area don’t vote for me. I just believe in information to inform the citizens we serve. I not only serve District 2, everything we talk about, when it comes to a vote, I got to vote too.” Once again, he states, “when it comes down to it, if a motion need to be made, I will make that motion.”
After Brown had personally called Pless out and represented him as not being transparent and them going without information, Pless addressed the issue. “Mr. Brown spoke about transparency, I take issue. To tell you the truth, they were told about the process, this is nothing against the church, this is about an ordinance that applies to everybody.” He indicates there was information given “broke it down to them” about rezoning options so the sign would be allowable. “I feel the process has been fully explained. I spoke to several representatives about what it meant to go from R1 to R2 (changing zoning). As far as changing the ordinance, we just changed…. I think we voted on it last year. So, it is up to date.” He went on further to say, “If we change the ordinance, it is going to affect the whole city, not just the neighborhood. So, I said, let’s make sure that’s (zoning requests vs. changing ordinances) clear to them…. It’s not that I have a problem with the church, it’s just that all of us have to follow the same guidelines.” Pless reemphasized the fact that the vote on the ordinance was made recently, and there was a hearing for it. “Everybody had the same opportunity to come here and hear.” He stated the process and how citizens get involved. He used a recent example of putting a mortarium on speed bump placement as an example. “It’s not a problem with Mr. Pless having a problem with the church having a sign—I think that’s beautiful; I am with that. But let’s make sure you tell all of it. Some details were left out. When I talked with the first representative that came to me, I spent two hours with that young man. I gave him the ordinance; I gave him the options.” Pless indicated he told the young man when he presented it to his church, they were welcome to call, and he would provide more data. In speaking to Brown, he indicated he was in law enforcement, and he had been told “ignorance of the law is not an excuse. Let’s be clear about that, let’s make sure this church understands the whole process.” With that Pless acquiesced the floor, at which time Brown quickly responded.
“Let’s be clear, this church needs to be communicated to. I do have to say this, we changed that ordinance 2-3 years out, but it wasn’t about signs of the church. I just telling you we need to communicate with the church better.” After Brown got through addressing Pless, Pless wanted to add “one more point.” He asked code enforcement if they had been in touch with the church, to which they responded yes. He then asked the city manager if they had reached out to the church. She reported they have been in contact face to face, through email and provided documents and advice on their options. Additionally, they were given the option of “having individuals who would go out and personally assist them. So, we have communicated, not sure where the breakdown is at this point. We have been consistent in our perspective. My recommendation is you not change the ordinance based on one individual’s request because if you do that…..the next individual that comes you have to do the same thing.” As a way of further recommendation, she suggested the church enter a request that the church be rezoned. “I gave them options.”
Brown again took the floor. “If you take the rezoning, I just want this church to know it’s still going to come back to this mayor and council to make a decision, either or.”
Daryl Dowdell requested the floor. “I think the sign will benefit the area. My thing is the only way we can resolve this is to go ahead in nip it in the bud one way or another. The ordinance says what it says. Councilwoman Wilson and former Councilwoman Chase worked on this ordinance last year…now we are here. I guess it is still up I don’t know for sure.”
Lee Kinnamon stated changing the ordinance would “be establishing a precedence and creating a slippery slope.” Charles Christmas agreed with the statement and gave the example that if the ordinance was changed, anyone could put up a sign. Christmas, who lives on Lee Street would be allowed to put up a lighted sign. Potentially, all of Lee Street and any typical neighborhood residence would be able to line their neighborhoods with signs if Brown’s wishes to change the ordinance were successful. Christmas also endorsed Dowdell’s words that there needs to be a resolution. Brown once again wanted “to make something clear.” “These people are confused; I would be confused too. It’s not about the ordinance I am telling you. You take the ordinance route, you take the rezoning route, you still got to have mayor and council to make the decision.” He then said, “Let us do what Mr. Christmas just said, we’ll get together…..but we will help y’all get that sign ready and I am satisfied.”
After three hours, this meeting was adjourned with no further action taken on the item. To contact your city representative, as well as see meeting times, minutes and ordinances of the city please visit their website at americusga.gov