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City's contract for water works questioned

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POSTED: January 21, 2013 11:06 a.m.

An otherwise-routine Hinesville City Council meeting Thursday took a serious turn when a citizen questioned the city’s compliance with a state code.
During the public-comments portion of the meeting, Allenhurst resident Jackie Scott again appeared before the council, this time reading from the Georgia General Assembly’s Official Code of Georgia, chapter 36-60-15.1.
Scott, an OMI employee who previously addressed the council in November and December, read the state’s code regarding the operation and maintenance of water-treatment systems. The code stipulates a city is authorized to contract with “private persons, firms, associations or corporations for any period of time not to exceed 20 years.”
The code also stipulates the governing authority has to “solicit competitive sealed proposals” after first establishing “criteria for evaluation of any applicants.”
“I submit this to you for your information and subsequent action,” Scott told the council.
Mayor Pro Tem Charles Frasier asked when the code became law. Councilman Keith Jenkins asked the council to have City Attorney Linnie L. Darden, III to take a look at the code and see if the city was in compliance. Darden said he would report his findings to the council at its Feb. 7 meeting.
The first time Scott appeared before the council, he questioned why OMI employees were exempt from the 1.5 percent cost-of-living raises given to city employees. City Manager Billy Edwards reminded the council that contract employees are not city employees. Frasier and Jenkins said they did not realize the raise did not affect contract employees. OMI Director Gregg Higgins explained that his organization only gives merit raises, not COL raises. He said only a few employees failed to earn a merit raise last year.
The second time Scott appeared before the council, he read the opening paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, and then cited information from a 20-year-old Coastal Courier article about racial-discrimination complaints against the city’s public-works department. He noted that, shortly afterward, the city extended its contract with OMI to include public works. Scott contended the same kind of racial discrimination was going on now at OMI, but said most minority employees were too intimidated to speak out. Jenkins and Frasier responded to Scott’s charges by requesting OMI leaders appear before the council to explain how they conduct business.
Higgins said OMI leadership and human-resources personnel met in December with city leaders and human-resources personnel. He said they were asked a number of questions about their hiring, promotion and pay-raise policies. He believes OMI settled any concerns about discrimination and fairness.
During the Jan. 3 council meeting, however, another heated discussion erupted when Jenkins asked when the council approved extension of OMI’s 2006 contract that was due to end in 2011. Edwards and Mayor Jim Thomas reminded the council that the contract’s option to be extended another five years was discussed as part of the budget discussions for the 2012 budget, and there was no requirement to bring the extension before the council for a vote.
Also Thursday, the council heard a quarterly update from Leah Poole, CEO of the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce, and public-relations and social-media policy updates from Krystal Hart, city public-relations manager.
Council members also heard information about curbside garbage containers, a proposed ordinance change and the city’s participation in a class-action lawsuit with online travel agencies concerning taxes the sites purportedly owe cities for hotel rentals. The lawsuit is scheduled to be settled soon. The other issues will be discussed at a future meeting.
Action items approved by the council included applications for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Fire Prevention and Safety Grant and Historic Preservation Fund Certified Local Government Survey and Planning Grant.
The council also approved a transient merchant license for Circus Pages International Inc. for a circus Jan. 25-26 at the National Guard Armory.

 

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