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Attorney says city contract with OMI is legal

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POSTED: February 25, 2013 4:00 p.m.
Photo by Randy C. Murray/

Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas reads a certificate of achievement that honors the city’s financial department Thursday during the city council meeting.

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Hinesville is in compliance with state code regarding contracting with water-treatment companies, according to City Attorney Linnie Darden III.
During Thursday’s city council meeting, Darden reported back to the council on a request it made during January’s meeting. He had been asked to determine if the city was in compliance with the General Assembly’s Official Code of Georgia’s chapter 36-60-15.1, which deals with how municipalities can contract with companies for operation of water treatment facilities. The issue was brought before the council by Allenhurst resident and former OMI employee Jackie Scott, who contended the city’s 28-year association with OMI was in violation of the state code. According to Scott, the code limits contracts to 20 years.
“When (the code) talks about a 20-year period, they’re talking about a 20-year contract,” said Darden, who noted the city has contracted with OMI only for short periods. “We have revised the contract periodically, and we now have OMI providing a lot more services than just water treatment. The (code) became effective in 1999 and was amended the next year. It’s a vague statute that makes no mention of grandfathering or smaller contract periods.”
Mayor Jim Thomas asked Darden if the city was therefore in compliance with the code, to which Darden replied “yes.”
Councilman Keith Jenkins asked if the city’s compliance with the code was something like political term limitations. Darden said the code was too vague to assume that.
During the public-comments session, Scott spoke to the council, directly questioning Darden’s legal assessment about whether the city was in compliance. Darden repeated what he had told the council, that the code did not specify a 20-year limitation but appeared only to limit a city to contract terms no longer than 20 years. There was a brief, heated exchange between Scott and Darden, and then Scott concluded his comments to the council, warning that the long association the city has had with OMI “lends itself to speculation and impropriety.”
Also during the public-comments portion, Hinesville resident Joseph Stuart loudly urged the council to create a tax rollback for Hinesville homeowners, suggesting the rollback would be an incentive to move to Hinesville and saying that homeowners take better care of their homes.
Jenkins said he might be willing to support such a rollback.
“I think it’s a good idea to look into the rollback of the millage rate for long-time homeowners,” Jenkins said. “It will be something we’ll look into — but no promises.”
In other items Thursday, an award was presented by Thomas and council to Chief Financial Officer Kimberly Ryon and her staff. For the seventh time, the Government Finance Officers’ Association recognized Hinesville’s financial department for its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report and the Popular Annual Financial Report, both for fiscal year ending Oct. 31, 2011.
Other information items heard by the council included proposed revisions to the city’s contract with Veolia Transportation for the Liberty Transit System, a draft scope of work for the Veterans Parkway Overlay District Study and an upcoming workshop about the city’s retirement system.
Action items approved included:
• a resolution to sign a sister-city agreement sometime in the future with Marsabit, Kenya, with no financial commitments at this time.
• an agreement to submit an application to the Georgia Department of Transportation and Federal Transport Administration for Transit Operations Assistance Grant Funding.
• a special one-day alcohol permit to allow for beer sales during the Darryl Worley concert April 6 at Bryant Commons.
• a proposal by Thomas to create a Hinesville Development Authority outside the downtown area was approved, although Councilman Jason Floyd voted against it.

 

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