Several people looking to attend the regularly scheduled Oct. 1, Hinesville City Council meeting were met with closed doors instead.
As the meeting was streamed via the City’s Facebook page the Courier questioned why folks had not been notified of the changes in meeting procedures ahead of the 3 p.m. meeting.
Hinesville City Manager Kenneth Howard addressed the issue at the end of the two-hour and thirty-minute meeting.
“As it has been stated earlier the Governor’s Executive new Order does extend the COVID-19 measures until Oct 15,” Howard said. “The social distancing guidelines are all in place, but the public health guidelines have been extended an additional 30 days until Nov. 9. We are continuing to take precautions and minimize the spread. At our last budget workshop, we indicated we would limit participation at our council meetings. Those who were on the agenda would be allowed in and those who were not on the agenda would not be allowed in, because of social distancing. That is the guidance that I have given my staff. I have seen the text message and things on Facebook saying that we did not notify people. We will address that in house.”
Howard said if the mayor and council wanted to address the matter differently then he would take their input but “highly suggested,” they maintain the new protocol.
“It is to protect those individuals, but also to protect you,” Howard said.
“It’s fine, but I just didn’t know,” said councilwoman Diana Reid who said she had no idea the change had been implemented.
The Coastal Courier received a copy of the changes at 12:55 p.m. Oct. 1, for their 3 p.m. meeting. We reached out to the City this past Friday, questioning the short notice provided to their legal organ and the community.
Monday afternoon the Courier received a response from the City’s Public Relations Director Whitney Morris-Reed.
“The notice regarding limited seating in the Council Chambers was posted prior to the meeting on our Facebook page,” the response noted. “Our meetings have been adhering to very strict capacity requirements and there were those on Thursday that were unable to be inside due to these requirements. Someone else would have had to leave before another could enter. However, this should have been communicated more clearly.”
However, no such notice appears to be posted on the City’s Facebook page matching the notice the Courier received just hours prior to the meeting. A posting dated Oct. 1, at 11:35 a.m. does address the Governor’s Extended Order and contained a link to the City’s COVID information page but has no clear path to the specific notice regarding the meeting change.
Morris-Reed said the City was in the process of adopting the same rules for their meetings as the Liberty County Board of Commissioners going forward. As soon as the policy is adopted, it will be advertised, and the public will be notified, she said.
During the meeting Howard said he will get with his staff to make sure, “We will do a better job of getting that out so the public will understand how we will be conducting business until further notice.”
Hinesville Police Chief Bill Kirkendall presented a report to the Mayor and Council regarding several recent incidents at GATA’s Sports Bar and Grill, Boot’s and The Big Apple which were in direct violation of the Governor’s Executive Order.
On Sept. 16 Boot’s was issued a citation for violating Governor’s executive order. Police also observed overcrowding July 19, 2020 when 363 persons were counted in the business. Their limit is no more than 86. At Big Apples six incidents have been reported since they re-opened to include a shooting incident on Sept. 1.
On Sept. 4, officers in the parking lot observed a member of the security staff carrying an unconscious man out of the business. The man had visible injuries to his face. The employee stated he didn’t know what happened and that he had found the man passed out at the bar.
On Sept. 18 Big Apples was cited for violating the Governor’s executive order for having 107 persons in the business when they were only allowed to have 83
At GATA’s a fight occurred in the bar on Sept. 10. The business was cited for the staff failing to wear face masks and for not following the guidance in the Governor’s executive order. On Sept. 17, two patrons were shot inside the club following a fight. The suspect was immediately taken into custody. A second individual will be arrested on October 1, for terroristic threats. Additional citations were issued for the staff failing to wear face masks and failure to follow the guidance as required in the Governor’s executive order.
Kirkendall recommended that a show-cause hearing be scheduled with the business owners to discuss recent events. He said owners should be encouraged to initiate an action plan to address security concerns and overcrowding and should be advised that repeated violations may have an adverse impact on their business license and/or liquor license..
You can see the list of incidents starting on page 100 of the city's meeting book found below.