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City council discuss removing personnel board and other topics at off-site workshop
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Assistant City Manager Kenneth Howard shows city council members and administrators a possible design for a park near Airport Road at the annual city planning workshop in St. Simons Island. The park is part of a list of projects to be funded with Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax VI revenue. - photo by Tiffany King

ST. SIMONS ISLAND-Hinesville City Council members and city administration discussed a wide range of topics at their annual workshop at the Sea Palms Resort and Conference Center earlier today.

 Friday was the first day of the workshop and will conclude by Saturday afternoon.

Topics included lighting on Veterans Parkway, policy procedures, the 2020 census, Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax projects and a Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System update.

 Personnel Board

 Council member Keith Jenkins suggested removing the city's Personnel Board, an committee of citizens that reviews decisions involving personnel disciplinary cases.

City manager Billy Edwards said if an employee is either demoted, terminated or suspended without pay, the case can go to an employee hearing, with an attorney present, witnesses and documentation. Edwards presides as the administrative hearing officer and then makes a decision after hearing the case. If that employee wants to appeal Edward's decision it then goes to the personnel board, which reviews the decision.

 Jenkins said instead of the personnel board the council should hear the appeal in an open, public hearing. Council members also wanted the option to not hear a case based on criteria, such as an apparent violation of the law.

 If the council hears appeals they would make a consensus decision in executive session, which would be recorded, and then come out of executive session to announce their decision.

 City attorney Linnie Darden III agreed to draft a policy.

 SPLOST VI projects

Hinesville's SPLOST VI projects were prioritized for scheduling. First on schedule was road improvements along Main Street, second was road improvements to McArthur Drive and third was improvements to the Hinesville Fire Department. Council members talked about some faulty plumbing in the building. The redesign of Bradwell Park in downtown Hinesville was put on the bottom of the list.

 Other projects such as a park in the Airport Road area, improvement to the Bryant Commons entry and Ryon Avenue alignment with Highway 84 were not prioritized. The council will wait for more information on those project costs then prioritize them.

 City summer youth program

Assistant City Manager Kenneth Howard presented his proposal for Hinesville's Summer Youth Enhancement Project, similar to Riceboro's Career Readiness Program. The program is designed to give youth hands-on, work experiences and career education. Local non-profit, youth organizations will participate in the program in that they will recommend mentees for the program. The trainee, between ages 14 to 18, will apply and go through in interview process.

Howard said the program would cost approximately $14,400. Council members were concerned about using funds not allocated in the budget for the program this summer.

 Later Howard announced that PAXEN Learning Corporation in Hinesville was willing to fund the program for $16,000

Hinesville Mayor Allen Brown recommended some changes to the proposal such as the length of the program and not excluding youth who aren't affiliated with an organization.

 The council is hoping to implement the pilot program this summer.

 Youth council

 The council also talked about establishing a youth council. Council member Jason Floyd suggested for the youth council be made up of middle and high school students, who will meet to discuss issues. Then quarterly meet with the city council and share their concerns. Floyd was excited about the idea and agreed to work on the project.

 Public Safety Director

 At the city's mini workshop held in December, Jenkins proposed looking into having a public safety director.

 Edwards sent inquiries to other cities similar to Hinesville who have a public safety director and asked questions about certification, if there was either a police or fire chief and other questions.

Some council members felt that a public safety director would need to be cross-trained and certified in fire and police matters. Jenkins did not think it was necessary.

 He wanted information for the position in place if either or both fire and police chiefs retire in the future.

 The council decided if the either resigns, instead of advertising the open position, they will come back and decide on whether or not to go forward with the public safety director position.

 Edwards will draft a position description.

 Retirement benefits for city council

 Council members will soon decide how much to increase their retirement benefits. Currently at retirement council members are paid $40 per month for every year they served. If increased to $60, the budget impact will be approximately $21,000 annually, if increased to $80 it will be approximately $43,000 annually.

 Council member Jason Floyd preferred $60, which he said would be in-line with other municipalities. Some preferred $80.

 The council will vote to increase the benefits to either $60 or $80 at the next city council meeting.

 Check back with the Coastal Courier for more on the city's workshop. 

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