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New city hall is not a civic center,' officials say
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City Attorney Linnie Darden, Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas and City Manager Billy Edwards work during the citys planning workshop last week at the Sea Palms Resort on St. Simons Island. - photo by Denise Etheridge

A number of community organizations already have approached city officials about meeting inside the new city hall. But the officials, citing security concerns, say city hall only should be used for city business.

The topic of security at the new city hall was broached Thursday during the city’s off-site planning session on St. Simons Island.

Hinesville City Manager Billy Edwards said allowing groups to meet at the old city hall, before the new one was built, was not as complicated an issue because of how departments like finance and water were situated in the old building. Edwards recommended a policy that would exclude all but city-sanctioned functions to be held at city hall. The council agreed.

A Hinesville police officer currently is on duty to provide security at city hall during the day, officials said.

Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas suggested an alternative meeting place. Thomas recommended allowing groups to meet inside the municipal courtroom on the first floor of the Hinesville Police Department.

“If we can provide the public a place to meet without coming to city hall, we’ve met our obligation,” he said.

“City hall is not a civic center,” District 2 City Councilman Jason Floyd said. He said he would not want to prevent the public from having a place to meet, but said city hall should be reserved for city business or business approved by the city, such as an authority or committee. He also suggested non-city affiliated groups that meet at the municipal courtroom be charged a clean-up fee.

Edwards agreed with Floyd, using the Hinesville Military Affairs Committee as an example of a city function. HMAC meets at 7 p.m. the fourth Monday of each month in the Hinesville Police Department’s squad room. District 3 Council Member David Anderson serves on that committee and said HMAC has met at HPD since 2002.

The mayor said a city hall security policy should be fair across the board. If a function is not city-related, it should not be held in city hall, he said.

Edwards went further and said the city would not play favorites. If a council member serves on a particular city committee then that committee could meet at city hall, he said. Or, if a group of which an official was a member were meeting to specifically discuss a city-sanctioned event, they could use city hall. But, if the same council member wanted to hold a non-city related function at city hall, like a class reunion, it would not be allowed, Edwards said.

“The new city hall will be used for governmental functions,” Thomas concluded. “And we’ll continue to allow the municipal courtroom to be used by groups approved by the council.”

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