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Retreat targets 38 issues
City leaders focus on personnel, development
0722 City workshopweb
City Manager Billy Edwards points Thursday to current city council district lines on a map. A proposed plan would redraw all five districts using major roads and intersections as boundaries. - photo by Photo by Randy C. Murray

Hinesville leaders stayed issue-focused during their annual planning workshop last week at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel. Participants first arrived at the hotel Wednesday afternoon and began prioritizing the 38 issues to be discussed. Their workday ended around 7 p.m.
The leaders began their first full day of planning around 8 a.m. Thursday, working through breaks and lunch to wrap things up shortly before 5 p.m., having discussed in great detail 19 of the 38 issues.
“I think getting away from Hinesville for a planning workshop is a good idea. (This) way, we can stay focused and get more work done,” said Mayor Jim Thomas as he addressed an issue first raised by city employees during a “Mingle with the Mayor” in November.
He said he told concerned employees he tried to have a strategic planning workshop in Liberty County the first year he was elected but halfway through the first day, half the city’s leaders had been called away to tend to other matters.
In addition to Thomas, the City Manager Billy Edwards, City Attorney Linnie Darden, Assistant City Manager Ken Howard, Paul Simonton of P.C. Simonton & Associates and all five city councilmen, Mayor Pro Tem Charles Frasier and members David Anderson, Jason Floyd, Keith Jenkins and Kenneth Shaw, attended the workshop.
Among the 38 issues Thomas and Edwards said they considered most important were an agreement to amend the city personnel policy and procedures, plans for development along Veterans Parkway, continued medical insurance coverage for city employees and an agreement not to ban pit bull terriers within the city limits.
According to Edwards, the issues of concern in the personnel policy and procedures had to do with the qualifications of the grievance committee and the procedures for appealing a disciplinary action or dismissal.
Darden suggested that once the supervisor and department heads review an appeal and the city manager makes a decision, further appeals should be limited to a records review, the Equal Opportunity Commission or superior court.
An amendment to the policy is needed because current grievance committee members might not be trained enough in human resource issues to make a records review.
Simonton presented a draft drawing of the Veterans Parkway corridor from Highway 84 to the gate at Fort Stewart. The drawing included the proposed widening of the road from E.G. Miles Parkway to the gate and current zoning codes along the entire route.
Simonton said in order for Veterans Parkway widening to begin on schedule in April 2013, everything needs to be in place, including an agreement with Fort Stewart to relocate utilities.
The leaders were in full agreement to continue current medical coverage for all city employees, noting it is especially important to do so since budget restraints prevented pay raises.
The issue of pay freezes also was discussed, but it was noted that unlike some cities, Hinesville has not cut any positions in order to give raises to others.
Although it was the first issue listed on the agenda, a proposed ordinance to ban pit bulls within the city wasn’t taken up until near the end of the workshop.
“Let me say from the start, I’m against banning pit bulls,” Floyd said.
His position was echoed by the other four council members, the mayor, city manager, assistant city manager and especially the city attorney.
“One thing we don’t want to do is write breed-specific legislation,” warned Darden. “What we can do is follow state law and require pet owners whose dogs have been deemed ‘vicious’ to be tagged with a (micro)chip so they can be tracked and thereby linked to future attacks.”
The council agreed to review the current ordinance but not to ban any particular breed.
Other issues discussed included changing other ordinances or policies and possible uses of the 25 percent of T-SPLOST funds if the referendum is passed. On Thursday, Rachel Hatcher, transportation planning director with the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission, gave a one-hour update on the transit study.
With the top priority issues already discussed — except the proposed pit bull ban, which they deliberately saved for last — workshop attendees were able to finish the remaining 19 issues before 4 p.m. on Friday, again by working through breaks and lunch.

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