Even after a proposed property-tax increase was settled with Mayor Jim Thomas’ tie-breaking vote, Thursday’s three-hour Hinesville City Council meeting remained contentious.
In all, the city council took action on 14 of 15 action items scheduled for Thursday’s meeting, to include the vote on the tax increase. Action was delayed until the next meeting for an application for the fiscal year 2013 Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant.
The meeting began with a presentation to recognize Hinesville Police Officer Shaunda Jackson for saving the life of a child. According to a commendation by Hinesville resident Cynthia Pickens, on Nov. 7 Jackson performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Pickens’ 1-month-old until paramedics arrived.
The council approved a supplemental resolution to the city water and sewer bond refunding issuance and a post-issuance compliance resolution to assign responsibility for compliance to Chief Financial Officer Kim Ryon. The council also approved a resolution essentially re-establishing speed limits on designated roadways and the use of speed-detection devices by law enforcement, according to City Manager Billy Edwards
Gabriele Hartage of the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission presented the design review board’s recommendation for the permanent Veterans Affairs Clinic planned for East Memorial Drive and East Oglethorpe Highway.
Another planning-and-zoning action item became an open public debate. Isaiah and Veronica White asked the council for a variance to the city ordinance for side-yard building set-back, which is supposed to be 10 feet. The White’s storage building is about two feet from their privacy fence.
The Whites, who do not currently live in the home, told the council their neighbors were “ganging up” on them to oppose a variance.
The LCPC had recommended disapproval, and council members agreed. Councilman Keith Jenkins said he might have approved a variance if it was only seven feet but not two feet.
“There’s a reason and a purpose for the ordinances as they are,” explain Mayor Pro Tem Charles Frasier. “Approving this could affect the entire neighborhood.”
The council approved an application for $300,000 from the 2013 Community Home Improvement Investment Program intended to improve housing for low-income residents, and they accepted a bid by OCS Inc. for $180,490 to complete the public-works department entrance project.
During the public comments session, Joseph Stuart, who had previously berated the council about the proposed property tax hike, asked the council to consider a reduction in the millage rate for homeowners only, which he said would be an incentive to buy a home here.
Another man warned the council to be more cooperative with businesses regarding the city’s sign ordinance or risk losing those businesses.
Jack Scott, an Allenhurst resident who spoke to the council Nov. 15 about public-works contractor OMI not giving its employees a cost-of-living increase, spoke to the council again, this time charging OMI with racial discrimination.
During last month’s meeting, Frasier and Jenkins expressed their concerns about OMI employees not being included in the 1.5-percent cost-of-living increase given to city employees. Both said they were unaware the city could not tell contractors how to pay their employees. OMI Director Greg Higgins said his company only gives merit raises, stating that only three or four employees did not get a recent raise.
Scott began his comments by reading the entire first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. He then referenced a 20-year-old article from the Coastal Courier about charges of racial discrimination in the then city-run public works department.
“The similarities then and now are uncanny,” said Scott, who claimed other employees are too intimidated to speak out and asked the council to investigate what he calls racial discrimination at OMI.
“Our city is prohibited by law from getting involved with personnel and contract decisions,” Thomas said.
However, Jenkins and Frasier said the council needed someone from OMI to explain “what’s going on” in order to “get this relationship back on track.”