Eutaw Council locks 3-3 on choosing Coleman as police chief

The Eutaw City Council, at their regular meeting on Tuesday, May 10, were unable to reach an agreement on a new police chief.
After a lenghthy executive session, Mayor Raymond Steele proposed Derrick Coleman, a sargeant with the Eutaw Police Department, as chief.. A motion was made and seconded, but the council could not agree.
Voting in favor of Coleman were Steele and Councilmembers Ralph Liverman and David Spencer.
Voting against Coleman were Councilmembers Shelia Smith, Joe Powell and Hattie Edwards.
This leaves Asst. Police Chief Luther Davis as the highest ranking officer in the department.
There has been no police chief in Eutaw since the unexpected death of Chief Tommy Summerville on December 9, 2010.
In other business, the council:
*Discussed the CDBG grant for the city water tank. Steele advised the council that ADECA had not received the expected amount of funding so the grant had been cut to $320,000. “This would make our matching amount $50,000,” said Steele.
“This is a $50,000 cut,” said Steele, “so we cannot do all we planned but we can repair the water tank,” he said.
On a vote of 4-1, with Smith voting no, the motion to apply for the grant passed.
*Unanimously approved a Municipal Water Pollution Prevention Resolution. This is something done on an annual basis and required no discussion,
*Discussed repairing the bridge on Springfield Avenue. “It needs attention,” said Spencer.
“It has been inspected by a bridge inspector,” replied Steele. No further action was taken.
*Approved payment of bills and claims, with Powell questioning the need for so much repair work on city work vehicles. “Our employees need to pay more attention to how they use this equipment,” he said.

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Eutaw City Council challenges mayor on selection of police chief and building inspector

By John Zippert,
Co-Publisher

In an unconventional move, that Mayor Steele called “illegal”, the Eutaw City Council at its April 26 meeting voted to require the Mayor to bring his formal recommendation for filling the positions of Police Chief and City Building Inspector by the Council’s second meeting on the fourth Tuesday in May. Mayor Pro-Tem Hattie Edwards called for a vote and the Council passed the motion over the objections of the Mayor.
Mayor Steele said he had reviewed the applications for Police Chief but had not made up his mind on a recommendation and that he might recommend reopening the process for more applicants to apply for this important position. Councilmembers David Spencer and Sheila H. Smith questioned this saying the Mayor had over three months to fill this position. Councilwoman Edwards brought out that the Mayor had not filled the position of Building Inspector for over a year.
David Spencer said, “The Mayor is trying to run out the clock on these appointments and he needs to fill these positions.” Sheila Smith said the situation was “ridiculous and these positions need to be filled”. She demanded to see copies of all building permits that the Mayor had issued and approved in his capacity as acting Building Inspector over the past year. The Mayor said that she was welcome to come to City Hall and see the permits at any time. Smith said she would come the next morning to review these documents.
Mayor Raymond Steele claimed, “ I have broken no rules in taking time to consider finding the best person to fill these positions and may have to reopen applications for the Police Chief’s position. Assistant Chief Luther Davis is serving as acting Chief in the interim since the death of former chief Tommy Summerville.
The Eutaw Council heard a report from Ms. Cory Johnson of the West Alabama Regional Planning Commission on the possibility of submitting an application for a CDBG grant to repair the City’s main water tank behind City Hall. Johnson explained that the City’s application from last year had not been approved by ADECA. She suggested resubmitting the $400,000 grant application with some changes in this year’s competition.
Johnson said that ADECA, the state agency handling the CDBG grant competition, had changed some conditions for this year’s grant. The state has reinstated a matching requirement of at least 10% and possibly more based on budget cuts. There is also an issue of whether ADECA will accept a house to house survey the City did three years ago, after annexation of Branch Heights, of demographic data in the City to justify the grant or require a new survey which will be costly and may not be possible to complete by the June 20 proposal deadline.
The Council approved a motion to submit a letter requesting a waiver from ADECA of collecting new demographic data on the City, as the first step in deciding on applying for this grant.
After considerable discussion, the Council agreed to pay all bills submitted to the City including an invoice for equipment repair and a $1170 invoice from Attorney Stieverson of Tuscaloosa for conducting a set of hearings for a dismissed employee. These two invoices were not paid at the prior April 12 meeting because several Council members objected to these payments.
In other business, The Eutaw City Council:
*approved a beer and wine license for Dollar General in Eutaw;
*tabled a decision on bus maintenance fees;
*tabled until a working session later in the month, finalization of a grievance policy and other elements of the personnel policies for City employees;
*discussed continuing drainage problems in the City’s Thomas Cemetery, which is damaging some graves and tombs;
*postponed a decision on purchasing new police cars pending receipt of specifications for needed cars and clarifying the status of a grant to USDA Rural Development for police cars;
*approved at its April 12 meeting, a motion to sell New Generation Church a two acre tract on Prairie Avenue for $8,000 an acre for construction of a church and educational center. The church is not permitted to use the land for a cemetery;
*approved at its April 12 meeting, a contribution of $6,000 to the County Commission to assist in the repair of the roads in Branch Heights;
*heard a report from the Mayor that ADECA was not ready to schedule a meeting to discuss the 2005 – $297,000 grant from Delta Regional Authority, for repair of the sewer line on Boligee Street.

Branch Heights residents angry over condition of roads

Branch Heights residents attend meeting which was held to discuss condition of roads in their various neighborhoods

The community center at Branch Heights subdivision was filled with residents angry over the ever-increasing deterioration of their roads.
The Eutaw City Council held a called meeting at Branch Heights Monday evening to discuss this problem with the residents.
Present at the speakers table were Councilmembers Joe L. Powell and Hattie Edwards, who share this district when elections are held, Councilmember David Spencer and Eutaw Mayor Raymond Steele. Also at the table was Greene County Commissioner Elzora Fluker, a homeowner in Branch Heights who had asked that the meeting be held.
Fluker opened the meeting by explaining exactly why everyone was there.
She said that the condition of the roads in Branch Heights were an ever-increasing problem for everyone, but most of all for the residents.
This problem became critical when the city annexed the subdivision, which had been owned by the county up until the annexation.
“We’ve been talking about who owns these roads for years. Well, nobody owns the roads! They never have been given over as they should have been,” said Fluker
She explained this situation began in 1970 when some necessary paperwork was never filed.
Then, according to Fluker, a legislative act filed in 1995 mandated that any time a city annexes property from a county, the city owns the property. “According to this 1995 legislation, the county should have given the property to the city, but maintained the roads for one year,” said Fluker. “Now we have to start all over again, The City can’t do it; the County can’t do it.”
Fluker admitted that the roads could not be fixed at this time, but said that they could be repaired. She said that repairs done to date had not lasted because “what they are putting down is for a sandy soil. This is prairie dirt.” She asked that three bodies, the Greene County Commission, the City of Eutaw and the Housing Authority of Greene County, work together to alleviate the problem.
Eutaw Mayor Raymond Steele admitted the truth of Fluker’s statement but said that the act called for the county to have turned the roads over the city in “good, repairable condition,” which he said was not done.
One resident asked why the city did not just fix the roads. Steele replied that the city lacked the authority to do this since the county said they were going to keep the roads.
Steele maintained that the county had never given the roads over to the city.
Fluker’s suggestion was that the first step was to file the necessary paperwork in the Probate Office. “Then the county has to pass a resolution giving the roads to the city. “Branch Heights was never given to either of them,” she said.
One resident said that Steele only annexed Branch Heights in order for Eutaw to meet the qualifications necessary for a town to become a city,
“This community always wanted to be a part of Eutaw,” replied Steele.
When asked what benefits the residents of Branch Heights received from being a part of the city, Steele replied that they got both fire and police protection.
City Councilman Joe L. Powell, a Branch Heights resident, said that both city and county needed to be committed to repairing the roads “We called this meeting to see what we can do to make these roads passable. If the county will commit something, the city will.”
An already complicated situation is worsened by the fact that further damage is being done to the roads on a daily basis by the presence of heavy concrete trucks using them to haul in material for the construction of sidewalks, etc. It was not known whether or not a clause was made a part of the final agreement with the company owning the trucks that any damage done to the roads by the heavy trucks would be repaired.
Various residents told horror stories of damage done to automobiles, of friends and family being reluctant to visit due to the condition of the roads. One lady bluntly said, “I’ll be dead and gone before too long. These roads will have shook me to death!”
County Engineer Arzo Abrams told the entire group that the roads needed to be totally replaced – that piecemeal repair would never be a solution. “Until you can properly fix the roads, you are going to just throw money away! These whole roads need to be torn out!” said Abrams.
While no agreement was reached nor solution found at this meeting, at least the three parties involved in solving the problem – the Housing Authority of Greene County, the City of Eutaw and the Greene County Commissions – were made aware that Branch Heights residents were ready to demand that something be done and that it would take all three governing entities working together to solve the problem.
“The blame game is over,” concluded Fluker. “Something must be done.”

Eutaw City Council debates budget and finances, selection of police chief and grant applications


Eutaw Council L-R Councilwoman Sheila Smith, Councilman Joe L. Powell, Councilwoman Hattie Edwards, Mayor Raymond Steele, City Clerk Peggy Stripling, Councilman Ralph Liverman and Councilman David Spencer. Pictured in audience is Mr. Levi Morrow.

By: John Zippert,
Co-Publisher

In its first three meetings for 2011, on January 11 and 25 and February 8, the Eutaw City Council has debated budget and finances, the procedure for selecting a new police chief and matters related to Federal and state infrastructure grant applications.
The debate on substantive issues goes on in a continuing climate of distrust and animosity between Mayor Raymond Steele and members of the City Council concerning management and control of the City’s finances, policies and direction.
In the January 11th meeting, the Council heard a report from West Alabama Regional Commission (WARC) concerning rejection of a CDBG grant request that was submitted to the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) for a water tank, as well as repairs and maintenance of the city’s water system.
Eutaw’s grant application lost competitive points because the City’s water rates were not high enough to meet ADECA standards, engineering fees were too high, no local match was provided, the life expectancy of the project was only 15 years compared to 50 years which was preferred by ADECA and other factors.
The Council voted to have WARC resubmit the application with adjustments for the areas where points were lost for the next round of competition which closes at the end of February.
At that same meeting, Councilman Ralph Liverman presented a draft budget for the current fiscal year which began on October 1, 2010 and ends September 30, 2011. Liverman said, “As best as I can tell this is the first time in history that the Eutaw City Council has actually prepared and reviewed a budget document.”
The Council adopted the budget for 2010-2011 as presented. The General Fund Budget adopted included projected revenues of $1,673,950 and projected expenditures of $1,618,663, leaving a projected surplus of $55,287. The projected expenditures include $458,869 for Administration, $578,175 for the Police Department, $215,048 for the Street Department, $22,000 for the Fire Department, $29,237 for Janitorial Expenses, $99,334 for the Sewer Department, and $216,000 for the Sanitation Department.
The budget adopted for the Water Fund included projected revenues of $879,000 and projected expenditures of $877,857, leaving a projected surplus of $l,143.
Projected expenditures include $34,700 for administration, $463,157 for operations, and $380,000 for non-departmental expenses.
Liverman said, “The adoption of the budget is an important step in getting better control of city finances. However we need to improve on this process so that the council members and the public can get a better understanding of the city’s finances. The figures in the budget were based on revenues and expenditures from previous years. I feel fairly confident about the projected revenues but less so as to projected expenditures. We need to get a better budgetary accounting system that will give us up-to-date amounts each month and allow us to plan for unforeseen events, such as equipment breakdowns, water line leaks and other emergencies.”
After voting on the budget, the Council voted to give $30,000 to 9-1-1 Emergency Management for necessary operations.
Councilman Powell spoke to the need for repair of the streets in Branch Heights and Councilwomen Sheila H. Smith mentioned problems of pot holes in the library parking lot which hampers people from using the services at the library. Mayor Steele said, “the City does not have the funds to repair and maintain all of the roads and streets in the City or to fix all of the problems with utilities and community facilities like the library. This is why we are seeking state and Federal grant funds for these things.” Powell said he was setting up a meeting on February 28 in Branch Heights to discuss repair of the streets in his Council district.
In the June 25th meeting the Council received its audit report for the past fiscal year ending September 30, 2010 from James Gardner, CPA of Demopolis. Gardner reviewed the audit and said the City of Eutaw had received an unqualified opinion indicating that the financial statements accurately reflected the financial condition of the City. Gardner did recommend that the City update its computer softwear since the technology in use was “several generations behind what was currently available and being used by other similar municipalities.” Gardner said it would cost $5,000 to $10,000 to upgrade the softwear systems. Councilmember Liverman asked the auditor to recommend some specifications and options for the softwear upgrade, so the Council could act on them in a future meeting.
The Council also voted not to fund a $30,000 contract with Almon and Associates, an engineering company, recommended by Mayor Steele, because funds were limited and they did not want to design additional projects until some of those already proposed had been completed. Mayor Steele said the Council was being shortsighted in not planning ahead and doing the engineering and environmental assessments necessary to project new water, sewer and community facility projects.

Appointment of Police Chief

Councilman David Spencer raised the issue of the procedure for selection of a new Police Chief to fill the position held by the late Tommy Summerville, who died in late December. The Mayor said he was soliciting applications until January 31st and then he would review and interview the applicants and make a recommendation to the City Council for their approval.
Spencer, who is chair of the Council Police Committee, asked if he could review the applications and make input to the process. At first, the Mayor would not agree to any participation by Spencer or members of the Police Committee (Liverman and Powell) due to confidentiality of information on the resumes and other concerns. After much discussion and consultation with Mike Smith, City Attorney, Council-women Smith proposed a motion that the Police Committee would be able to review the applications for Police Chief in the Mayor’s office after signing a confidentiality agreement. This motion was approved by a majority of the Council.
Elliot Waters, a Fish and Game officer, who has had the required police training, was approved to serve as a part time officer. In the February 8th meeting in response to questions from the Council, Mayor Steele said that he had received numerous applications for police chief and shared them with Councilman Spencer to review. Steele said he had not had time to review the applications in depth and decide which applicants to interview to make his recommendations to the Council. In response to Councilman Spencer request for Police Committee involvement and input in the selection process, Steele said he would operate in accordance with the City ordinance and make his recommendations to the Council at the appropriate time. He seemed unwilling to accept any advice or input from the Council Police Committee in the selection process.
The Mayor also indicated that he had made efforts but had not yet set up a meeting with ADECA, USDA Rural Development, Delta Regional Authority (DRA) or Senator Richard Shelby’s office on plans to proceed with a $297,000 sewer improvement grant, first approved for the City in 2004 through the DRA. Several Council members have been concerned that the city will lose these funds unless action is taken to begin this project.
The Mayor has been working on setting up a meeting with the concerned parties since mid-October 2010 – so far without results. Some Council members feel the City will not be approved for any new water or sewer projects until this sewage improvement grant, approved by DRA almost seven years ago is started.

Mayor Steele says he will advertise for police chief ‘soon’

The Eutaw City Council began its meeting on Tuesday, December 28 with only one item of business on its agenda. – an application from Wayne Spencer for an off premises beer and wine license for S & S Grocery.
However, the first motion from the council was to amend this agenda to include further discussion on the city attorney. This motion was unanimously approved and the council went into executive session since good name and character were to be discussed.
After approximately 30 minutes, they returned, but had nothing to report.
Before the meeting ended, Councilwoman Sheila Smith asked Mayor Raymond Steele if he was getting any applications for the position of police chief.
Steele replied that advertising for this position “should go to next week.”
The council discussed Spencer’s request for a license and approved it unanimously, pending approval by the State ABC Board.
The question concerning the grant for a sewer project which had been discussed at the last meeting did not come up. However, after the meeting, Mayor Steele said, “I do not know of any documentation that this grant has been taken away from us. I asked a representative from ADECA concerning this and she said we would sit down and talk after the holidays.”
Steele also told the council that the city had received two police cars from Selma. The council approved allowing city employees to take 1/2 day off on December 30 and a full day on December 31 for the New Year’s holiday.

Eutaw Council disagrees with Mayor over city attorney

At the regular meeting of the Eutaw City Council on Tuesday, December 14, the council once again tried to convince Mayor Raymond Steele to seek another city attorney.
Shelia Smith made the motion that the city advertise the post of city attorney.
Steele refused to accept the motion, saying it was out of order.
He also said that the council had no reason to be dissatisfied with the current attorney Mike Smith.
“What about the cost?” asked councilmember Ralph Liverman, and added dates and times that one or more councilmember complained to Steele about Smith.
Councilmember Hattie Edwards told Steele he could not just disregard a motion from the council that had been made and seconded. Steele said he could if the motion was out of order.
After more complaints from the council, Steele suggested a 7 a.m. meeting on Wednesday, December 22.
Edwards replied that the matter could be settled right then – that they were in a public meeting.
Steele refused to consider the motion. At this point, Liverman suggested that a meeting be called for 7 a.m. on Tuesday, December 21. This was approved by the council.

Grant okayed in 2004 still
not utilized

The next item to be discussed was a grant approved for the city in 2004.
Councilwoman Edwards wanted to know why the money had not been used and if the $79,000 matching money the city had to have was still in the budget.
Steele advised her that this money had never been in the budget – that it was to have been borrowed.
He told them that he could not control ADECA and it was not his actions which were slowing up the grant. He said that he would try to contact the persons necessary to move forward with the grant.New Water and Sewer Rates
for Southfresh passed

The council unanimously approved a contract for one year setting water and sewage rates for Southfresh Catfish Processing Plant.
Southfresh will pay a total of $3,000 per month for water and sewage. At the end of the year-long contract, a new contract will be negotiated.
The next item to be discussed concerned the roads in Branch Heights and King Village.
Councilpersons Joe Powell and Hattie Edwards, both of whom represent parts of the area under discussion, told the mayor that something has to be done about the condition of the roads.
Steele advised them that the county had assumed responsibility for the roads being discussed and any questions they had should be directed to them.
Edwards reminded Steele that the last time he ran for Mayor, he told people in these areas that he had a letter from ALDOT (Alabama Department of Transportation) advising that they were going to fix the roads. “What happened?” she asked.
“The city of Eutaw is maintaining the roads for which we are responsible,” retorted Steele. “The county chose to take these roads and we should let them!”
Powell advised him that residents in the area affected by the roads had organized a committee and had contacted “6 on Your Side,” a television news show that features investigative journalists discussing various inequities around the state. According to Powell, the reporters had agreed to do a show in Eutaw which would go out all over the state.
Another issue unanimously approved was to allow Let Thy Kingdom Come Outreach Ministry to use the city bus to transport approximately 100 youth to Atlanta to pick up toys and food with the city providing the bus driver, gas and bus. This decision was later rescinded when it was discovered that the bus had already been booked for that day.
Council members suggested that a record of who has the bus rented and when would be helpful in making decisions as to whether or not it is available.
In the public comment period following the business meeting, one citizen told Steele that he had taken responsibility for the Branch Heights/King Village roads and that the citizens should not have to fight to get them repaired.
Another citizen admonished the council, saying that they should work more closely with the mayor.
After hearing several more comments, the meeting was adjou rned with plans to meet again on Tuesday at 7 a.m.

Tuesday Meeting

At the Tuesday meeting, which had been transformed to a working session, nothing was immediately done to change the city attorney’s status.
Steele was adamant that he and only he had the authority to hire and fire city employees. Councilmembers objected to his interpretation of the rules. Councilman David Spencer said that when the mayor said a motion was out of order, the council could address disposition of the matter and possibly overrule the mayor.
He admitted that the mayor had certain powers but the council had an ordinance which gives the council the power to question certain decisions.
“When a motion is made and seconded,” said Councilwoman Edwards, “it is on the floor and should be voted up or down.
Steele disagreed, saying that if a motion is made by the council concerning an action over which that the body has no authority to proceed, then the motion is out of order.
It was brought out that City Attorney Mike Smith receives $1,500 per month as a retainer and gets $195 per hour, as well as 50.5¢ a mile travel expenses. Smith did say he didn’t bill the city for portions of hours. It was also revealed that Smith did not have a contract with the city.
According to Mayor Steele, he reappointed Attorney Mike Smith in 2008 for a four year duration.
He stated that the council cannot change this since the council cannot hire or fire, only approve or disapprove. “The City Ordinance of April 2010 confirms this,” said Steele.
Because this meeting had been labeled as a working meeting, no motions were made nor was any official action taken.
The council merely discussed various issues without taking any action.
They were advised by the Mayor that he had spoken with someone at ADECA about the pending grant and that a meeting would be scheduled after the holidays.

Eutaw City Council discusses water and sewer improvements

By: John Zippert, Co-Publisher

At its regular meeting Tuesday night October 26, 2010, the Eutaw City Council discussed several proposals to improve the city’s water and sewer system.
In our October 13, 2010 edition, the Greene County Democrat reported that the city had lost a major grant from the Delta Regional Authority (DRA), made in 2003, for the improvement of the sewer system on Boligee street.
Our reporting was based on interviews with members of the City Council who expressed concern that the DRA and the USDA Rural Development (manager of the project) would likely withdraw and reallocate the grant funds because they were not utilized for the project on a timely basis.
Mayor Raymond Steele of Eutaw contacted the Democrat to complain that our coverage “was incorrect and that the grant had never been officially withdrawn.” The Mayor blamed the engineering firm, DRA and USDA for delays and said he was still working to secure this grant of $297,500 for the Boligee Street repairs.
In the public comment period of last night’s meeting, the Democrat’s reporter asked the Mayor to comment on the status of the project. Mayor Steele said, “This is still an active project and the funds have not been withdrawn.” The Mayor went on to say that he had been contacted by Senator Richard Shelby’s office and that they offered to convene a meeting of all parties including DRA, USDA and the city to get the project back on track. When asked if this meeting had been scheduled, the mayor responded that he was working on getting it set up.
After the meeting in an interview with city council members Hattie Edwards and Sheila Hann, this reporter was told that Edwards had attended a regional planning training meeting in Point Clear, Alabama last week. At the meeting, she approached officials from DRA, USDA and Senator Shelby’s office on the problem of the Boligee Street sewer grant. Edwards and Hann felt her contacts had resulted in the call to the Mayor.
Hann said, ‘It is urgent that the Mayor act to save the grant or the city will lose it.” Edwards indicated that she will be contacting the Mayor to push him to set up the meeting so the grant can go forward.
Action on other projects
After a long discussion, the City Council approved the expenditure of $30,000 to Almond and Associates Engineers of Tuscaloosa for engineering design work required to make applications to USDA Rural Development for a $2.3 million loan and grant package for various improvements to the city’s water and sewer systems. Among the water projects included are improvements of the water line on Highway 14 (Mesopotamia Street); a 6 inch water line extension on Highway 14 to the Airport and Lock 7 Road; an upgrade of water meters and automatic meter readings in the City.
Among the sewage improvements are a sewer expansion from the Airport to the Lagoon and rehabilitation of pumping stations connecting the sewage lines between the lagoon and the Crossroads of America Industrial Park at Boligee.
Some of the Council members felt that the sewage and water lines in the center of the city radiating from the Courthouse Square should have priority over service to sparsely populated areas on Lock 7 Road.
The services to the Airport would reach both the new City Park and could be extended to Lock 7 Road if funding permits.
Councilwoman Hann wanted a meeting with USDA Rural Development officials to explain the possibilities of funding before incurring engineering expenses but she was overridden by the rest of the Council.
The Council’s approval of the Almond and Associates request means that the city will have detailed design drawings to submit in future proposal requests to USDA and other Federal and state agencies for water and sewer improvements.
The Mayor said the total improvements in the city’s water and sewer system could cost $6 to 10 million and would likely result in an increase in rates to pay back the loan funds involved.
In other actions:
• The City Council approved paying $17,263 of an August bill of $18,206 for residential garbage collection, based on the city’s count of active garbage carts. Payment of this bill had been delayed pending a meeting with Waste Management. The meeting was inconclusive and the city’s lower payment of the bill may trigger more discussion and negotiations with the company to lower payments for garbage collection.
• Approved travel for police officer Beck.
• Heard continuing complaints of street repairs needed on Vera Vista and Brown avenues.