City Council meeting ends year with full house and agenda

Published 9:56 am Wednesday, December 28, 2022

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The Bainbridge City Council chamber was packed last Tuesday evening, with a large crowd showing up for the meeting. After the invocation, pledge and approval of minutes, visitors were allowed to address the council on issues that may not be on the agenda. Bruce Kirbo briefly addressed the council during this portion, asking the council to consider allowing public comment on several agenda items, including a proclamation, a CDBG disaster relief resolution, an amendment to a parks and recreation ordinance, and a consideration of planning commission recommendations. He also spoke on several agenda items, namely leases, citing not knowing whether or not public participation would be allowed, asking the council not to enter into the leases.

After the public participation, Mayor Reynolds recognized Reverend Adren Bivens and the Laymen Brotherhood Second Chance Outreach Center with a proclamation commending them for their efforts.

Next, the council heard about a resolution for CBDG disaster relief funds, specifically for Hurricane Michael relief. The resolution was specifically to allow the city to begin applying for about $3,000,000 of these new funds, which would be used for a “lift station rehabilitation project”. The council approved the resolution.

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The council next considered approval of alcoholic beverage license applications and renewals, approving all but one application on account of the manager having a misdemeanor DUI.

Steve O’Neil next spoke to the council on planning commission recommendations, which included approval for conditional use for a cigar bar and lounge on N Broad St., as well as an application for a complete rezoning on behalf of Collins Family Mortuary. Greg Birch with First United Methodist Church addressed the council on the Collins request, specifically stating that, while the church would “be a good neighbor” and not tow any cars that ended up using their parking lot, the church would not enter into a written agreement. Both O’Neil and Collins’ general manager Zachary Frazier corroborated this. Both were approved by the council.

Next, the council heard a special presentation by Jeremy Emmett, chief executive officer of Southern Lodging, which operates the Courtyard by Marriot hotel in Thomasville. Emmett gave a brief overview of how the Thomasville hotel came to be, and how the hotel design is “keeping with the area where it’s located”, before getting into his vision for a potential hotel in Bainbridge. Specifically, the hotel would be located on the corner of N Florida St and Dothan Rd, bordering on the river and just north of Chason Park. During the question session with the council, Emmett stated that they had considered a location further down the river past the train trestle, but complications caused them to choose the current location. The potential for a public-private partnership with the city was also brought up during the presentation, though the presentation was merely intended to serve as an introduction; the council will hear more on the proposal in the future.

A second special presentation was on the agenda for the evening, this one by attorney Tom Conger, in response to multiple posts on Facebook regarding multiple projects and deals the city has entered, posts which alleged potentially illegal and/or unethical conduct. “Before I go into the itemizations, let me say this for the public: no one on this council, and no one in city administration, and no one on the Downtown Development Authority, or the Downtown Bainbridge Development Authority, has done anything illegal, or unethical, or morally wrong in any way,” Conger proclaimed. “There have been no monetary irregularities,” he asserted. “I know of only two mistakes and I made both of them.”

Conger then addresses specific issues brought up in the Facebook posts, beginning with the paving of streets in Whigham. According to Conger, in September of 2021, Whigham approached Bainbridge about assisting them in paving streets, as they had funds that would be lost if not used for paving. Conger continued to say that the city performed the paving in June, billing Whigham a total of $174,826. Conger did also state that fuel costs were not covered, costing the city $3,950. Conger emphasized the work the city has done with both the county government and neighboring towns like Brinson and Attapulgus. “Does our city have any business going outside the county to help a city like Whigham, and not be reimbursed $3,950 fuel costs?” Conger asked rhetorically. “Let’s remember in 2016, there was a storm here that caused sand to back up into the machinery at the water treatment plant,” he continued. “The cities of Thomasville, Cairo, Valdosta and Moultrie immediately dispatched their pump trucks to our water treatment plants, to help Bainbridge with this problem, and with their help, we got the treatment plant back up and running very quickly. Conger said that none of those cities charged Bainbridge for this.

Conger then moved on to allegations aimed at the SmithCo. Recycling lease, some of which were posted on Facebook, and were also addressed to the council itself via email. The first point Conger addressed was concern that the lease was referred to “as a contract to manage the city’s transfer station and roll-off business,” when a lease and management agreement are two different things. “The word ‘manage’ in the minutes was simply an incorrect choice of words,” Conger asserted, stating that the lease had been clearly discussed and properly labeled beforehand.

Other concerns with the lease included the $5,000 monthly rent. Conger asserted that the equipment, which was included in the lease, was only worth $392,000 at the most. “So in five years, the city will have been paid $300,000 rent, for equipment that was worth $392,000 at the time the agreement was entered into,” he said. He added that the lease was “a great deal” for the city.

Other issues discussed included the Downtown Bainbridge Development Authority (not to be confused with the Downtown Development Authority). As Conger put it, Facebook posts suggested the DBDA had been used for the Rivertown project to conceal the fact that Doug Young and Daryl Cox, both members of the DDA, had been awarded the construction contract for the Rivertown project. Conger stated that this was not the case, but that the city bond council had wanted to use the DBDA, because of its status as a constitutional authority.

Issues raised with the Bonnie Blue House lease at the Rivertown project and the Kitchen South food truck were among the other items Conger addressed. Conger maintained that there was no wrongdoing done by the city, and that any mistakes made were his.

Other items on the agenda included a public hearing on amendments to a Parks and Recreation ordinance, followed by the council approving to adopt the amendments. A lease agreement with RDK Assets was also approved.

Two transfers were also voted on by the council: one, a lease transfer, transferring the lease of the transfer station with SmithCo. to Doug Young, who has now purchased SmithCo Recycling. The second involved a deed transfer for the old Decatur County senior center, which had been given to the city by the county last year; the transfer would give the deed from the city to the Downtown Development Authority.

The meeting adjourned after additional mayoral appointments, bills and bids were voted on.