Ex-City Manager Criticizes Vidalia’s Customer Service
At the regular session on September 12, former Vidalia City Manager Bill Torrance addressed the Vidalia City Council about the city’s customer service practices. Torrance told Council members that he felt the city had lost its regard for customer service. “It seems obvious to me that we have lost the sense of customer service and basic respect that should be a basic principle at City Hall. I know each one of you personally, and I believe in my heart that you respect the citizens of Vidalia; however, I also believe that respect is not shown by some of the appointed leadership in our city administration.”
He added, “It is the duty of each of you to set the standard and ensure the implementation and adherence of basic policy to make sure that citizens of Vidalia are treated as you would want your family to be treated.”
According to Torrance, there were three recent incidents that he personally experienced that exhibited a negative manner of treatment from city employees. His first example was the strug- continued from page
gle that he encountered in attempting to sign up for public participation at a meeting. “This very action that has to be taken by a citizen to be allowed 3 minutes to talk to the Council has been implemented for the convenience of the elected officials, not for the citizens,’ he explained.
“Imagine if you are a citizen who does not regularly approach the Council, but have an issue that you feel strongly enough about that you come to the Council meeting, and find that you cannot speak to the Council because you have not completed the correct paperwork and now have to wait a month. This sends the message that the City Council has no interest in the problems of the citizens; they only want to get through the meeting.”
Torrance said this protocol was not practiced by the predecessors to the current administration and that prior to 2016, the mayor simply asked attendees if they had anything to address with the Council. “What a difference and more positive message that is,” he remarked about the previous system.
His second experience with this issue with customer service occurred in his realization that the City no longer had employees receiving and directing calls at the Police Department, but rather automated recordings. “Late in my career, I considered closing dispatch and transferring calls to 911. This would have resulted in an annual savings of approximately $75,000; but no model that I considered eliminated having someone to answer the phone at the Police Department during working
hours.” The message sent by having an automated response service rather than an actual employee receiving phone calls sends a message of detachment and results in a feeling of frustration by callers, according to Torrance. The third incident occurred when Torrance was not notified of the change in date of tax hearings even though he had informed the City of his intent to speak at the hearings. He said this change in dates without proper notification caused confusion and would likely result in minimal attendance of the hearing. He also shared his frustration with the price charged to him for requested public documents, which he said discourages the public from seeking to know more about their government.
Torrance ended his public participation by informing the Council that this disregard of customer service and “dismissive attitude toward the general public” must be addressed, as it is the city administration’s duty to set the standard by which citizens of Vidalia should be treated.
Sweet Onion Citizen
The Sweet Onion Citizen Award for the month of September was awarded posthumously to longtime firefighter Mikell Byrd, whom many knew as “Big Mike.” Byrd worked for many years with both the Toombs County and Vidalia Fire Departments before succumbing to his battle with cancer in early August. Byrd’s award was accepted in his honor by his wife, children, and Captain Robert Tillman.
“If anyone exhibited a heart of love and service to his family and the community, it was Mikell,” Mayor Doug Roper remarked. Roper continued to recount Byrd’s involvement in the community through his church, memberships in local associations, and the fire departments.
Firefighter Recognition Lieutenant Robert Phelps was recognized by the Council for his achievement of receiving Diver and Rescue Diver certifications. According to Fire Chief Brian Sikes, Phelps has been working on this certification for several years, after he came to his Chief and asked for the opportunity.
“When he first asked to go to diver training, all I could think was ‘why?’” Sikes shared. “Then, I remembered all the ponds, lakes, and other bodies of water we had in the area, and realized what an awesome asset and resource this would be.” Sikes said soon after this realization, a private citizen donated almost $10,000 of SCUBA and Rescue equipment, which supplied Phelps the apparatus needed for the training. Phelps has now completed the certification for this skill and may be used throughout the county for rescue.
Request for Rooster Ban
Citizen William C. Dunham asked the Council to consider enacting an ordinance which would prohibit roosters within the city limits, as he said these noisy birds are unnecessary for the production of yard eggs and have no place in a city setting. “Roosters are not required for the formation of eggs, they are not considered pets, like dogs, and they cannot be taught or made to make noise,” he explained. Dunham went on to speak on the frequent noise made by these animals, both day and night. “Within the city limits, a rooster’s crow is never unheard,” he emphasized.
Dunham provided the Council with a similar ordinance passed by another Georgia county as an example of his requested ordinance.
Addressing Water Advisement ESG Project Manager Tony Hall addressed Council and the public about the recent notification of contamination of the city water supply. “There is nothing to be concerned about. We are required to test our water frequently, and we had a single sample of water that was contaminated during transport. We have since tested several samples of water, which have all returned with no issue. The state just requires us to notify the public when any issue arises, which is why the information was distributed.”
Professional Services Contract Council members unanimously approved the contracting of Delta Municipal to complete the advanced metering infrastructure system within the city. This contract will cost an estimated one-time fee of $2,987,611.75 for installation, and then a recurring $57,150.00 fee throughout the rest of time of usage. Financing for these costs will come from state American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the city’s water/sewer fund. Delta Municipal was selected for the City by a panel of 6 individuals, who interviewed three other agencies also about the project. The company believes they may have the project completed by or before June 2023. Once the main metering elements are placed, waterline changing for the brown water issue may occur simultaneously with this work, as all the lines which need replacing have been identified and mainly are the lines coming continued from page
right out of the wells.
Sweet Onion Golf Authority
The first reading of an ordinance to create the Sweet Onion Golf Authority for the purpose of the creation of a new golf course within the city was presented to the Council and meeting attendees. This ordinance is said to have been authored and edited by several City officials, as the Request for Proposals continues to draw in contractors for the creation of this new resource.
Intercity Water Agreement
Vidalia City Council approved the official agreement between Vidalia and Lyons for an emergency water line that runs between the cities. This line has existed for many years and must be manually opened through a valve control for usage. The agreement states that the using party will compensate the providing party in event of an emergency for the water provided.
The following events were discussed or approved: The Greater Vidalia Chamber Business Summit on Thursday, September 22, from 8:30 a.m. until 12 p.m.
Jackson Heights Neighborhood Association Social on Monday, October 3, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Altama Museum. Sixth Street between Jackson and Church Streets will be closed. Scarecrows Around Downtown decorations beginning October 4 in the Downtown Vidalia area. Coffee Before Hours with the Downtown Vidalia Association at Sugar Britches on Church Street on October 5 from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. “Glo Walk” for Domestic Violence Awareness on October 20 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The Council approved spending $60,088.95 of Special Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) on supplies, such as tables and filing cabinets, for the relocation of city hall to the municipal annex.