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Mayors Clash in Higgston

Mayors Clash in Higgston
CHANGES BETWEEN COUNCILS - Former Higgston Mayor Jesse Ledford speaks to the current mayor Donna Collins and Councilman Dale Hicks about the actions of the past council.
Mayors Clash in Higgston
CHANGES BETWEEN COUNCILS - Former Higgston Mayor Jesse Ledford speaks to the current mayor Donna Collins and Councilman Dale Hicks about the actions of the past council.

Tensions were high at the regular monthly meeting of the Higgston City Council on Tuesday, February 20, as former Mayor Jesse Ledford and current Mayor Donna Powell addressed issues regarding the completion of significant improvement projects to the city park.

Following the most recent election in November and effective as of January 1, the City governing body changed as Ledford and former City Council members Travis Coxwell, Edward Wonn, and Beth Morris leftoffice. FormerCityClerkDonnaPowell, took over the position of Mayor, and new City Council members Jonathan Powell, Mason Powell, and Angela Smith were added.

At the meeting Tuesday night, Ledford

“It’s not a complicated matter – we had three projects voted on by the previous council, and the new council came in and axed it.” – Jesse Ledford continued from page

claimed that since the new administration took over, projects for the City’s park, which had been voted on and approved prior to the end of the former Council’s term, have been delayed by the new administration. “It’s not a complicated matter – we had three projects voted on by the previous council, and the new council came in and axed it,” the former mayor stated.

“I’m basically here to clear up any confusion or any misleading information from the first [January] Council meeting, and to get a few answers myself,” he began, as he informed the Council of three park improvement projects which the former Council had agreed to complete. “The biggest project is a $142,000 project that we deemed pretty serious from the money involved. All of this is coming from a grant that the previous Council accumulated through the DNR (Georgia Department of Natural Resources), and from making connections with people and reaching out for the grant money. That’s a big deal for the City of Higgston.”

Ledford told the Council that upon receiving this money, several contracts were issued, including two contracts with Danny Shepherd for work on concrete resurfacing in the park, and another with Charlie Johnson for the construction and stonework for a wall to go around the park. He explained that neither of these projects had been completed nor had they been paid for as the previous Council had approved and that the contractors involved were calling him frequently to ask what they were supposed to do.

In addition, Ledford said that two checks that were earmarked and approved as payment for the installation of a splash pad at the park had not been distributed as the former city clerk was instructed to do prior to assuming the role of mayor. “My biggest question of the night would be [where] are these two $71,215 checks [from the grant money] which, when you do the math on that contract, would be the down payment and the final payment. I signed these checks right here on this table,” he told the Council, as he showed them a picture of the checks.

The new mayor responded to Ledford’s question, arguing that he had signed the checks after January 1, when he was no longer mayor. “If you read the charter like I told you to, you’d find out that your term was up on December 31,” Powell said. “I sent you on 1/11, ‘Tell anyone or anything that y’all have voted on not to do anything until I make sure I have the paperwork and everything is like it’s supposed to be.’ I also have a copy of the thing where you signed it on January 4. Well, on January 4, you were no longer mayor. You were a citizen,” she said.

Powell continued, stating that there was not a majority vote on the construction of the splash pad until December 30 because of discrepancy in language in a vote completed through text messages. According to Powell, the Council had voted through text messaging to approve the increase in the City’s liability insurance for the park, but not for the actual construction of the addition.

Ledford disagreed, as he told Powell that he and the former Council were under the impression that the project was moving forward since they first discussed and voted on the insurance increase on November 29.

“It became a majority vote on December 30, Jesse. It wasn’t a majority vote on November 29. You only had two people who voted, because y’all were talking about insurance and he, [councilman Coxwell] said, ‘I’m good with that,’” Powell rebutted.

Ledford replied, “Donna was aware of [our intent to move forward and the vote being passed] because she even responded back to me and said, ‘Good job on getting his responses.’” Powell then addressed Ledford, arguing that she did not send the checks while she served as city clerk because Ledford did not get her the proper documentation, which she said the city attorney told her was required. “I told you a long time ago to go and get it in writing what exactly those funds could be used for,” she remarked. “I spoke with the DNR, and they said they didn’t really have information on that. I’ve already talked to the city attorney, and he’s like me. Any grant or money that you have, there’s supposed to be some terms and conditions and something in writing say­continued from page

ing how that money can be used.”

Ledford replied, “It was still voted on. The contract may not have been signed, but it was still voted on to proceed.”

Powell responded, saying, “But when this Council took over, they were going to become a part of it because it falls on them. I would’ve done the same thing if it was you [coming in].”

City Councilman Dale Hicks then joined the discussion, as he asked Ledford why there was only one bid present in the documents from the decision. Ledford provided Hicks with the remaining two bids for the project, which Powell claimed she never received.

“When I ran my business and I subcontracted my stuff out, I kept every bid; that’s part of keeping paperwork,” Hicks told Ledford. “You don’t take money from something, even a grant, without some vision of how it is supposed to be spent.”

City Councilman Jonathan Powell also spoke up, “I think that a lawyer probably needs to be in for the meeting to go over the rights and wrongs, and to clear up confusion about it. Everybody is confused on what’s right and wrong. I’m new to this. I don’t know if the new Council comes in and takes over, or if what the old Council has already passed is passed. I guess that’s what this [City Council training I am about to go to] is going to teach me.”

He continued, “I just want to know for myself what is right and what’s wrong. I thought I was paying attention clearly, but where they’re doing that asphalt, has that been paid yet? How will that work? Can we get the city attorney to discuss all this with us?”

Ledford told the Councilman, “You have the power to do anything you want to as long as you get a majority vote. Some people think that one person has the power to null and void everything that they want to, and it doesn’t work like that. When I sat there, I understood that I didn’t have the power to do anything; the majority of the Council does.'

Ledford turned to address the entire Council. “All I have is my word, and I’m trying to keep that,” he explained. “I’m not doing anything to try to get over on anybody, sidetrack anybody, confuse anybody, mislead anybody…I’m an open book. I came [into this office] with the best intentions to try to improve this place and make it a better place to live than how I came in to it, and I think we’re well on the way with that.”

He added, “I just want everything to be brought to light because we don’t have enough participation in this City, and too many sketchy things go on in my opinion.”

The former mayor shared with the council the contact information for the representatives at the Department of Natural Resources with whom he had spoken about the park projects. He also told the council that he had promised to build and install picnic tables that were purchased for the park during his tenure in office and that project was nearly completed.

Council agreed to continue the pause on the park projects until they had written explanations of how the grant money could be used.

Montgomery County resident Angel Gilreath addressed the Council regarding the proposed splash pad project and said she feels a splash pad could be greatly utilized by Higgston and the surrounding areas.

“From a parent’s perspective of having four small children I was really excited about the prospect of a splash pad, because not every child in the City or County is fortunate enough to have access to water to cool off other than a hose at the house,' Gilreath stated.

Councilman Jonathan Powell thanked Gilreath for her perspective, and shared that the Council will work to do what they feel is best. “I understand completely what you’re saying. There is more that we need to look into with this splash pad from a lot of perspectives,” he stated. “As you know, where they were talking about putting the splash pad, I’m not sure if you’ve been to the park out there, but there is a main creek that runs through there. If you look up the creek laws, there would have to be chemicals to clean the splash pad no matter who says there wouldn’t. You cannot even mess with a creek. The state is very critical on their creeks. You cannot have any chemicals run off into that creek; if there is any chance of that, we would have to pay a $250,000 fine that I’m sure we don’t even have.”

He continued, “Also, what we would be paying for it with is this grant money and we have to look into the long term of this. We’re going to figure it all out one way or another, we’re going to do the math of what this splash pad is going to cost us over the long term, and we’re going to see what we can really do. It’s mainly thinking about it and seeing what’s best.”

In other business during the session, the Council approved the hiring of Kodi Weeks as the City Clerk, and accepted a price increase for the pest control services for city buildings, which will total $50 per quarter. The Council agreed to purchase cancer insurance for nine members of the Higgston Volunteer Fire Department, which will cost $265.59 per person annually.

The Council also voted unanimously to not enter the Statewide Mutual Aid Agreement, which would allow their fire department to send aid to various parts of the state in times of need. The reason for their decision was because in a previous instance the Higgston Fire Department was dispatched to help another agency, when a fire broke out in Higgston and there were no firefighters available to respond to that situation.

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