Grantville: Council moves closer to demolishing mayor's property
By REBECCA LEFTWICH
Mayor Jim Sells continued to protest the Grantville City Council’s decision to move ahead with the demolition process on two of his properties, calling the action “selective enforcement.”
“Some of you think this is about houses that need to be demolished,” Sells said. “What it is about is contempt for your mayor.”
Mapp characterized the two Sells-owned properties as “unsafe” in his reports, allowing the city to move ahead with demolition at the council’s discretion.
Council member Selma Coty, acting as Mayor Pro-Tem in the mayor’s absence at the April 9 meeting, drew Sells’ ire by first introducing the condition of his properties to the council while he was on vacation.
Coty said she had informed the mayor of her intention to bring the condition of the homes before the council.
The scene of a fatal December 2010 fire, the Roger Arnold Road property has been further damaged by having been left open to the elements since that time, according to Mapp’s report. Grantville’s Historic Preservation Committee granted a Certificate of Appropriateness at Sells’ request for the demolition of the LaGrange Street property, and the COA’s timeline required Sells to begin the demolition process last fall.
“I agree that those houses are unsafe and not fit to live in,” Sells said. “But there are other houses that are unsafe, too, and some of them are occupied.”
Council member Rochelle Jabaley also denied the action is a personal attack on the mayor, who owns a substantial amount of property in Grantville.
“We had to start somewhere,” Jabaley said. “This just happens to be where we’re starting. These two, we’ve had on the books for a while.”
Sells’ position as both property owner and mayor required clarification as both Johnny Cooks and Barham Lundy expressed concern over Sells’ role at the meeting.
“Owning a major amount of property in the city can be perceived as a conflict of interest,” said Cooks.
City Attorney Mark Mitchell advised the council that while Sells could not vote on the matter, he could call for a vote. Council members determined they had probable cause based on the inspector’s reports and Sells’ response to move ahead with a hearing, which has been set for June 25 during the council’s regular 6:30 p.m. meeting.
In other business, the council:
• Congratulated Grantville participants in a Walk-A-Thon competition. Susan Burdett, director of Grantville’s senior center, announced that Grantville seniors had recorded 12,000 steps a day to finish first in the event, winning a surprise outing along with Therabands and a smoothie maker and supplies.
“I just wanted to say ‘Way to go’ to our seniors,” Burdett said.
• Referred proposed changes in the city’s sign ordinance to the planning commission.
• Heard from Mark McKee, who used Grantville’s sign ordinance to argue that he is in compliance with the 200 square feet of signage allowed on a freestanding building.
“With all due respect, I have been harassed – truly harassed – when all I’m trying to do is start a business,” said McKee, who owns a heating and air conditioning company at 25 Griffin Street, where an artist he hired to paint a mural was unable to complete the work. “There’s no reason to continue to hound me. I have done nothing other than improve the quality of the neighborhood.”
McKee, who also serves on the Downtown Development Authority, said although he was “obviously frustrated,” he would like to put the matter to rest.
“I’m a team player, and I’d just like to see us do a better job of rolling up our sleeves and getting this community going,” McKee said.
• Reduced advertising fees for Certificate of Appropriateness public hearings from $40 to $10.
• Tabled a discussion on proposed changes to policy and procedures for the sale of property by the city.
• Voted to reduce consulting fees for city professionals by restricting access to Grantville’s attorney and engineer. All consulting will now be filtered through either the city manager or the mayor. Mayor Jim Sells broke the tie in the 2-2 vote, with council members Jabaley and Cooks in favor of the action and council members Coty and Lundy opposed.
• Awarded the city’s road striping project to low bidder Mid-State Striping, Inc., which entered a bid of $41,685. The project, covered by funds remaining from the 2003 and 2007 SPLOSTs, is expected to include center lines and edge markings on major Grantville roads, parking space striping in front of city hall, stop bars at all city stop signs and crosswalk markings.
• Set a public hearing on the city’s zoning ordinance and map update for 6 p.m. on July 9, preceding the council’s regular meeting.
• Rejected a request for trucks for city employees. Council members discussed the replacement of vehicles for the city’s utility department, addressing a request from Streets and Public Works Supervisor Shawn Bennett. Bennett asked the council for four trucks, and Coty made a motion to buy one Ford F-250 4x4 out of the sewer department’s fund and one Ford F-150 4x4 out of the water department’s fund. The motion died for lack of a second.
• Appointed Michael West to the Downtown Development Authority and Linda Dean to the Historic Preservation Commission, both filling vacancies on the boards.
• Entertained a request from Billy Miller to install a hitching post and water trough for horses downtown. Mitchell advised the council it would have to amend city ordinances before moving ahead on the request.
• Heard from citizen Brad Brimlow, who chastized council members for their “Jerry Springer Show” moments during parts of Monday’s meeting.
“For the sake of the city and the sake of the people, y’all have got to start working together,” Brimlow said.
In addition to voicing his support for utility department vehicle purchases, Brimlow accused the council of hindering the city’s department heads in their attempts to perform their duties.
“If you hire these people to do a job, I strongly feel you need to let them do their jobs,” he said.
To the audience, Brimlow said, “If y’all are tired of this comedy hour, there’s a vote every couple of years.”
He also invited council members to church, where he said they could all “get down on their knees and pray.”
“You have got to get along,” he said. “This has been going on for years.”