Raises, police cruisers approved at meeting
by Clay Neely
For once, it was a more productive meeting for the Grantville City Council on Monday as they discussed and approved a variety of ordinances, appointments and amendments.
From salary adjustments and pay raises for city employees to the approval of two new police cruisers and a K9 unit for the Grantville Police Department, the city council worked efficiently — and without incident as has been the case with tensions at recent meetings.
The council voted unanimously to raise the city’s purchasing procedures cap from $2,000 to $10,000, with Mayor Jim Sells reiterating to the council and members of the audience that any purchase made by the city over $10,000 would have to be competitively bid.
However, the vote to restore power to the mayor in regards to the hiring and firing of the city attorney was a more contested matter. With Councilmembers Leonard Gomez and David Riley voting in favor of the amendment while Councilmembers Johnny Cooks and Barham Lundy voting against, the mayor broke the tie and the amendment passed.
“It’s very challenging from this standpoint,” said Cooks. “Not to reference our current mayor, but when you have a mayor who is also a business owner that has the power to determine who the city attorney will be, it lends itself to conflicts.”
“No offense to our current mayor but we will have another election coming up and maybe another mayor will be up. A new mayor could want to hire his best friend. If you want to give this authority to one person instead of four or five people, you’re making a mistake. I would encourage the council to reconsider,” said Cooks.
Another tightly passed measure was the request for Sells to recreate the “King County Cafe” exterior from AMC television show “The Walking Dead” at the city’s historic railroad freight depot.
“It’s no secret that Grantville has become a tourist destination because of ‘The Walking Dead,’” said Sells. “Last year we saw over 3,000 tourists and had several thousand more who were not part of tour groups. If you’re a town, tourism is one of your best sources of income.”
Sells vowed that he would not be making any material changes to the depot. “It will be only paint and some furniture at no cost to the citizens. We’re trying to attract more tourists and rent the depot for parties. We want to lift up downtown.”
Sells asked for a 13-month agreement and noted that if the request was approved by the council it would still need an approval from the municipal court.
Lundy voiced his concern with the measure.
“Mayor, I’m not sure the council has the power to authorize that. I think that the building being in the historical district, that the proposal would have to go in front of the Historic Preservation Committee and then to the council to be approve. I didn’t know we could just bypass the HPC to give that power to you,” said Lundy.
“City Council overrides the HPC, Mr. Lundy,” said Sells. “If the council doesn’t like it, they can bring it up to have it removed at any time. That’s the benefit. If you don’t like the decision we make today, it’s not written in stone. The council can change their mind and the council has changed their mind a lot."
The measure then passed with councilmembers Gomez and Riley voting in favor of the measure while councilmembers Cooks and Lundy voted against. Once again Sells broke the tie and the amendment passed.
“Grantville is in for many many changes in the next 12 months,” said Sells after the meeting. “We have a vision of a dramatically improved recreation program, seeing many new businesses opening in the city and a much improved impression of what this town has to offer. We are also getting much input from citizens and committee members. The DDA (Downtown Development Authority) is very active, the shape of the HPC has changed much and the energy is positive. Folks in town are joining in and we as elected officials are buoyed by that to move forward.”
However, Cooks was less than enthusiastic about the meeting.
“Our new council's commitment to fast pace excessive spending with no accountability on its secretly conceived agenda is unprecedented,” said Cooks of the council membership with newly elected members Gomez and Riley. “They vote down where we have allocated funds for projects to serve our citizens and amend $330,000 in increase spending to the budget for projects that have no justification and will require future tax increases.”
“It is becoming quite clear, our new councilmen have no commitment to be a part of the continued countywide strategic planning in recreation and infrastructure for the improvement in the quality of life for our children and adults,” Cooks said.