VIDEO: Fort Payne authorizes Watson to change election rules, FPIA terms, and intervene at Terrapin Hills
September 6, 2017
Southern Torch (3920 articles)

VIDEO: Fort Payne authorizes Watson to change election rules, FPIA terms, and intervene at Terrapin Hills

PHOTO: The City Council and City Attorney Rocky Watson discusses changing the terms of appointees on the Fort Payne Improvement Authority (FPIA) Board. (Tyler Pruett | Southern Torch)

By Tyler Pruett, Managing Editor

FORT PAYNE, Ala. — (Video at the Bottom) At yesterday’s (September 5, 2017) meeting of the Fort Payne City Council, the council authorized City Attorney Rocky Watson to explore changing board terms for the Fort Payne Improvement Authority (FPIA), changes to the election laws, and to intervene in the Terrapin Hills sewer situation regarding the suit against owner David Groat.

“That was a discussion sometime back, and Rocky has already done a little preliminary work on it,” said City Clerk Andy Parker to begin the discussion on the board term changes. “But we have three board appointments coming up this year on the improvement authority board, and I think Mr. Shugart is going to tender his resignation before the next council meeting, and we’ll have our two regular appointments in December, so some of ya’ll had expressed interest on changing the terms from three years till a longer term. It will do that as well as the feasibility of having a council member (on the board),” said City Clerk Andy Parker.

“I’ve had some input from them, and what I understand is that it has to be done by statute. We’ve got some language that we want to clarify, that will also set up the rotation of the terms. I’d like to Mike (Shirey) and Steve (Bussman),” said Watson.

“Have you not consulted with Mike or Steve or the board about it?” asked Councilman Red Taylor.

“Well, actually the board came to us, and requested these changes. And Steve has sent to me a preliminary draft, and I have sent some comments back, so we are well down the line. But we have not talked about it since Mike Shirey came on board,” replied Watson.

“A little history on it, it’s a five person board, and three year terms that are staggered,” said Taylor.

“It will remain staggered,” replied Watson.

You have a two, two, and a one, and then you have to go all over again, and I think what we had looked at was five year terms?” said Councilman Wade Hill.

“And I’m not sure if don’t need to contact TVA or maybe Mike or Steve one already has?” said Taylor.

“That would be there…. since they are the contact there they’ll have to get that authorized. But what we want to wind up with is you have five members, and you appoint one member, re-appoint, or roll one off each year. So that you’ve got more continuity and that particular board, there is a great deal of value in long term experience and understanding the history of the board and whats gone on in the past. Because those terms are so short, as compared to other terms we have within the city, those will be long enough to create more stability on that board, so that’s what we are looking at doing,” explained Watson.

“It’s the shortest term board in the city,” said Taylor. “I served on that board for three terms, and it’s a good board, but it’s a very short term board.”

“It’s the only improvement authority in the State of Alabama that’s set up that way,” added Councilman Brian Baine.

“We’ll authorize Rocky to take whatever action is necessary,” said Parker.

Council President Brian Baine then brought up the issue of authorizing, “Watson to begin preliminary work on drafting a request to the state legislature to change the city’s municipal election process, to allow anyone who’s vote tallies more than 50 percent, to be exempt from the runoff election.”

“This is an item that came up here in the last election,” then explained Parker, “four of you got greater than 50 percent, and there had been some precedent several years ago; there was a gentleman who achieved more than 50 percent total, and he was allowed to not participate in the runoff election. So, I think we all agree that especially since the time has increased between the general and the runoff. It used to be three weeks and now it’s six. I think everyone was in agreement that if you achieve 50 percent then you should be exempt from the runoff. So this just allows Rocky to do whatever needs to be done to investigate the changing of that. That’ll have to be done by local ordinance, because it was originally set up on local ordinance.”

“I actually think probably the way we have it set up was a mistake that came about when we went from places to everybody running at-large. There was some other changes made, and I’m not sure anybody really intended to do away with the 50 percent rule. And we’re going to be more in line with what’s done statewide in these situations. And then just as food for thought, I make the suggestion that we, if we’ve got 5 places, and let’s say two people get 50 percent, then instead of having everybody who’s left in a runoff, you cut that down to two for each place, so you have a total of six in a runoff,” said Watson, of the proposed election change.

When it comes to Fort Payne Municipal Elections, voters can select anywhere from 1 – 5 candidates on the ballot. During the initial municipal election, the top 10 candidates for city council will then advance to a runoff. If the change takes place, a candidate who’s on over 50 percent of the ballots cast will not have to take part in a runoff. For example, current Council President Brian Baine earned 1953 votes out of 2633 ballots cast, giving him 74.1 percent of the vote. Councilmen Wade Hill, Johnny Eberhart, and Councilwoman Lynn Brewer all earned over 50 percent during the 2016 elections.

The council also authorized City Attorney Rocky Watson to intervene in the case against David Groat, who is the owner of the Terrapin Hills sewage system. A workshop was held on the matter last week, and the system is in danger of being shut down by ADEM due to the owner not paying the required permitting fees.

“We touched on this briefly when we had our work session regarding Terrapin Hills’ sewer system, Rocky mentioned it, and we didn’t take any action, which we can’t take any action in a work session. This simply allows him to be, for lack of better word, a ‘spy’ for the city,” said Parker.

“I think the city has a vested interest to make sure this situation get’s rectified. I would make a motion we go ahead and do that,” said Hill.

“I had a bunch of folks who live in Terrapin and other subdivisions up there approach me, and I think what I assume ya’ll want me to do is to oppose any injunction closing that system down, until some resolution can be worked out, and I think those citizens in the City of Fort Payne will certainly appreciate that,” said Watson after the vote.

Other items addressed in the meeting:

  • Adopted Resolution 2017-39, amending Resolution 2017-30 regarding holiday pay. This resolution removes an extra 8 hours of Holiday pay for the July 4th Holiday that is redundant.
  • Authorized the city to hire Tony Renta on a contractual basis to assist in developing future expenditure strategy.
  • Authorized Matt Woods to conduct an appraisal on the “Building Maintenance” building located at 109 3rd Street Northwest. There is an interest expressed in the city purchasing the building to create a, “antique vehicle showcase.”
  • Authorized rate quotes for snow and ice removal for ALDOT. It was noted that the rates were the same as last year.
  • Authorized a $10,000.00 appropriation to the DeKalb County Economic Development Authority, the funds of which were given to the city by The DeKalb-Cherokee Gas Board.
  • Agreed to move forward on adding “sidewalk repairs, maintenance, and construction” to uses allowed for the 3 cent gas tax funds.
  • Decided not to add a carpenter to the Buildings Maintenance Department’s budget.
  • Set the date of the work session for the city’s budget for Tuesday, September 26 at 11 am.

Mayor’s Report:

  • The grant application for LED lighting in city hall had been completed and submitted and it would probably be a month before the city heard back.
  • The Highway 35 Project is on go, but the city had not yet received the funding agreement. ALDOT has agreed to do the work on the Highway 35 and Airport Road intersection first, and the roundabouts in the second and third year.
  • The mayor had also discussed the landscaping around Exit 218, to allow travelers on the interstate to be able to see industrial sites such as Ferguson and Siemens. The state will allow the city to cut trees no bigger than 4 inches in diameter, and be able to trim within a certain height.
  • The old hospital is in Phase II of the cleanup assessment, and the EPA is in the process of writing the report on what is required in the demolition. The mayor had met with a grant writing company that can assist in tying grants together to help with the cleanup.
  • Retail Strategies is working on new clients, especially to fill the space vacated by the closing of Rue 21.
  • The city is still awaiting a response from Mapco, and the state has already agreed to widen the intersection of Highway 35 and Gault Avenue if the city can acquire the property.

Watch the Full Video: 

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