City Council

Articles written exclusively by one member of our staff are notated accordingly. Articles in which more than one person contributed are marked as The Real Story Staff Report, while ones taken from press releases provided to us are referred to as Special to the Real Story.
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He Said-She Said, Crime, and Sagging Pants –
The May 15th Columbus Council Meeting

Approximately eighty citizens attended the Columbus City Council meeting, on Tuesday, May 15. With only a few exceptions, it was a fairly hum-drum evening.

Katherine Holt-Singleton vs. Director of Federal Programs Travis Jones

Katherine Holt-Singleton may be one-step closer to getting help to repair her dilapidated house that is filled with termites, rotten walls, a decaying floor, and a leaky roof. She is on disability and lives on a fixed income. She contacted Travis Jones, director of Federal programs, to request assistance. He offered her a $10,000 city grant, which she declined, saying that would only fix her roof, and there are structural problems that need to be corrected, to provide support for the roof.

Holt-Singleton, along with her daughter, Shaniesha Holt, stood before the council members, and declared that Jones had not been helpful to her. She claimed that Jones made a comment that her house should be bulldozed, and that he would need three other applicants with homes in similar condition, in order to apply for a Home Partnership grant on their behalf. Singleton also stated that Jones said it would be a waste of his time to apply for the grant, and that she should would have to find those additional three claimants.

Jones denied her allegations, indicating that he said it would be a waste of time to apply for a Home Partnership grant, without three more applicants. There was some back and forth of he said/she said, but Holt-Singleton stood her ground. Jones was encouraged by council members to find the three other applicants and get the ball rolling.

Facebook Watch Group Speaks Out

Lynn Nordquist and Mac Martin addressed the City Council with concerns about crime. Nordquist, an administrator of the Columbus Facebook Watch page, requested a public forum where citizens can discuss problems with crime in the city, mentioning the incident in which shots were fired near Propst Park and a tense situation involving unruly youth, following Market Street Festival’s closing concert.

“It affects the economy in our town; businesses don’t want to come here because of crime,” she said.

Martin mentioned that there are three gangs that operate in Columbus, saying, “They act as if laws don’t apply to them.”

He said, “Being an American, being a free person, doesn’t mean we can do what we want; that is anarchy. Stand up! We all have accountability.”

Martin went on to say that if he (as a white person) and his friend, Bernard Wilder, a black man, can look past the issue of race, sit across a table from one another, and discuss family problems, others can do the same.

“If there is a problem with race, let’s talk and listen to each other,” Martin said.

Martin also suggested that the city establish a webpage, where citizens can read about crimes affecting their community. Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin suggested that members of the community could gain an appreciation for what police offers experience by enrolling in the Citizens’ Police Academy. Mayor Smith commented that the city would do what they can.

Chief McQueen punctuated Martin’s request with an “Amen.”

Pull your pants up, pull you pants up

On another note, a sagging pants ordinance passed with a vote of 4-2.

Chief McQueen commented that this ordinance is a revision of the Public Indecency ordinance that is already on the books, and said that he believes the law can be enforced.

Councilman Karriem requested that a public forum be established, first, as did Ward 2 Councilman Joe Mickens. No one else agreed.

The expected fines for violations of this new ordinance range from $75-$250, with the potential for community service time added to the fine.

Law enforcement promotions approved

Sergeants John Duffy, James Grant, and Rick Jones were promoted to the rank of Lieutenant. Corporal Donnie Elkin was promoted to Sergeant.

Originally Published in the May 23, 2012 Print Edition

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Council Meets to Discuss Re-districting

Cooler heads prevailed at the special-called meeting of the Mayor and City Council, on May 10, 2012.  The topic was redistricting, but, unlike last month’s meeting, no fireworks or name-calling ensued.  The meeting lasted about an hour, with the focus staying on the matter at hand.

Chris Watson led the meeting and professionally steered the elected officials toward a calm resolution.  Reiterating the importance of Columbus being compliant with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Watson explained what his company, Oxford-based Bridge and Watson, was able to achieve.

Ward 1 and Ward 2 will have no change in their boundaries.  However, there will be substantial changes to the other wards.  Watson went on to say, “Some may be pleased; some may not be pleased.”

“This is a starting point”, Watson continued, reassuring everyone assembled that nothing had been written in stone.

The biggest concern for Watson and his organization was to avoid changing the racial make-up of Ward 5, which has traditionally been a predominantly African American ward.  Watson was emphatic that any drastic change in the racial demographics of Ward 5 would trigger a negative response from the Justice Department, something everyone in the room agreed should be avoided at all costs.

The wards are currently 20% out of balance overall, but the plan proposed by Bridge and Watson would leave the city only 9.5% out of conformity, which Watson assured would be acceptable to the Justice Department.

MoJo

Notes:  There was some confusion over city residents submitting a plan to the Justice Department also, but most of the confusion stemmed from the fact Councilmen had just received the plan moments before Mr. Watson spoke.  Hopefully, on Tuesday, the plan will be available for everyone to read.

 Originally Published in the May 16, 2012 Print Edition

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Election Season Must Have Begun –
The May 1, 2012 Columbus City Council Meeting

The May 1 meeting of the Columbus City Council was, on the surface, refreshingly boring. Of course, the Council plodded through the mundane minutiae of city government, with approval of various items and little or no discussion.

Seasoned observers of Friendly City politics could, however, detect the early signs of a once-every-four-years phenomenon known as “Election Season”.

Yes, and the signs were evident, early in the meeting. During the portion of the agenda devoted to comments by the Mayor and City Council, Mayor Robert Smith trotted out the members of his squeaky clean and oh-so-culturally-diverse Mayor’s Youth Council, so that he could go on-record as recognizing them. Do you think that any of them realized that they were being used for political purposes? One can almost envision the scene, when the cameras and the public had disappeared, where one of the youngsters approaches the mayor with a question or comment, only to have Smith growl “Get away from me kid – you’re bothering me!”

Later, during the Citizens input Agenda, when Margaret Evans came to the podium to decry the closure of the senior center that had been operated by the now-defunct Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), two of our esteemed councilmen tripped all over each other, in a rush to come to the aid of Ms. Evans and her fellow senior citizens. Responding to Ms. Evans’ plea for someone in city government to look into what could be done to resurrect the senior center, Charlie Box was quick to volunteer to be part of this brand-new committee. Then, as if to say, “Me, too! Me, too!”, Councilman Mickens stated that, since this was in his area, he wanted to be a part of the committee, as well. Hmm, is it possible that these two public servants recognize the fact that the most likely voters in any election are senior citizens? Nah, that couldn’t be it! (tongue planted firmly in cheek).

Lastly, and as if to punctuate the whole Kumbaya, “we’re one big happy family” theme of the meeting, the council, with NO discussion, approved the once-controversial reorganization plan that was requested by Police Chief Selvain McQueen.

Wow! If you listen closely enough, you can still hear the echoes of “See, we really are just here to serve the citizens of Columbus!” Yeah, right!

The Real Story Staff Report

Originally Published in the May 9, 2012 Print Edition

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Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

 Often, what is seen is not reality.  And, the April 17th City Council Meeting may have been one of the better examples of this principle.  While it would be easy to say that the meeting was calm – with just a few hiccups – that would be a great misstatement.  Like many magic tricks, it was hard to see the sleight of hand.

At no time was this more prevalent than during the Citizens Input Agenda, when Mayor Smith acted like he had no idea who Larry Golden is, during Golden’s five-minute presentation.  What most people in the audience did not know is that Robert and Larry have been friends, for years.  And, whether you call Golden’s nightclub, Club Heidi Ho or the Gray Goose, Mayor Smith has had a longstanding relationship with Mr. Golden.

Without that knowledge, it appeared that the Mayor was standing tough against a nightclub owner, but, in reality, Smith and Golden are friends.  They have been for years.  The battles about parking and occupancy limits at the club have been going on for years.

Part of Golden’s confusion over his conviction in court for over-occupancy stemmed from the fact that, in the past, Smith had intervened in numerous situations involving Mr. Golden.  And now, in public, Mayor Smith was acting like he has no clue who Golden is.  This is all part of the “bait and switch” that Smith plays so well.

His friends and allies come into the meeting and Smith acts like he has no contact with them.  It is a farce and what’s worse, it is a total misrepresentation of reality.  Anyone who witnessed this spectacle could see Mr. Golden and his partner, Dan Griffith, becoming frustrated.  Robert was, once again, pulling the old “chameleon act” of being what he thinks people want him to be. Unfortunately for Mr. Golden, he was thrown under the bus by the same person who has been his proponent for years.

Throughout this charade, City personnel were called up before the Council and questioned. Mr. Golden and Mr. Griffith were asked questions, and the crowd laughed.  Unfortunately for the City, the joke is on us.  Golden was used, and whether you like him or not, the City loses.  Robert, once again, turned the meeting into amateur hour, while the city crumbles.

As this portion of the meeting came to a close, Robert made sure that the crowd knew he could not help Mr. Golden – which is a joke.  He has helped him a million times.  But, elections are on the horizon, so even friends get beaten down. Everyone needs a few votes – even Robert Smith.

Also, at this meeting, it became apparent that Chief McQueen has lost steam as the Police Chief.  Between Bill Gavin and the rest of City Council tabling his re-organization plan and Pat Mitchell calling him out for not having a potential new hire, Eric Lewis, turn in an application to her, McQueen did not have a good night.  He looked confused and lost, as every request that he made was either denied or ignored.

Add to this the threat of lawsuits, from both inside and outside the department, and it looks as if it is going to be long, hot summer for the Columbus Police Department.  As the elections approach, citizens will likely see more wackiness from the Mayor, Councilmen and department heads.  Be alert to anyone who appears before the Council. It may be someone with a legitimate reason to address the Council or it may be a “plant”.  Only time will tell.

Based upon the verbal sparring that took place at the Council’s re-districting meeting, it appears that the knives are already out.  So, stay tuned, campers – it is going to be a heck of a ride!!

MoJo

Originally Published on Our Website on April 20, 2012

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Well, well – where do I begin?!

Despite arriving well ahead of the City Council’s 5pm start time, nearly every seat in the Council chamber was full, with another 50-60 people standing in the aisles.  Can you say “fire code violation”?A review of the printed agenda provided an inkling of what was to come: two people scheduled, under “Citizens’ Input”, to speak about “paving”; and a request by New Beginnings Full Gospel Baptist Church to build a new church complex.

Despite these two much-discussed items on the agenda, nothing could have prepared the assembled citizenry for the angry tirade that erupted from the mouth of Mayor Robert Smith, just after the evening’s invocation.

Lashing out at The Real Story for its expose’ of the illegal paving work performed by city workers at Von’s Exotic Hair Salon, Smith accused The Real Story of lying, and claimed that he had an Attorney General’s opinion to prove it.

The Mayor called Mike Pratt, City Roads Manager, up to the “dais”.  Smith then proceeded to grill Pratt about what he knew about the paving done on and around Von’s.  Pratt responded that he not only was aware of the paving that was done on the city’s “right of way” – the area adjacent to the marked shoulder of the road (It is unclear whether, though the city has right of access to this area, it is the legal property of Von’s or not) but that he (Pratt) had authorized the paving of the driveway area after receiving a phone call from one of the city workers on-site.

Next, Councilman Kabir Karriem proceeded to state that this was not an isolated incident of inappropriate work done by City road crews and alluded to some “scraping” that City employees were observed performing on the side of a privately-owned building. He also mentioned that two Roads Department employees had been suspended, recently, for being caught sleeping in a City truck.

When the Mayor cited the Attorney General’s statement supporting the paving of the city right-of-way, Karriem asked City Attorney Jeff Turnage whether he (Turnage) knew of any legal basis that would support the dumping of the leftover hot mix on private property (clearly in reference to Von’s driveway). Turnage replied that he did not know of anything that would support that action.

Then, Councilman Gavin, in what seemed like a feeble attempt to rise to Pratt’s defense, asked how much “hot mix” was left in the truck. When told by Pratt that there was very little left, Gavin asked what would have been done with the remainder.  Pratt responded that it would have been taken to the city landfill and dumped. Gavin then tried to lead Pratt into agreeing that he (Pratt) was, in fact, doing the city a service by leaving the remainder at Von’s, in that the City saved the cost of transporting the excess to the landfill and taking up space, there, by dumping it.

However, the Council wasn’t done with Pratt, yet. Councilman Mickens asked Pratt if he had dumped the excess hot mix on Von’s property.  Pratt responded only that the hot mix had been dumped.  Mickens asked the question a second time, and received a similarly vague reply.  Showing some signs of exasperation at what he perceived to be evasiveness on the part of Pratt, Councilman Mickens then turned to his colleagues on the Council and asked, rhetorically, “Is he going to answer my question?!”

Mickens then asked Pratt a third time. Pratt responded that he had not dumped the hot mix, himself, but had approved one of his crew doing it.  He continued on to say that, as Roads Manager, he is, ultimately, responsible.  Mickens then proceeded to call for Pratt to be terminated.

Upon hearing this, the Mayor banged his gavel down, and admonished Mickens for bringing up a personnel matter (calling for Pratt’s termination) in open session.

The meeting, at least temporarily, slipped into somewhat of a lull, with approval of city reports and requests for approval of training expenses.

Things quickly became heated, once again, when the Citizens’ Input portion of the agenda was reached.

Ward 2 resident Hilda Fox approached the microphone and proceeded to take Councilman Mickens to task  for what she felt was his lack of visibility in the ward.  She cited Mickens’ alleged failure to return her phone calls and his not fulfilling one of his campaign promises. After a contentious exchange, in which the two parties did everything but accuse the other of lying, Ms. Fox sat down.  (Many people later added that Ms. Fox was a “plant”, since she is close friends with Mayor Smith.)

Next up was Sharon Lewis, who asked if she, too, could take advantage of the City’s free paving program. After several minutes of discussion involving Mayor Smith, City Attorney Turnage, and Ms. Lewis, it was determined that Ms. Lewis’ property did not meet the criteria for City paving.  She ended her presentation by stating that she would reapply for the paving, at a later date.

Then, Lavonne Harris, owner of Von’s Exotic Hair Salon, got up and proceeded to dispute the report in the March 7th print edition of The Real Story.  She claimed it was she who had asked for any leftover hot mix and that she, and not city employees, had spread it in her driveway. Nobody pointed out that, even if her statements were factual, the dumping of hot mix on private property was inappropriate, at best, and illegal, at worst.

More fireworks erupted, when the issue of New Beginning’s request for permission to build their new church complex on land they owned, just off of Highway 69, came up.

Several homeowners, who lived adjacent to the area that the church wanted to develop, rose in objection to the proposal, due to the fact that the people attending services of the 200-300 member church, as well as those participating in the many other programs planned for the facility, would have to use a one-lane road to access the complex and would, thus, cause an undue traffic burden in the area.  Further complicating the matter, was the fact that the road was actually privately owned, and that the owner had simply granted people permission to use it.  This “easement”, as it was referred to, would have to be legally granted to allow anyone to use the road.

After a brief, but eloquent, presentation by the church representatives, led by Pastor Glenn Jefferson, City Attorney Turnage pointed out that even if the project were to be approved, a legal decision denying use of the one-lane, privately-owned road as an easement would, in effect, leave the church “landlocked”.

The Council then proceeded, by a 5-0 vote, to approve the request to build the new church building. (Gavin had recused himself.)

Once this matter was resolved, the majority of those in attendance filed out of the chamber. The meeting quickly proceeded to the Executive Session, whereupon the members of the public, including the press, were required to leave.

The finale of this volatile evening occurred when, during the Executive Session, an extended period of shouting could be heard coming from the Council chamber.

Folks, this was just another exciting example of your City government in action!  We hope that everyone is paying attention.

Mojo and Staff

Originally Posted On-line on March 22, 2012

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Mayor, City Council Set Land Speed Record

In what had to be the shortest City Council meeting on record, the Mayor and Council managed to conduct the City’s business and be on their way out of the door by 5:18pm.  That’s right, folks; the meeting was gaveled to a close, just EIGHTEEN MINUTES after it began!

How do you manage such a feat? Two words: avoid controversy.

Perhaps the Mayor and Councilmen took a look at the recent shenanigans of their counterparts to the north (Caledonia), and decided to fly under the radar.

You know that, when the highlight of the meeting is a Mayoral proclamation to the Red Cross, it’s a quiet night at the Municipal Complex.

The closest that our local elected officials came to controversy was when they discussed the fact that the bid on the Old River Bridge Restoration project came in at about $400K over the amount that had been budgeted for the project. However, without any wailing or gnashing of teeth, the City Council voted to re-bid the project at a later date.

So, the end results were that no unkind words were spoken, nobody’s blood pressure was raised, and everybody was out of there in time to catch the last thirty minutes of “happy hour”. Now, that’s my kind of meeting!

The Real Story Staff Report

Originally Posted in March 14, 2012 Print Edition

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