The Bulloch County TEA Party has shifted its focus from national issues to local politics as they plan to address the Statesboro City Council about fiscal responsibility and transparency at Tuesday's morning meeting.
Heather Merritt, one of the organizers of Bulloch's TEA Party, said the group's appearance is not a protest, but a notice to the council that citizens are paying attention. She said recent decisions were not adequately explained by the council. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. in the council chambers of City Hall.
"This isn't governing; this is twisting in the wind. It's making sporadic, instant decisions and there's no pattern, there's no clear course, there's no reasons announced," Merritt said. "You're really having a lot of people who necessarily wouldn't be paying attention who have to pay attention because none of it makes any sense."
"What are y'all doing with our money over there?"
Merritt said she and other TEA party members want to see more open discussion and debate during the public portion of council meetings instead of councilmen meeting individually with constituents and casting votes without explaining their decisions to the general public.
"I'm hoping we send the message that people are paying attention. Your ‘no comments' and ‘no, you don't need to know' - those types of responses are fine now but we're reminding them that elections are coming up in the next year," Merritt said. "Right now, they have the option to say ‘no comment' but in 2011 they may not have that option any more. It definitely can be taken away from them and somebody can go in that will include the citizens of Statesboro in what they're doing. Citizens have a right to know."
Jessica Hines also will speak to the council regarding past litigation. Hines was a co-plaintiff with former city engineer Maz Elhaj in his lawsuit against the city, which was settled in July. Elhaj received a $240,000 settlement - half of which was paid from the city's general fund - after he alleged in his suit that his termination was illegal, discriminatory and race-based, and after council felt it would be more cost effective to settle out of court rather than risk an unfavorable court decision.
Also on the agenda, the council will consider a motion to approve a memorandum of understanding between the city and First Baptist Church, which was tabled at the first meeting in September. If passed, FBC would pay for all materials involved with running a new water line from the intersection of Hill and Oak Streets to the planned new sanctuary. In addition, the church would pay for any repairs to the sidewalk or street surfaces affected by the extension.
The city, in turn, would pay for the labor necessary to install the new 10" water main. City Engineer Robert Cheshire said the city would likely contract with an outside contractor since installing that size and length of pipe is beyond the traditional scope of work for the city.
According to the MOU, the anticipated cost of materials is $29,474.50 while labor costs are estimated at $41,112.50. City officials have said that the extension of the water main will have no affect on the other properties in the area.
The council will also consider a motion to set the 2011 property tax rate at 6.358 mills, which is the same rate the city's had for the last three years. The rate will be official if the motion passes Tuesday and passes a second reading at the next council meeting.
Phil Boyum may be reached at (912) 489-9454.