Interim Statesboro City Manager Frank Parker responded Friday to members of the Bulloch County TEA Party by addressing some of the questions group members asked Tuesday during a Statesboro City Council meeting.
Bulloch County TEA Party members Blaine Olmstead and Heather Merritt asked several questions during the meeting, but none of the councilmen or Mayor Joe Brannen gave answers. Councilman Travis Chance did address the TEA Party members at the end of the meeting, apologizing for the council for ignoring their questions and saying it is the mayor's and council's responsibility to be accountable and answer citizen's queries.
After each question was asked during last Tuesday's meeting, Brannen told Merritt and Olmstead that Parker would get back with them with answers at a later time.
Parker said his email to TEA Party members did not address all questions they and other citizens may have, but said additional responses to the TEA Party members would be forthcoming Monday.
During Tuesday's meeting, Olmstead asked "What formal procedures have been put in place which will prevent other employees from perceiving the need to threaten litigation concerning negative employment actions?"
Parker's written response was "While the risk of litigation from employment related actions can never be totally avoided, we are actively developing mechanisms to reduce employment-related litigation.
"First, a comprehensive overhaul of the current employee handbook is being completed," he said. "In the updated version of the handbook, an employee who has received negative employment action will have additional mechanisms in which to appeal the action taken by the City. This will increase the fairness to the employee in the event negative action is rendered.
"Secondly, the City Charter and Ordinances relating to the structure of the City is being revised to clarify the powers of the City Manager and the limitations of this position," he said.
Another question asked during Tuesday's city council meeting was "Will the provision of the employee separation payment to (former city manager) Shane Haynes result in a deficit of the General Fund and create the need to cut City services and staff?"
Parker responded: "Following the October 19, 2010 council meetings, an in-depth evaluation of the financial impact of the separation payment was performed.
"The research in question focused in on the overall impact of the separation payment versus the savings associated with strategic personnel decisions. Through this research, it was projected that the City of Statesboro will show a surplus of approximately $8,700 in the General Fund.
"This surplus is made possible through the efforts of the City to delay the retention of personnel for open positions which are not critical in nature," he said. "The City further expects to see surpluses in other city service funds due to strategic personnel management. In total, the City is projecting savings of $32,000 across all funds due to these measures."
During the council meeting, Merritt asked, "Will the City have to make additional budgetary cuts to cover the expenses related to the separation agreement with the former city manager, considering the separation payment, costs in conducting a search for a new city manager and the salary paid to the interim city manager?"
There will be no additional budget cuts for that reason, Parker said.
"Following (Haynes' resignation), measures were taken to offset the costs related to the resignation," he said.
"First, the City delayed filling budgeted positions which were non-critical in nature. These measures had no effect on the current operation of the City and allowed the City to avoid making additional budgetary cuts to cover the related expenses.
"Secondly, the City has not determined whether or not it will outsource the recruitment of a permanent city manager. Therefore, there may not be a cost associate with the recruitment process."
Merritt said the TEA Party appreciated the city's response, which is more than council and other city officials have offered in the past when questions were asked.
"We feel this is a step in the right direction and we are looking forward to a new era of transparency in our city government," she said in an email to the Statesboro City Council, Mayor Brannen and Parker. "It is truly a wonderful feeling to have our questions finally answered."
Parker said during the Oct. 19 council meeting he intends to maintain an open door policy during his time as interim city manager.
In an email to TEA Party members Friday, which included a copy of the answers to their questions, he wrote: "I would like to (thank) the Bulloch County Tea Party ... for taking an active interest in the operations of the City of Statesboro. I, along with Mayor and city council, take your concerns and questions seriously and careful consideration has been made to answer the questions ...
We are hopeful that these responses will provide more insight on the impact of the resignation of the former city manager and the financial standing of the City of Statesboro."
He encouraged TEA Party members and other citizens to continue having interest in city government. "The Mayor and City Council of Statesboro are committed to providing open and honest access to the citizenry of Statesboro and we invite continued public participation in city council meetings and events."
Merritt said Friday she was pleased with the city's efforts to be more responsive to citizens.
"We are happy with the intent and effort they have shown," she said. "There are clearly more questions we expect to ask but we feel this is a definite step in the right direction."
She pointed out that it is not just the TEA Party members but all citizens who deserve responses from city officials.
"I am happy the citizens were included on their response...this was truly about them and hopefully this will at least begin the healing process," she said."The council has come a long way in two weeks...from what appeared to be stone stiff and cold to what appears to be a warming up to the citizenry.
"They could have attempted to stonewall and we were prepared for that," she continued."However, we are happy they chose, even by punting to Parker, to respond to ours and the citizens' questions. Hopefully, the citizens will continue to include the councilmen in their feelings and concerns and the councilmen will continue on this new path by taking the next steps required to facilitate the city's involvement in their government."
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.