A resolution establishing a Creek District Oversight Committee is on the agenda for Tuesday’s 9 a.m. Statesboro City Council meeting. Two weeks ago the council voted 4-1 to negotiate a memorandum of understanding with the committee, which had already been meeting.
In February when the council agreed to have the city take over financial responsibility for the Creek on the Blue Mile project, assuming a role initially filled by the Development Authority of Bulloch County, the “assumption” agreement called for an oversight committee. Funding sources now assigned to the city include a 30-year, low-interest line of credit for up to $15.5 million from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority and a state direct investment, like a grant, of $5.5 million.
Back in 2017, the Blue Mile Foundation Inc., a nonprofit corporation which is not a part of the city government, was established to receive Statesboro’s $1 million third-place winnings from the corporate-funded America’s Best Communities competition. This was won with a Blue Mile plan for the redevelopment of the South Main Street area.
The “Creek” project – proposed to include a flood-control reservoir feeding a creek with recreational uses passing through public park features surrounded by private development – is a more recent offshoot.
At the May 21 meeting, City Council members were asked to authorize city staff to negotiate a memo of understanding with the Blue Creek Oversight Committee “clarifying the relationship” between the committee and city.
“That relationship is already set out in Schedule 7 of the loan assignment and assumption agreement that we have with the Development Authority of Bulloch County, and that is in regard to the $15.5 million state loan for the Blue Creek project,” City Attorney Cain Smith said then.
He noted that the request came from a meeting the committee held May 7 and said the idea was “to draft a follow-up MOU to go beyond what is already in Schedule 7.”
“With what goal in mind?” District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum asked May 21. “What are we negotiating?”
Smith said he did not know because he had not entered negotiations with the committee at that point.
“I understand there's some sort of a communication problem,” Boyum said. “But I also understand that we've paid $50,000, we paid half a person's salary, to coordinate, and I know our city staff is doing everything they can to make this thing happen.”
The $50,000 he referred to was the city’s original commitment to pay half the $100,000 salary of a Creek on the Blue Mile coordinator to be hired by the Blue Mile Foundation. But with the assumption agreement in February, the city also took over the other $50,000 half of that responsibility from the DABC, officials said then.
In March, when the Statesboro Herald reported on an organizational meeting of the Creek District Oversight Committee, it had no chairperson yet. But the Blue Mile Foundation Inc. – not the oversight committee, which is an advisory panel to the city – had hired Bryan Davis as the coordinator.
During the May 21 council meeting, Boyum told Davis that he did “not want to throw (him) under the bus” but thought that Davis should be responsible for communication between the committee and city.
“The Project Coordinator will also receive and transmit Committee recommendations to all involved parties,” stated the “Schedule 7” attachment. But it also called for a committee member to act as a liaison to the city.
On a motion from District 3 Councilman Jeff Yawn, seconded by District 5 Councilman Derek Duke, the council authorized city staff, which Mayor Jonathan McCollar said meant Smith, to negotiate the memo of understanding, or MOU. Yawn is the council member McCollar previously named to serve on the committee.
Of the five council members, Boyum alone voted “no,” and again asked what needed to be negotiated.
“We’ve got to allow the city staff to be able to go in and negotiate, then out of that conversation whatever red flags may come out, let them bring that back before council so we can have a deliberative body to examine what’s the product of that and then we’ll make a decision,” McCollar said during their discussion.
“The reason I voted ‘no’ was that we were not giving a clear direction to the city attorney,” Boyum said this week. “Our job as council members is to give clear legislative directions to our staff, and when we can’t define what the city’s position is, I’m not going to tell our city attorney to go negotiate on our behalf.”
As of Friday, the document on Tuesday’s agenda is not an MOU, but a proposed resolution establishing the Creek District Oversight Committee. It will have up to seven voting members, including a City Council member appointed by the mayor, a staff member appointed by the city manager, two members appointed by the Blue Mile Foundation, one appointed by the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners, one appointed by the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority and potentially one appointed by the Board of Education if it ever contributes a tax increment to the Blue Mile Tax Allocation District.
All of this had been stated before but apparently not adopted as a resolution.
The resolution provides for the coordinator to be a nonvoting member only, and requires that a member be appointed as liaison to the mayor and council.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.