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City tables aid request by church
Council votes to appeal open records law violation
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    Citing a need for accurate cost estimates, the Statesboro City Council voted Wednesday to table a request from First Baptist Church to aid in the installation of a new water line for fire suppression in the church’s planned sanctuary expansion.
    According to a Memorandum of Understanding included in Wednesday’s council packet, First Baptist would agree to pay for all materials involved in running a new 10-inch water line from the intersection of Hill and Oak Streets to the new sanctuary. In addition, FBC would pay for any repairs to the street or sidewalk surfaces damaged by the extension. The city, in turn, would pay for or provide all the labor necessary for the water main extension.
    Councilman John Riggs floated the motion to table the item and said at the meeting that he needed cost estimates for the city’s portion of the project before he could make a decision. After the meeting, Councilman Will Britt also expressed a desire to see a labor cost estimate.
    “I asked today what the number (for the cost estimate) was, and no one has been able to tell us exactly what the number is,” Britt said. “We should at least have it printed so that everyone – pro, con – we know how much we’re spending.”
    Councilman Travis Chance said he wants to consider the historical perspective before making a decision.
    “I wanted to make sure no precedents were existing that would cause conflict,” Chance said. “I wanted to make sure, in essence, that this was the best thing for the city, not only for First Baptist in a partnership but also for the city as well. I want to be fair to all involved.”
    According to Water and Wastewater Director Wayne Johnson, when Merrywood Baptist Church undertook an expansion of their facilities, they had to connect to city water and wastewater lines because the church’s septic system was too small for the new building. Because there was no way to attach to the city via a gravity feed, the church had to install a forced main and a waste pump in order to connect to city services, all of which was paid for by the church.
    Should the council approve the memorandum, water and wastewater employees would not install the approximately 1,120 feet of 10-inch pipe but would instead get an outside contractor to perform the work. City Engineer Robert Cheshire said installing that size and length of pipe is beyond the traditional scope of work for the city.
    Chance said he could support the measure if there was an indication that the work would benefit the surrounding community as well as FBC.
    “The only way that I would approve it or would even consider it is if I could see beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was for improving the quality of life for the citizens of this community,” Chance said.
    In other business, after a lengthy executive session, the council voted unanimously to appeal the judge’s ruling in the open meetings lawsuit brought by six local businessmen. In a decision rendered last Friday, Bulloch Superior Court Judge John R. Turner said the city conducted meetings on both April 1 and April 19 without posting proper public notice at City Hall or at the Gateway Pond House, where the meetings took place. He also ruled the city did not provide or post a proper agenda for either meeting, nor did it take or transcribe any minutes from the meetings.
    As a result of the findings, Turner ordered the city to publish an agenda for both the budget retreat and the hotel/motel tax work session, as well as re-hold the work sessions in an “open and public forum.” He also ordered the city to pay $4,250 in legal fees for the plaintiff’s attorney.
    Councilman Riggs said he did not particularly agree with the judge’s ruling. Because Riggs believes the meetings were properly advertised and because the council took no action and made no decisions at those meetings, he cast his vote to appeal.
    “I don’t think the city should be charged with paying for (the plaintiff’s) legal fees,” Riggs said.
    “We have never held any secret meetings. Never,” he said, adding that, to his knowledge, the agendas for the meetings were properly posted at City Hall.
    Riggs would not comment on his impressions of City Attorney Sam Brannen’s defense of the case and said only that he thought the defense “could have been a little more vigorous.”
    Staff Attorney Michael Graves said was charged by council to file the appeal on behalf of the city with the Supreme Court of Georgia. Graves said he would challenge the judge’s order to the city to pay attorney’s fees by arguing that the plaintiff’s did not follow the necessary notification steps to be eligible to be awarded the fees. Graves also said he would argue that the city should not have to redo the meetings.
    “We feel like there shouldn’t have been affirmative action taken by the court beyond the injunction and prohibition of future conduct,” Graves said.
    Graves added that, since there were no actions taken at those work session meetings, there are not any decisions of the city council that can be overturned.

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