Approximately 45 Statesboro residents came out Sunday afternoon to the Honey Bowen Building to ask questions and seek answers from Statesboro City Councilman John Riggs during a town hall-style meeting.
Council members have come under fire recently for refusing to discuss any reasons why Shane Haynes was asked to resign as city manager and then given a $162,000 settlement by the council. Members of the Bulloch County TEA party asked specific questions of the council at a recent meeting, but received no response.
Riggs, who represents District 4, said he sent out invitations to residents in his district on the north side of Fair Road "because that's mainly permanent residents." Riggs said he hastily compiled the list of addresses that were sent invitations and he apologized to those individuals on the north side of Fair Road who did not receive an invitation. He said that he plans to contact Georgia Southern's SGA president and have another such meeting for the students, though nothing is currently scheduled.
"I'm sure that their concerns are probably a little bit different than the permanent residents," Riggs said.
After a brief personal history, Riggs said he wanted to answer a question that's been on everyone's mind - specifically, why did the council do what they did regarding the city manager?
"The answer is: This is what my constituency asked me to do. They saw an issue and asked me to address it, at a ratio of 49 to 1," Riggs said of his vote to ask for Haynes' resignation. "That is my constituents calling me on the phone, giving me their name and address - and usually their phone number, too - and telling me how they felt. And I acted on that. You cannot deny that figure."
Riggs said he hopes his constituents will continue to offer him feedback.
A member of the audience, Verdery Kennedy, then asked why the council continues to pay people to leave the city's employ.
Riggs said "this is the end of it" and that he "does not plan on it ever happening again" will not cast another vote to settle with another employee. Regarding Haynes' resignation he said, "I'm telling you the truth when I say I am very unhappy we had to do this, but it had to be done in order for the city to move forward."
"If it had to be done, then we didn't need to buy him off," Kennedy said in response.
Riggs then said, "In order for another lawsuit not to come back and bite us, we had to do this."
Later he added, "We consulted the (staff) attorney, and because of the actions of some people in this community - some with the city, some not with the city - there was room for a lawsuit. It wouldn't have been pretty."
Riggs did not elaborate what specific actions by council members or city staff may have been grounds for a potential Haynes lawsuit.
Riggs also fielded a numbers of questions ranging from the city's budget, property maintenance issues and other fiscal matters during the two-hour session.
The council will meet tonight at 6 p.m. at City Hall for their second regularly scheduled meeting of the month. Four individuals are set to address the council before the meeting.
First, Kristine Yager-Rushton will speak to the council about the concerns of the Pine Cove neighborhood, located off Gentilly Road. With an increasing number of rental homes in that area, the residents have expressed concern about the aesthetics of the neighborhood - including neglected lawns, parking in the front yard and trash cans being left at the curb all week long.
Following her presentation, three individuals will address the council concerning financial matters. Blaine Olmstead will address the council concerning fiscal responsibilities of the council, Debra Sabia will talk about the accountability of the city council and Heather Merritt will ask the council about budgeting and fiscal responsibility.
At the last council meeting, questions from Merritt and Olmstead, representing the Bulloch County TEA party, went unanswered during the Oct. 5 council meeting.
Also on the agenda, the city will consider accepting the rights-of-way for seven streets located in The Islands subdivision and they will consider a resolution calling for the establishment of a Downtown Statesboro incentives program, which would help jump-start business in the downtown area.
The council meets on the second floor of city hall. The meeting starts at 6 p.m.
Phil Boyum may be reached at 912-489-9454.