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Deadlocked council results in four tie-breakers

COVINGTON -- The Covington City Council was deadlocked on three decisions Monday night, leaving Mayor Kim Carter to cast four tie-breaking votes.

First, the council was split on whether to move forward with reworking the city charter. At the Aug. 15 meeting, council members agreed to hold a work session within 30 days to address changes to the outdated charter, which was written in 1962 and has been modified only a few times since then.

However, Councilman Chris Smith recommended the issue be postponed until after the Municipal Election so any new members who are elected would have a say in the process.

Carter recommended starting the project now and forming a committee to bring recommendations back to the council. The committee would consist of two city council members, one each from the East and West wards; the city manager; the mayor; the city attorney; and one representative from the Planning Commission, Board of Appeals and Covington Redevelopment Authority.

Councilman Keith Dalton said the city's legal counsel had advised it could take six months to review and revise the document. He recommended the entire council be involved in the process in lieu of a committee.

"We're going to be the ones that vote on it. We might as well do the work on it," he said.

Councilwoman Ocie Franklin said she preferred Carter's suggestion.

"When you are new on the council you have a lot to learn. It's not overnight I have been there and done that," she said, adding that it would be best to have people with more experience and more time working on the document.

"I question with something as important as this charter this whole governing body not being involved in this whole process," Smith said. Smith added that if the work begins now, the council could be halfway through the process by the time new officials take office in January and if they don't agree with what's already been done, the process would have to be restarted.

Smith then made the motion to table the matter until January, which was seconded by Dalton.

The vote was 3 to 3, with Smith, Dalton and Mike Whatley in favor and Janet Goodman, Hawnethia Williams and Ocie Franklin opposed. Carter broke the tie to deny the motion.

Goodman then made the motion to form the committee and have it report to the council in 30 days. The vote was the same, with Carter breaking the tie in favor.

The third deadlock of the night came over whether to send a letter to the Georgia Department of Transportation requesting that medians be removed from the plan for Ga. Highway 142 and Harland Drive. The DOT has an ongoing widening project on Ga. 142 in various phases. The medians would limit access to industries in the area, some council members said.

Dalton said he also wants medians removed at U.S. Highway 278 and Hazelbrand Road, per the request of many citizens and business owners.

Carter said city officials are meeting with the DOT on Sept. 14 and could discuss the issues then. Goodman recommended waiting to see the outcome of that meeting before sending a letter. The vote was again 3 to 3, with Goodman, Franklin and Williams in favor and Whatley, Dalton and Smith opposed.

The council then agreed to send a letter immediately following the meeting.

Next, the council could not agree on transferring property deeds for the sale of right of way to the DOT for the Hwy. 142 project. The price is $30,500 for a 19.3-acre tract south of American Way and $6,300 for a smaller tract.

Smith suggested the council give approval only if the DOT agrees to the request regarding the medians.

"They're going to get their right of way one way or another," cautioned City Manager Steve Horton.

"But we can send them a message can't we?" Smith asked.

"The way that process works is less than desirable," Carter said, referring to condemnation. "I don't know that message would be received." Carter said numerous requests have been made regarding the medians at U.S. 278 and Hazelbrand, to no avail.

"At this point, we can say, 'Man, you've really screwed up these businesses here,' but the outcome is still going to be the same. We've got the chance to change a future project (But) they aren't going to come in there and tear up those curbs and gutters," she said.

The vote on Goodman's motion was 3 to 3 to sell the right of way to DOT, with Goodman, Franklin and Williams in favor and Whatley, Smith and Dalton opposed. Carter broke the tie in favor of Goodman's motion. Carter said she would voice the council's concerns at the upcoming meeting and in the letter.