Lanett council split over hiring a city manager

Published 10:00 am Wednesday, June 19, 2024

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LANETT — The Lanett City Council held a rather contentious meeting Monday evening on whether it’s time to hire a city manager. The current council has discussed this matter previously but thus far no decision has been made.

The meeting began with Council Member Ronnie Tucker making a motion to amend the agenda to resume the search for a new city manager.

Lanett has had city managers in the past. Charles Jennings served in that role in the 1980s and 1990s, and retired district court judge Joel Holley served as a city manager in the tenure of Mayor Oscar Crawley.

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Mayor Jamie Heard told council members that he was not opposed to the idea but questioned where the funding would come from to hire a new city manager. “It’s not in this year’s budget,” he said.

“The cities around us are progressing,” Tucker said. “We are only crawling.”

Council Member Tony Malone said he thought there was an ordinance on the books that a city manager could be hired. He asked for clarification from City Attorney Stanley Gray.

Gray said that he would liked to have been advised that this would be coming up in the Monday meeting so he could properly research it but was fairly certain a city manager could be appointed by action from the mayor and council.

“A city manager for Lanett would be a hired employee,” he said. “This is a subject that has not come up in some time, but I would think that what was put in place before is still in place. I would liked to have researched this to give you the best advice I can.”

Gray said he would have an answer in writing by Friday and would send it to the mayor and each member of the council.

Basically, what the council did was to resume a search that had been going on in the past year.

“If we need it to hire a city manager, I will give up my salary as mayor if you will give up your salary as a city council member,” Heard said.

Heard added that the money has to come from somewhere if Lanett is going to hire a new city manager. He made the point that the city is losing police officers to surrounding cities that are offering better pay.

When asked about this Chief Denise McCain said the LPD at present has 23 officers when it needs 26. “All of us are working six days a week,” she said. “I have been on my feet all day long, but that’s part of the job.”

McCain said the city has received multiple applicants but that a number of them would not likely get through the police academy due to their physical condition.

McCain said that two of the department’s better officers recently left because of better pay elsewhere.

“How can we get the pay up to par?” Malone asked. “The council should take action on this.”

“Can you get something in writing to say what we need to do to keep our officers?” Tucker asked.

McCain said she would do that.

Malone asked McCain about a situation involving an undocumented juvenile who allegedly burned down a house where an ex-girlfriend was living with her father.

McCain said the boy had come to this country from Honduras but the city police department could not charge him with a crime because he had no ID and no Social Security number. Such incidents are handled by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, commonly known as ICE.

The juvenile was deported but is thought to be back in the local area.

“People from ICE have told me they are overwhelmed,” McCain said.

Malone said it was his understanding that undocumented immigrants are living in houses in Lanett where the utilities are being paid by someone who is not living there.

“In my opinion, the utilities should be paid by whoever is living there and they should be U.S. citizens,” he said.

In her report to the council, Council Member Angelia Thomas said she thought it would be a good move for Lanett to have a city manager. 

“They would be of big help to the mayor and council,” she said. “But we have to be careful to stay within our budget. We have to look at it as a matter of having some growing pains. A city manager would help us meet the needs we have. We have infrastructure needs that need to be addressed.”

Heard said that complaints have been made about high utility bills. When the cost of having a new city manager is figured in, it would further raise the cost of paving streets and dealing with dilapidated properties.

“You can’t have the best person you can find for that job by offering a lower price,” Heard said.

In new business, the council did take action to have a small increase in the water rates. The action was approved in a 4-1 vote with Council Member Malone opposed.

At present, anyone using up to 2,000 gallons of water per month is charged $14.25. That won’t change.

The new rate will be $5.50 per 1,000 gallons for anything over the $14.25 minimum.

The city currently purchases an average of 42.5 million gallons per month from the Chattahoochee Valley Water Supply District, whose water processing plant is on Kroger block in Lanett.

The city also hired Harmon Engineering of LaFayette to provide an inventory of the city’s water service lines. This is a requirement of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM). The list must be completed by October 14th of this year. Harmon has agreed to do this for an amount that will not exceed $15,000.

This is being done as part of a program to replace any lead or copper pipes in the ground that deliver city water to houses in Lanett. These lines will have to be replaced with plastic pipes.

Following the meeting, Heard told The Valley Times-News that all was not gloom and doom in Lanett. 

“In many ways, I think we are in better shape than we’ve been in a number of years,” he said. “We are continuing to pave streets that need it, and I think employee morale is good. Despite what some might be saying, we are not overstaffed. We have five people in the gas department, five in the electrical department and nine in cemetery and grounds. They are all doing good work for the citizens. We have a $4 million grant on the way to improve our gas system, and I feel good about another major grant that will help people make home improvements.”

“We just need to keep watching the budget and keep from going in a hole,” he said. “This council needs to work together. We don’t need to give the impression that we are not getting along. Communication with each other is the key to this. Anyone who knows me knows that I have an open door. Anyone can come by and talk to me anytime. I am in the mayor’s office every day.”