By JOHN SCOTT COOPER, Staff Writer
The first Waycross City Commission meeting of the year got off to a rocky start with a procedural battle as Commissioner Norman Davis attempted to change the agenda and failed to do so based on a ruling by City Attorney Rick Currie.
The first scheduled order of business was to swear in new Commissioner Jon Tindall, District 5, and Commissioner Diane Hopkins, re-elected to represent District 4. Commissioners were then to elect the mayor pro tem to conduct meetings in the absence of the mayor. Davis made a motion to elect the mayor pro tem first.
If Davis had succeeded with his motion, commissioners not sworn in would not have been able to vote.
Davis would later explain that he believed Commissioner Larry Ethridge was slated to become mayor pro tem based on a “rotation” that Davis understood the commission had subscribed to. He had heard “through the grapevine” that someone else was going to be elected and sought to head off that action.
“I did not desire for you to miss out on your right to vote, Commissioner (Tindall),” Davis explained. “But I felt Commissioner Ethridge was going to lose his right to be mayor pro tem in the rotation. I subscribe to the belief that when someone is not being treated fairly and I don’t speak up, I am complicit. I will not be complicit by not speaking up.”
Commissioner Marian Solomon-Gaines was elected mayor pro tem, nominated by Hopkins and getting Tindall’s vote as well as her own. She explained later in the meeting that the city charter said the mayor pro tem is to be “elected” by commissioners, not rotated into office.
The vote to change the agenda found Davis and Ethridge in favor and Solomon-Gaines voting against. Currie then ruled against the vote on legal grounds. And Davis went on the record to “challenge” Currie’s ruling.
Solomon-Gaines conducted the rest of the meeting, which had been called to order by City Manager Raphel Maddox. Mayor-elect John Knox was not present and was not sworn in because he was in Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., having had surgery to drain a subdural hematoma, blood pooled between his skull and brain.
Knox hopes to return home as early as Wednesday.
City Clerk Julie Dinkins was sworn in and other city officers were pronounced. These included Currie as city attorney, Shawn F. Wildes as assistant city attorney and the Waycross Journal-Herald as the official organ. This pronouncement became a lighter moment in the meeting.
Currie and Maddox noted that the city manager was not on the list of city officers. A reading of the charter proved it was not necessary, that his appointment was “indefinite.” A motion — which was not legally necessary — was made anyway to accept the officers with Maddox’s name added. Commissioners chuckled as they approved the motion.
Waycross Police Sgt. Teresa Grant was recognized as the January “Employee of the Month.” Chief Tony Tanner said she was one of three officers who had major impacts on his training when he was a young police officer. When he went to work in the Criminal Investigations Unit, “… she helped train me. It’s amazing how she is still working with the same enthusiasm. Her help is something I can never repay.”
Another of the three officers is Major Chris Tatum. He was present and applauded the service of Grant, letting everyone know she is called “Teddy Bear” by other officers. “Sometimes she is soft and cuddly. Other times, she’s mean as a grizzly,” Tatum said.
The commissioners then approved four resolutions beginning with joining Ware County and the Ware County Board of Education in a resolution requesting that the Georgia Department of Transportation expedite assistance “to develop and construct an overpass at U.S. 1 at the CSX grade separation” on the north side of the city.
Solomon-Gaines read a proclamation, approved by the commission, that declared Saturday to be Law Enforcement Appreciation Day. Chief Tanner and a number of officers were present to be recognized.
The commission also approved: authorizing the continued contract with the Department of Community Affair to be part of the Georgia Classic Main Streets program; join with Ware County to request the local legislative delegation to amend the act that created the Waycross-Ware Development Authority to allow the city and county to appoint authority board members “without prior submission of nominees by the Chamber of Commerce;” and declaring as surplus property the service handgun of Sgt. Gene Nipper so it could be transferred to him on his retirement. Such transfers are standard operating procedures.