By John Brice
The LaFayette City Council met on Monday, November 6th of 2023 at the Chambers County Farmers Federation Agricultural Center at the ALFA building in LaFayette. In attendance were Mayor Kenneth Vines, Councilman Terry G. Mangram, Councilman David Ennis, Councilman Toney B. Thomas, Councilman Michael C. Ellis and Councilwoman Tammie B. Williams.
City Clerk Louis T. Davidson, City Attorney Joseph M. Tucker, Police Chief George Rampey, Fire & EMS Chief Jim Doody, Street, Sanitation and Cemetery Superintendent George Green, Electric Superintendent Chris Sanders and Wastewater Collection Superintendent Richard Chapman were also present. The meeting began with an invocation led by Chief Rampey and standard procedures such as roll call as well as approval of the minutes from the previous meeting.
First up at the podium was Ms. Adrian Holloway for a recreation budget discussion regarding a community house request. Holloway spoke as a co-chair of the Recreation Board to request use of the LaFayette community house as a multipurpose facility for the enrichment of the youth in the area. This property has not been utilized over the past several years which is unfortunate due to the fact that it has great potential to provide sorely needed programs and resources for local youth such as academic tutoring, character development, financial literacy, career advice, agriculture, project-based learning and exposure to the arts.
There is a team said Holloway, of volunteers who possess a wide variety of applicable skills that are ready and willing to offer their services as early as the projected start date of this coming January of 2024. Councilwoman Williams thanked Holloway for getting the children on the road they need to be on, and the motion was approved.
Next up was Ms. Yolanda Ratchford for a discussion on the art program and planned events for November and December. Ratchford explained that art is important because it allows kids to be creative and discover who they are as well as senior citizens. She further remarked that a lot of kids aren’t necessarily basketball or football players and this is a great way for them to get attention and it is even beneficial for athletic kids to find different means of expression.
Over $2,000 in funding would be needed for a group trip to see three upcoming theatrical performances for local youth to be exposed to which would be in addition to what is already in the budget for art programs.
Councilman Ennis asked for confirmation that this would be in addition to the $75,000 the city had already budgeted for art programs and commented that a better option would be for fundraisers to provide the money needed. Attorney Mac Tucker clarified that under the Alabama Constitution it is legally required that all city funds are spent on activities that have a clear and direct benefit to the entire city as opposed to a select group of individuals.
Councilmen Mangram and Thomas both expressed their confidence in the generosity of LaFayette’s citizens when it comes to supporting youth activities and encouraged Ratchford to pursue the fundraising route.
Allen Tucker from Harmon Engineering & Contracting Co., Inc. was up next with a Street Improvement Project Discussion. Engineer Tucker stated that the current paving project had recently been completed and final closeout documents should be available next week with the public works law requiring publication of a notice of completion finishing off the endeavor.
Councilman Mangram expressed his concerns over his expectations of comprehensive repairs to roadways in the designated work area and what he has observed to be unfinished work. Engineer Tucker explained that this was a unit price contract where the cost was dependent on the line items included in the project’s scope and that the line had to be drawn somewhere for it to stay within budget.
Councilman Ellis expressed his intense dissatisfaction with the contractor, characterizing their work on this project as a shabby job. Ellis noted that he does not want to use this company again since they have consistently gone past schedule and over budget which he cites as unfair treatment for LaFayette compared to the quality of work that they do for other municipalities in the area. Councilman Thomas also voiced his concerns over poor results from their striping work, asking if the contractor could please ensure it was done correctly since that is what they have already been paid for.
Attorney Tucker took to the podium next to address a notice of claim from James H. Burrows, Jr. for two flat tires on his vehicle. Mr. Burrows claims that he was driving on the road outside Eastside Elementary school where the shoulder was in disrepair which caused his two flat tires. Pictures taken from the scene of the mishap confirmed that the shoulder was indeed in poor condition and that liability is there unless the city could prove that the incident didn’t happen.
Councilman Mangram asked why the city must pay, to which Attorney Tucker responded that case law supports Burrows’ claim with the court determining that circumstances would make a jury responsible to determine if the city is at fault. To avoid this liability, the city would have needed a low shoulder sign to warn drivers. Councilman Thomas asked Superintendent Green and Chief Rampey if they could investigate the location to prevent future accidents and the motion was approved to pay the claim with a single no vote from Mangram.
At that point Councilman Mangram raised the issue of a memorandum of understanding that had recently been signed by Mayor Vines stating that the LaFayette Police Department would be responsible going forward for preventing any disruptions by protesters at future Chambers County School District Board of Education meetings.
Use of signs inside board meetings was a particular issue of contention, in which Mangram expressed his belief that they were a legitimate form of protest despite having been banned at the request of Superintendent Chambley and BOE President Jeffrey Finch. Councilman Ellis noted that residents had begun calling him with complaints about the treatment of protesters by the LaFayette PD after the events of the last BOE meeting and his displeasure at not having been made aware beforehand of the MOU that the mayor had signed off on.
Councilman Thomas noted that he has personally participated in the BOE protests and that he had never witnessed any behavior that could be classified as unfriendly, distracting or disruptive. Councilwoman Williams then left her seat as a member of the council and addressed the council from the podium as a citizen. She stated that she has been present at every protest and the signs being used there have never been full sized poster boards since they have always been cut in half or cut in quarters. Williams characterized it as a completely peaceful protest with chants expressing laudable sentiments such as “no equity no peace”, “good trouble” and “no racism”.
Further clarifying her intentions that are shared by fellow protestors, Williams explained that all they want is what is right, a fair chance and fair opportunities. She believes that the MOU has allowed Chambley and Finch to dictate terms of conduct for the protestors which in effect violates their constitutional rights.
Williams clarified that Chief Rampey had taken signs at the last meeting, since he was only following orders the final responsibility falls on Mayor Vines for signing off on the MOU that caused the situation. Mayor Vines ardently defended his actions, noting that from day one he has been fighting for the youth of LaFayette. Vines explained that this situation is different, he was simply acting under the advice of the city attorney and that he depends on for guidance in legal matters such as this.
During the remainder of the meeting Councilman Thomas expressed his gratitude for LaFayette Senior Center Director Alfredia Silmon whose facility under her leadership had served up 1,174 hot meals in the month of October to elderly guests. Mayor Vines also gave thanks to the outstanding work by the staff at the LaFayette Senior Center and made note of the need to fill an open position there which he hoped could be made possible by Easter Seals as they had done in the past.
GVACC Executive Director Carrie Wood shared details of a grand reopening for Krave Korner at their new location and this year’s Rockingfest. Chief Doody announced an upcoming Veteran’s Day Celebration at the Chambers County Health and Wellness Center on November 11th and encouraged the community to show up in support of veterans in the area.
Finishing up the meeting was the auditing of accounts with a motion that was approved for payment of the city’s expenses at which point a single motion was approved for the conveyance of three cemetery deeds with one final motion being approved to adjourn the meeting.