A Guyton resident brought up a series of concerns about how the city is being run — and how her issues are not being addressed — to the city council.
Lexye Shockley questioned several actions by Mayor Michael Garvin and the council, including a dinner bill for more than $1,000 at an Atlanta restaurant.
“I would like to know why the council and you feel it’s necessary to go to Atlanta and spend excessive amounts of the taxpayers’ money for dinner and hotels,” she said. “I don’t believe that’s being a good steward of our finances.”
The bill, for $1,400 at Ruth’s Chris in Atlanta, was part of the Guyton City Council’s involvement in the Georgia Municipal Association’s 2014 Mayors Day conference and the Effingham Chamber of Commerce’s Effingham Day at the Capitol that followed.
Garvin explained the Guyton delegation treated the Rincon delegation to dinner.
“So we’re paying for the Rincon City Council’s dinners as well?” Shockley asked. “I just feel our money, especially since we’re supposed to be in this budget crisis, could be better spent than by going out to dinner at high-dollar steakhouses when you’re in Atlanta.”
Garvin replied that the Rincon City Council often had paid for the Guyton delegation at events and he felt it was the city’s turn to pick up the tab.
Shockley also questioned a receipt for $179 at T.J. Maxx, asking why a predominantly male-led city needs to be shopping at a store geared toward female clientele. City Manager Robert Black said the charge on the city credit card was his, as he bought a computer bag there for his laptop and papers.
“The city of Guyton doesn’t need to be going on shopping sprees at retail stores that are specifically designed for women,” she said. “That doesn’t go toward openness or integrity if the city is acting as a loan department for city employees or city officials.”
Shockley also called into question the city’s hiring process for Black, a former city council member who was named city manager in December 2013. She alleged the city advertised for the position after Black was hired. Garvin said that wasn’t the case.
“We tried to fill it, we backed off,” the mayor said. “That position was advertised. And it was voted on by this city council to hire Mr. Black. It was not advertised after the hiring of a city manager.”
Among her challenges to the city was Black being brought on board to assist with the city’s water and sewer system, which she claimed was done without council approval.
“It is not a dictatorship, but that’s the way it seems,” she said. “It seems the council has been stripped of its power. I don’t know if the council is aware of everything that is going on.”
Garvin said he asked Black to help with a water-sewer system he helped put in originally. He also said it was Shockley’s opinion that the council members had no power.
“You have the right to question them if they think they’ve been stripped of the power,” he said.
Though Shockley said Black told her he had to learn about the water-sewer system, Black countered that what he didn’t know about was the billing system.
City hasn’t answered complaints
Shockley also said the city has failed to acknowledge or address her complaints about the noise from a church holding services at a nearby city-owned multipurpose building. Her house is close to the building and the church’s services run from 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m., not stopping at noon like she was told they would.
A church directly behind her house poses no problem with its sound, she said, but the noise from the services, which have been going on for about a year, make it difficult for her to enjoy her own home on a Sunday.
“That building is not soundproof. I can hear it throughout my entire house,” she said. “And I was there first. It’s bothersome. The nuisance that is created needs to be addressed. And again, it doesn’t get addressed.”
She also said in her search for a home, she wanted to avoid areas where there might be noise. Shockley said later that she visited the neighborhood at different times on different days. She said the church behind their house was found not to be a noise or traffic issue.
“You said you searched for any area that did not have any churches,” Garvin said. “You bought a home with a church in your backyard, a gym that’s active, a fire department and a police department that’s right across the road. So I don’t know how good your search was.”
Shockley said she did not appreciate the personal attack and added she has no problem with the fire and police departments being so close to her home.
“The snide remarks get back to me,” she said. “I don’t appreciate the attacks on my intelligence. If you want to make personal attacks against me and call me names, that’s fine. But I don’t appreciate it and I don’t think it gets anything accomplished.”
She continued that the city has not done anything about her problems with the church services, and she further questioned if using the civic center for church service was an appropriate use of the building.
“You have not taken a single step to address any of the complaints I have,” she said.
Garvin said again that was her opinion, and that the city bought the building for such community purposes.
“I said we have went over and investigated it,” he responded. “Why haven’t you addressed it?”
Shockley replied she believed it would be disrespectful to ask those church members to lessen their noise during their services while they were conducting them.
“It’s not an opinion. It’s not an opinion,” she said of the noise complaints remaining unresolved. “There are options that could be utilized to address the problem, but you have not taken any steps.”
The city also has not levied any sanctions on one of its members who faces charges in another state, Shockley claimed. Ulysses Eaton has been indicted on three counts of check fraud in South Carolina, but he remains an active member of the council, she said.
“I think that if there is a question of his honesty, and this gentleman is making financial decisions for this city, we should be raising a question as to whether he should be sitting there making decisions for the city,” she said.
City attorney Raymond Smith said those are only charges, and Garvin added Eaton has not been found guilty of any wrongdoing.
“He’s innocent until proven guilty,” the mayor said. “No court has went and proven him guilty.”
Mayor stands by his actions
Garvin defended his tenure as mayor and the relationship he has with the city and the council members.
“I’ve been serving this community for 16-plus years,” he said. “If the people I’m serving think I’m not serving them with the utmost respect, then come January, this city hall ought to be flooded with folks trying to take this job. I’ll probably just hand it right to them. Come November, someone else can come sit in this chair.
“This not my chair,” he continued. “This is the chair I gave up my time and my family’s time to serve my community and that’s what I try to do to the best of my ability. Am I going to satisfy everybody? No, I’m not. Do I try to satisfy everybody? No, I cannot. But I do the best I can do while I’m here. When I go home and I close my day I can sleep well knowing I did what I could do for my community.”
Shockley, who has been a Guyton resident for two years, said others are afraid to speak up, but they have called upon her to do so.
“They know I know how to get the information,” she said. “I am familiar with open records requests.”
Shockley added her research has shown several allegations have not been true.
“But the biggest concern I have is the city is not putting forth an appearance of honesty,” she said. “That’s what matters when you’re in the community. If the council acts in such that it looks like it’s hiding something, people question them.”