Local News

2/16/2012

City backs utility board makeover

By MEGHAN PITTMAN

The Brunswick News

Brunswick city commissioners said yes Wednesday to changing the composition of the Brunswick-Glynn County Joint Water-Sewer Commission.

After weeks of deliberation, Mayor Bryan Thompson and Commissioners Julie Martin and Cornell Harvey voted to adopt a resolution to send to the state Legislature to enact the change.

Harvey is one of two city commissioners on the utility board. The other is James Brooks, who is being held in the Glynn County Detention Center on charges of using his office to influence public officials and possessing a gun as a convicted felon.

Commissioner Johnny Cason opposed the resolution, warning that the local delegation to the General Assembly would not support the resolution as it is written. The local delegation must be satisfied with the resolution before it can be submitted to the Legislature for approval.

"I don't think this is what they are asking for," Cason said of the resolution asking the Legislature to change the makeup of the utility board to reduce the number of elected officials and to increase the number of at-large residents.

Five citizen representatives, under the proposed change, would be selected by the utility board from recommendations submitted by a Glynn County Grand Jury. The city and Glynn County commissions would each pick one of its members to serve on the seven-member utility board.

Glynn County Commissioner Clyde Taylor, chair of the water-sewer commission, told the city commission Wednesday that he expects that the state delegation will OK the proposed change.

"We don't know what they want, because they never told us. They asked us to be the driver of this situation," he said.

As proposed, the board would grow to seven members from its present five, four of whom are city or county commissioners. Having more at-large residents and fewer city and county commissioners on the board would be beneficial, advocates of the change say.

Of the five residents who would be appointed, one would have to reside in the city, one in the unincorporated county, and three from the city or county would have to have expertise in certain fields.

"(Citizen representatives) would provide a degree of expertise that we don't have now," Taylor said of the three resident positions that would require qualifications. "The point is to bring qualified people on board to run this $24 million business."

All members of the board would receive a $500 monthly stipend.

If the Glynn County Commission OKs the resolution at its meeting at 6 p.m. today at the historic county courthouse, it will go to the state delegation. If the Legislature approves the change, it will go before city and county voters in a referendum.

Also at the meeting Wednesday, commissioners asked the Pension Plan Committee to start looking at alternatives to a pension plan change for city employees to be voted on at the next commission meeting, March 7.

A proposed change that would take as much at 7 percent out of each employee's paycheck drew a large number of municipal workers to the meeting to protest.

The commission asked City Manager Bill Weeks and the Pension Plan Committee to inform employees of the possible change and make sure they understand the financial dilemma the commission is facing.

"The employees are important here and we have to stand up for them," said Cason, himself a city retiree. "To get the city back to where it should be we have to work on the foundation, our employees."

In other business, the commission:

* Deferred voting on proposed changes to a code of conduct to allow time to ensure that department heads and supervisors have reviewed them and to allow for comments.

* Approved a conditional use permit to allow a garage in the general commercial zone for servicing of motor vehicles at 2925 Norwich St.

* Approved a conditional use permit for 1017 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. to allow the property to be used as a church in a general residential zone.

* Deferred until the next city commission meeting, March 7, discussion on a rezoning petition and subdivision petition for 1911 L St. and 2207 Bartow St. to combine parcels for a local commercial zone.

* Approved an amendment to the 2011 Annual Action Plan, reallocating $85,000 from the 2005 Liberty Ship Trail funds to develop green space for the Liberty Ship Project, and reallocate $100,000 to implement a new emergency home repair program.

* Agreed to submit an application for the SAFER FEMA grant to fund $158,096 for two years of salaries and benefits for two firefighters.