At Thursday night’s Tifton City Council workshop/called meeting, during the discussion of signage when citizens had an opportunity to speak, city resident Eloise Styer said she believes Mayor Jamie Cater may be in violation of the state law due to a comment he made at an Oct. 10 workshop concerning him losing a business due to signage. Researching this matter, she said Cater, who is a public official, should recuse himself if this is the case when voting on signage.
The City Council has decided to postpone the discussion on proposed signage revisions in the city and Historic District.
Styer quoted the Official Code of Georgia, annotated. She said it states “a public official may never take any official action with regard to any matter under circumstances in which he knows or should know that he has a direct or indirect monetary interest in the subject matter of such matter or in the outcome of such official matter.”
“Thus, the mayor stated monetary interest in the outcome of the signage issue appears to me to require that he recuse himself from further involvement in the (Historic Preservation) signage issue. Any action other than recusal will place him out of compliance with state law or at the very least, will present the appearance of noncompliance,” Styer said.
She added that she sought an opinion from a Georgia lawyer outside of Tift County who has both taught and practiced law.
“This lawyer reviewed the video tape of the Oct. 10 workshop and concluded that there is no doubt that the mayor should recuse himself from this issue,” she said.
City attorney Rob Wilmot said he would have to go back to review the video of that meeting and the code that Styer quoted. He told Cater, who listened in on the meeting from a speakerphone, that some research on the issue had already been done, but they may want to look into it a little further.
Cater said he didn't remember making the statement about him losing a business because of signs, but he needed to go back and see the video. He said if he’s in violation, he would recuse himself. He noted other council members on the board have businesses in the community also. He said he doesn't think that he’s in violation of anything, but he recommended that Wilmot look into it as soon as possible.
Therefore, the discussion on signage was postponed until Wilmot finds out more information on the conflict of interest issue. He plans to have something on the matter by Monday.
Cater thanked Styer for bringing up the issue.
“If this is the fact, I’m not saying that isn't and I’m not saying that it is, and I went forward and then I voted, I’d hate to hear from it then,” he said. “I sincerely appreciate you bringing this up tonight while we’re still in this phase of discussing this.”
Hal Baxley, owner of Endless Summer Day Spa located on North Tift Avenue, also commented on signage. He said he urges that instead of the Historic Preservation Commission having the signage in their guidelines, he would hope that the signage for commercial areas and commercial downtown would be put with the Land Development Code where it could be administered fairly, which would relieve the city of any potential lawsuits for signage that has already been agreed to and is already in effect.
He added it would also leave all business owners in residential professional areas their ability to continue doing what they do, which is different. The council planned to meet Jan. 22 to discuss the Downtown Development Authority, retirement matters, conflict of interest and any other issues.
Also, the council was presented with information on the FY 2013 city of Tifton audit, which was performed by the city’s independent auditor Mauldin & Jenkins. Members heard from Meredith Lipson, a partner with Mauldin & Jenkins. During a summary presentation, she commented that the city has done a really good job with their fund balance and almost every department came in under budget.
She concluded with some recommendations for the city, which included amending the budget as things change so that it’s a working document and consider changes to the city’s purchasing order. Also, Lipson said instead of there being individual bank accounts for each department (32), they recommend the city have one account that would go through the finance department.
All recommendations will be reviewed by the council. City Manager Larry Riner said members will begin to receive monthly reports on the city’s finances beginning in February.
To contact reporter Latasha Ford, call 382-4321.