Tifton Gazette

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January 22, 2014

Mayor vindicated in signage dispute

TIFTON — After a city resident called out Mayor Jamie Cater at a previous city workshop concerning a conflict of interest issue with signage, City attorney Rob Wilmot has found that Cater is not in violation.

Eloise Styer had commented that she believed Cater was 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.

Cater said he didn’t remember making the statement and he didn’t think he was in violation of anything. However, he had recommended that Wilmot look into the matter as soon as possible. The discussion on signage was postponed until more information could be gathered on whether Cater has a conflict of interest in participating in the decision and vote to amend sign regulations in the Historic District of the city due to his ownership of commercial buildings for lease in the downtown commercial district.

The issue was analyzed according to the requirements of state statutes, decisions of the Georgia appellate courts and the city of Tifton Code of Ordinances.

At a lengthy special called meeting held Wednesday afternoon at the Welcome Station, Wilmot said based upon the holdings in Story, Brookes, White and Vickers, to constitute a conflict of interest, there must be a specific transaction and such transaction must directly and immediately affect the official’s pecuniary interest. He further explained that if the change in the regulations of signage affects the general public as a whole, it does not disqualify the member from participating in the decision or vote (Story v. City of Macon, supra).

According to Wilmot, “unlike the facts in Vickers v. Coffee County, there is no specific transaction at issue but a general change in sign regulations affecting the general public as a whole. Additionally, there does not appear to be a direct and immediate pecuniary interest to the mayor resulting in a change to sign regulation in the Historic District and any financial interest that may inure to the benefit of the mayor, and the general public, would be remote and speculative.”

Based upon state law and the Code of Ordinances for the city of Tifton, Cater may decide and vote on amendments to the city of Tifton’s Historic Preservation Manual and the city of Tifton’s Land Development Code related to sign regulation. Wilmot noted he did view the video from the Oct. 10 workshop.

Also, Hayward Fowler with The Fun Channel had an opportunity to speak during the discussion about sign regulations. He told the council that his neighborhood, the Historic District, has been under attack by various council members and others.

“These folks have put their heart and soul into repairing dilapidated houses,” he said. “The town has lost something that’s really good.” He said no other neighborhood has been mentioned at any city meeting as much as the Historic District.

Fowler told Cater, “You’ve been involved in this an awful lot.” He asked the council, “Why is it continually getting kicked around?”

He added, “Protect us. Protect us rationally. Understand the value of what we’re trying to do. Treat us like you would your neighborhood. Let’s just drop this historical thing. Think about us a little bit.”

Cater said he’s not trying to hurt anything in the Historic District.

“This has not been an attack on any district,” Cater said. “Let’s get a happy median and not attack any district, and I don’t think we have.”

He added his opinion on signage is that he thinks it should be distributed equally in the Historic District and outside the district. He’s looking for fairness and equality.

More on the meeting will be reported in an upcoming article.

To contact reporter Latasha Ford, call 382-4321.

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