A discussion about the structure of the Downtown Development Authority resulted in a heated debate between council members at Monday’s regular City Council meeting.
As the meeting was coming to a close, City Clerk Rona Martin went over the board report concerning appointments and reappointments. When discussing the DDA, Councilwoman Julie Smith noted a state expert informed them recently that the city’s structure of the DDA, relating to state law, isn’t appropriate.
Her question to fellow council members and City Attorney Rob Wilmot was: “Our boundaries aren’t correct, so how can we appoint members?” She recommended they keep the current members in place until a restructuring of the board is complete. She urged they fix what’s broken by drawing proper boundaries in the downtown area.
“It’s the boundaries of what’s downtown,” Smith said.
She also asked about the requirements of serving on the DDA board. Martin mentioned another similar board, and when explaining the two, she said members can be a city resident or have a business downtown. She noted that all of the citizens who submitted an application to serve on the DDA board are city residents.
Wilmot told the council it’s in their hands to define downtown’s geographical area.
He later noted there is a defined geographical area (city limits to city limits), but it may not be appropriate, according to what Smith explained.
Smith stressed again that they need to address the issue and that several other surrounding cities have become Main Street communities, which will pull from Tifton's tourism. She said she wants Tifton’s downtown area to be the best that it can be.
Councilman Chris Parrott agreed they should address the structure of the DDA board and clean it up but disagreed with delaying reappointments. He said they need to go ahead and look at appointing members and then go from there.
Smith turned to the council and asked, “What’s the hurry to reappoint now?” She asked Wilmot would it make a big difference to wait approximately 60 days so they can address the issue and then reappoint members. He said it shouldn’t be a problem. However, Mayor Jamie Cater shook his head and expressed he didn’t want to wait. Smith said she didn’t feel comfortable with proceeding with the matter that night, and suggested they hear from the DDA when cleaning up the structure of the board to comply with the state.
Vice Mayor Johnny Terrell agreed with Smith, saying downtown is not city limits to city limits.
After discussion, in a 3-to-2 vote, the council reappointed Jack Stone and Mary Glynn Hendricks and appointed William Byrd to the DDA board. Cater, Terrell and Parrott voted in favor, and Smith and Councilwoman Marianna Keesee voted against it. When voting, Keesee said she voted against the appointments because she thought the structure of the DDA board should be fixed first. She said her vote had nothing to do with the applicants. Smith also noted this, and said it wasn’t personal; the boundaries need to be set and the structure of the DDA needs to be looked at as a whole.
While the council was voting for each applicant, 3-to-2 each time, Smith expressed that they were making a big mistake. She told Terrell, who had agreed with her earlier, “This is getting old,” referring to the break-down of the vote. Cater said Smith was out of order while she was speaking about the matter. While looking at Wilmot, he repeated this when Smith commented about her vote not being anything against the applicants. Smith told Cater she was going to speak.
“I want a point of order here. We’re done,” he demanded. Other citizens were also appointed to various boards.
In addition, Robert Goodson from North Carolina was recognized as the new theater manager for the Tift Theatre. He said he has 10-plus years of theater experience and looks forward to working with everyone to bring people back to downtown to enjoy the splendor of the historic theater.
Also during the meeting, Wilmot briefly discussed signage. He recommended that the council discuss new issues in a workshop. The council agreed to wait until Jan. 9, 2014 to have a special called workshop to address the matter.
The council adopted the resolution providing for rules of procedure for council meetings where citizens will now have the opportunity to speak at workshops. The resolution states, “Any citizen of the city of Tifton who requests placement on the agenda of the next regular meeting or workshop of the City Council in order to address the council about a concern or an issue shall be placed on the agenda.”
To contact reporter Latasha Ford, call 382-4321.