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Becky Watts: Phone # 770-468-7583 editor(@)pikecountytimes.com
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Zebulon City Council - January 10, 2023

ZEBULON - The Zebulon City Council met on January 10, 2023 at 6 p.m. Attending were the following: Mayor Joe Walter, Council Members Dewey Yarbrough, Claude Hollis, Mark Nalls, and William Thomas, City Clerk Amanda Burbage, City Administrator Larry Mitcham, and City Attorney Rob Morton.

Motion to approve the agenda. Approved 4-0.

Motion to approve the minutes from December 13. Approved 4-0.

Special Guest

Special Guest Brandon Rogers, County Manager of Pike County.

Mayor, Rogers, Morton, and Mitcham discussed service delivery strategy (SDS) last week. Due at the end of February. He asked for their thoughts on this. Service Delivery Strategy. The cities and county work together on this. It was due on December 31 and is due every 10 years, but can be changed in between if needed. An extension has been made on this. Two items to add for drainage project for streets and maintenance and storm drainage maintenance. This clarifies who does what. Also working on a new water map. When looking for funding, it’s clear to the funding agency that Zebulon (and the county) is able to provide this service. Rogers thanked the Mayor for bringing this to the county’s attention. E911 will be discussed too. The City has brought Code enforcement and Planning and Zoning back under the City rather than the county providing this. Mayor asked to have this before January 31.

Yarbrough asked about a follow up about the light at the end of the park from the minutes. It has not been addressed yet.

Police Department.

Asst. Chief Johnson addressed the Mayor and Council in Chief Hemphill's stead.

5 citations. 1 arrest. 9 incidents. 6 accidents for December. Community Policing for Christmas.

14 entering autos and stolen car this week. An open investigation. Recovered the stolen vehicle. Some suspects in mind, interviews planned, checking cameras. Very active investigation. Yarbrough asked if out buildings were burglarized. No. Many were unlocked vehicles.

Routine personnel business. Question was asked, Now that the holidays are over, are you going back to regular policing as usual. This was the goal so we are trying to juggle both the investigation and speeding. Inquiry into DOT for flashing lights for 35 mph. The Mayor said that the investigation is extremely important, but there have been some complaints about truck speeds on the square as well as school time traffic.

Speaking about the December 28 decision that affects ZPD. Asked to gather data and information by Hemphill about 8 months ago regarding salaries and the budget. They were given this info about pay scales at that time. You were asked to review the information and take it into consideration as we go into the budget process. Rank and pay structure and a proposed salary raise and a COLA. This would bring the department to the same pay rate as the lowest paid department in 50 miles.

Said that the Council decided to make decisions without discussing the budget with department heads. Johnson asked for the budget at direction of Hemphill. Asked for individual officer payrates and Hemphill can set them at where he wants. Rank and pay structure were then put on paper and given to the Council. City Administrator said he didn’t have a problem with the new pay raises. Said that had two more conversations about the salary and overtime, but Mitcham had to put this before the Council.

December 27, 2022. 2 regular council meetings and an executive session that have not discussed this. A special called meeting was called on December 28 to discuss his payrate. Also a 6% pay raise for Tillary but reduced the other officers to just 3%. Each officer is at a different pay rate than what was quoted. We spent $50,000 in overtime in 2022 is what he was told.

Current 2023 budget was given to the council members. He asked for a line item for overtime. There is not one. How can Hemphill regulate it if he doesn’t know what it is? In 2022, $21,444. It would have been $21,871. We have had numerous incidents even as close as Henry County to stop a threat of violence on others. Johnson was asked by the Mayor if the City is training for this and do we have the equipment needed to fight this type of incident. We are training, but we do need some equipment. The 7 officers train every day for this. We deal with life of death situations every time we put this uniform on. We are called when the worst has happened. We do this every day without hesitation because we took an oath to protect citizens in the community. Asked them to go into executive session and discuss this and do what is right for the officers of ZPD.

Yarbrough asked how much time they have compiled on the auto thefts. 6 a.m. Friday morning through now, been working on this non-stop. Got car from Griffin and it is being processed now. It’s time consuming.

Yarbrough said taking a life in the line of duty doesn’t go away. Yarbrough said that we have an outstanding police department, and he wishes that things had been voted differently that needs to be addressed sooner or later, and it's a shame that you don’t know what your budget is.

The Mayor said that they are still on police reports at this time. He asked for a copy of some of the items in the budget that need to be addressed. There has been some equipment ordered that has been ordered but hasn’t arrived yet. Hemphill said that we can’t work that and be on Hwy 19 at the same time. It was said that the community appreciates the police department.

City Administrator Mitcham.

We will continue to have some expenses on this from December. Said he was open to questions about this budget.

Water Update

Water purchases was hurt by those 2 leaks in October. 19 leaks total. 3 main breaks and 16 service lines. Elkins Creek is still out of service. Still flushing it weekly because it’s a dead end. Multiple leaks like this hasn’t been like this in a long time. Thankfully there was enough personnel to handle this. Leaks are all fixed.

Mayor said that talked to 2 different engineers about the 2 breaks under Elkins Creek. This has happened twice with another break in 2015. 28 feet deep. Suggested an aerial like Peachtree City so we can know if it’s leaking.

Motion to approve the December financials. Approved 4-0.

Capital projects update.

State Route Hwy 18 sidewalk project. Bid opening this Friday at 11 a.m. Hopefully have this at the next called meeting.

Pine Street Branch project.

Mayor and he to meet with admin to discuss this.

Other items.

CDBG drainage project. Need to collect the surveys and finish by January 31. Door to door to see if citizens will fill this out to see if the city can move forward with this. Income qualifications are a part of this.

Zebulon Council Member Nalls asked about school zone cameras at the meeting tonight. The Mayor advised that the Board of Education has to sign off on the permit. He said that there has been some legislation to try to remove that, but that hasn't passed. He said that Chief Hemphill has talked to the BOE about this, but there was pushback on this.

Mayor Walter said that he has seen where other jurisdictions have installed these cameras and are using the proceeds for public safety enhancements including ways to help people slow down in school areas. He said that cameras will do that. He said that the ones at Crescent on Hill Street are doing quite well.

[Note from the Editor: ZPD has done a good job over the years of helping people remember to slow down as they come into town from either direction on Hwy 19 and Hwy 18, and there are flashing lights that remind motorists to slow down for the safety of our kids on Hwy 19 by the multi-school campus. I am thankful for our Board of Education declining these cameras. I have nothing nice to say about an out of state camera system being used to ticket drivers in various locations throughout Spalding County as early as 6:40 a.m. and as late as 4:40 p.m. with no flashing lights.]

SPLOST projects update. If everyone went together, the costs would be more favorable for everyone.

Morton. The CM has asked for projects. There needs to be a joint financing effort with all of the cities so Rogers is going to the cities and asking for this. The city can look at its own financing if it needs to.

Can we handle unfinished business a and b before public comment since Morton has to leave the meeting in a while?

Motion to amend the agenda to move unfinished business a and b before public comment. Approved 4-0.

Unfinished business.

a. Public hearing already. Morton said that he followed up with the owners of the property. The intended development was for data warehouse. The owners have asked to withdraw this application. Morton said that they can withdraw at any time prior to final action. No action is being taken. They can reapply in the future. Stays medium density.

b. 2nd reading re: mobile vendors. Morton said that he was given no direction on how to revise this. Voted to postpone this pending further discussion. No changes made yet. He asked for what they want because there wasn’t a consensus in previous meetings. Received comment from a brick and mortar operator. New law says that if you have a permit in another county, does it apply here? No. This is for health department permitting but shall not limit Zebulon’s ability to regulate this.

Rick Olson. His son owns Georgia Tacos. Been in the mobile food business for about 3 years. Want to build a food truck park. 1-4 max food trucks to operate at a time. HB 1433. Operate in several counties, and things are basically the same in all. Yarbrough asked if managed anything like this before. Said that he has visited many like this and is visiting two later this week in different states. When setting up on a public street and on private property are two different things. Mayor said that concerns about safety with traffic, etc. as well as proper disposal of grease and waste have been voiced. Nalls said that our inability to regulate this was a concern per Sawyer at the last meeting.

Morton said that there was a 1st reading on a regulation from a prior meeting. He asked if it was better for some regulation that can be modified or have a workshop on this. Concensus to have a workshop. Called meeting at 6 p.m. on January 31. Workshop at 5 p.m.

Motion to postpone until the January 31 workshop. Approved 4-0. The public is invited. Nalls suggested to invite Mr. Grant too.

Morton has to step out.

Public Comment

Ray Grizzard. Comment on the Police Department. His great grandmother’s stove was stolen and likely sold for scrap. Said that he gave police report that stove was around $2,500 in value but was told that his opinion didn’t matter because a citation for theft under $500 was given instead. He got no restitution for his theft even though he said that he has footage of guy stealing it. Spoke with Mays at Officer Standards. Warrant issued in Fayette County. Showed up at court, told that there was a bench warrant, but the concern of value is not filled out. He has voice recordings, etc. but said that $203.50 was what he paid. Said this sends a message that ok to steal and make money off this. If my judgement on what this is worth, then why does the value put on it by the detective stand?

He will be placing a complaint tomorrow and will move forward with this. Said he became a victim twice. No communication on how this is being handled and the portion on the estimated value wasn’t filled out. Said that there was a citation rather than a bench warrant. Feels like getting the short end of the stick from the police department. Vandalized in December. Happy that caught the guy who did this, but not happy with the $203.50 ticket. May go the civil route on this. [Note from the Editor: During the time that this citizen was speaking to council members and passing out documents to them, Cpl. Bailey came forward and made an attempt to do this for him but was asked to stop and sit down by a council member. Kudos to Council Member Nalls for doing this. The citizen was already upset with ZPD about his experience, and it looked like intimidation to me even if that is not what the officer was meaning to do. If other citizens are allowed to pass items out to the council, this man should not have been singled out during his complaint about the police department. There is more discussion on this in the comments below when Cpl. Bailey speaks.]

Candice Whitmer spoke. Wife of ZPD officer. She talked about cost of living, etc. 2021 came to ZPD from Spalding County Sheriff’s Office. Said that ZPD seemed to be more family oriented and supportive. We cannot say that about City Council. Have you ever walked out and thought, I may not make it home? The officers put on a uniform every day all while thinking this that may be their last time. There is stress, anxiety, and frustration that comes along with us. They did not sign up to not have Council do this. Officers with no experience are making more money in Griffin and Spalding than our guys are making with experience here in Zebulon. Next time you need to call 911, let those guys in other departments investigate for you…

Nichole Tillery. As the wife of a police officer, these officers work hard and never know if this would be the last time that they go home. Why were the raises revoked? They chose this profession to make a difference. They were promised this raise in October and felt appreciated at that time. There are other agencies that will pay him more, but he has been here for 16 years. He goes above and beyond. It would be a shame for any of these officers to walk away because of the lack of funding.

Lt. Tillery been here 16 years. Had numerous job offers and doesn’t want to leave Zebulon. It’s hard. Wants to be happy where he works. I love it here. Please take that into consideration and look after the guys.

Cpl. Mike Bailey. Moved to Zebulon and been here since April of 2022. Recruited by the officers. Told this was a great place to work and enjoys working here. 20 year LEO veteran. Wish y’all would reconsider on this.

Discussion on his stepping forward with Grizzard. Nalls said that he asked him to sit down because you were conflicting with Grizzard’s comments in the back. Apologized if this offended him. Bailey said that this was concerning safety and security for the council and that he had done courtroom security in the past. The public is not allowed to approach the bench without permission which is why he stepped forward to hand paperwork to the council from Grizzard. Felt like he did the right thing at the right time for the council.

Back to original comments. Wanted to remind council of how important retention is. All this knowledge and experience is important. Hopefully can reconcile some issues.

Cpl. Zachary Whitmer. Here to address as an employee and a citizen. Said that the decision affected him and his family as well. Said that incidents affect officers for the rest of their lives, but they have taken an oath to protect and serve and go to work every day and be ok with the fact that today may the day where you don’t go home. We do it because we have a calling. Said that knowing the city pays a starting employee more than officers is bizarre. Said that the PD requested another officer and was denied, but another office personnel was hired instead.

Said that officers come together and work together to protect this city. He has to work 2nd and 3rd job to provide for his family. Said he watched council members approve the budget, and then found out that made a decision in an executive session that affected their raises. This Council is making the same decisions that are making officers walk away from the job. Rather say thanks for your service instead of supporting those who are working to protect the community.

[Note from the Editor: The notes from the December 28, 2022 meeting are below this write up. I have looked at a ton of open records on this including the local agency comparison (Yearly, Hourly, COLA) which compared Zebulon (approximate population 1,240 US Census) to Stockbridge PD (approximate population 29,163 US Census), Griffin PD (approximate population 23,430 US Census), Thomaston PD (approximate population 10,011 US Census), Barnesville PD (approximate population 6,389 US Census), Jonesboro PD (approximate population 4,088 US Census), and Pike County Sheriff's Office (approximate population 19,477 US Census). At the bottom of the page, the average of all of these departments was $45,920, $21.87, and 5% with a note that said plus incentives like department payins, education training years of experience, etc. Health insurance amounts for just an officer and an officer with a family were included ($3,184.48 / $9,828) and vision and dental amounts were included ($3,184.48 / $10,657.92). As the wife of a police officer, I understand what it means for your loved one to care enough to do a largely thankless job protecting the community and still have to bring in enough to pay the bills.

2022 rates of pay (including amounts for years of service) for ZPD officers ranged from $39,312 for the three lowest ranking officers to $40,687 for the Assistant Chief and $59,592 for the Chief. The first 2023 requested pay ranted from $48,645 for the three lowest officers to $62,374 for the Assistant Chief and $68,611 for the Chief and contained no overtime amount. A second sheet with 2023 requested pay ranged from $42,150 for the three lowest ranking officers to $53,844.10 for the Assistant Chief and $65,551.20 for the Chief and contained an overtime amount. The 2023 approved raises ranged from $40,491.36, $41,910.56, and $41,932.76 for the three lowest ranking officers to $51,279.28 (salary) for the Assistant Chief to $61,547.20 for the Chief.

I have looked at fiscal year budgets, asked some very in depth questions about this situation, and attended several meetings in which these raises were mentioned. I don't completely understand everything that is going on, but it honestly sounds like there may have been some communication issues. At this point, I am sitting back to watch how ZPD is doing with their patrols and to watch how this issue is handled with an emphasis making sure that whatever happened here does not happen again with the next budget cycle. Years of service and total training hours for ZPD officers is as follows: Chief Hemphill, 27 years, 1,583 hours; Sgt/Now Assistant Chief Johnson, 25 years, 3,951 hours; Sgt. Tillery, 18 years, 2,752 hours; Sgt. Morris, 16 years, 1,283 hours; Cpl. Lynch, 8 years, 918 hours; Cpl. Whitmer, 6 years, 1,019 hours; and Cpl. Bailey, 19 years, 1,760 hours. The City of Zebulon approved a $2,778,740 budget on October 11, 2022 for the 2023 fiscal year which began on January 1, 2023.]

Items for Consideration and Action.

Mayor Pro Tem. Motion to keep Mr. Thomas for 2023. Approved 4-0.

MLK Day Parade Permit. January 16. 11 to 11:45 a.m. Approved 4-0.

$100 Mayor. $35 City Council. These have been the fees for a long time. Approved 4-0.

Qualifying is 2nd week of August.

Yarbrough would like to add executive session for personnel. Said it won’t take but a minute and has a comment to make on personnel. Someone said that the attorney needs to be here.

7:56 p.m. Stand in recess. Getting clarification on a matter.

8:03 p.m. Mitcham and Thomas would like to have the city attorney here. Yarbrough does not want to call a meeting for this. Did not ask to have it placed on the next agenda.

Motion to adjourn.

8:04 p.m.

Zebulon City Council - Special Called Meeting
Wednesday, December 28, 2022 at 1 p.m.
By Editor Becky Watts

ZEBULON - The Zebulon City Council held a Special Called Meeting on Wednesday, December 28, 2022 with the only item on the agenda being an Executive Session regarding personnel. When they came back into session, there was a 3-1 vote with Council Member Dewey Yarbrough opposed to put the Assistant Chief of Police on salary. Overtime that is planned into the budget will be used to pay for this. Discussion that some budget line items may need to be tweaked. It was also mentioned that state law has been passed regarding food trucks. This will have to be reviewed before the upcoming January 10 meeting.

[Note from the Editor: It sounds like the Chief of Police wanted to make his Assistant Chief hourly instead of salaried. Council Member Yarbrough explained his no vote after the meeting to Pike County Times by saying that the Chief was put in place to be the head of the Police Department, and they (as in the City Council) "can't micromanage the police."]