I have not attended a Canton Mayor and Board of Aldermen meeting since the beginning of May because my Tuesdays have been consumed with Suburban Digest work. Most metro-area board meetings happen on Monday (when I’m off) and Tuesday. So, when I have some free time in the evening and most of my work is done, I want to attend a meeting. And I need to keep my eye on Canton because it seems like a lot happens during a board meeting. I like board meetings because you learn about what a city government board does that will impact the citizens, but I can do without the bickering.
I keep in touch with some folks in Canton for briefs on the Digest page, and Ward 2 Alderman Don Bates is good at keeping a little ol’ reporter like me in the loop. The July 3 meeting was uneventful because of the absence of Mayor Truly, who got up and left when the board voted to adopt the agenda and minutes. With barely enough for a quorum and the absence of the Alderman at Large, there was no way to accomplish city business. Important items like the Canton Municipal Utilities Commission appointment and the engineering work order for road paving didn’t pass. So, I attended the board meeting last night because I wanted to see if Mayor Truly would stay in the meeting and I needed more news items for the Digest brief.
Alderman Louis Smith was absent, so six aldermen were able to conduct city business and Mayor Truly didn’t leave. The agenda was passed along with the claims and payroll docket (3-3 with a tie breaker from Truly to approve paying the bills). The board approved one portion of the minutes – the site plan and zoning variance for Walmart to reduce parking lot size and majority of the agenda items were approved. The items that had the most discussion, however, were the redistricting plan and the Walmart variance.
Bates made a motion to amend the redistricting plan (approved for pre-clearance by the US Department of Justice) because the plan moved his home from Ward 2 to the proposed Ward 7 that would be represented by Alderman-at-Large Alice Scott. Bates was elected through a special election after the plan was sent off, and he wants to remain in his ward for next year’s election and be fair to Scott. But, Truly wanted to know why Bates wanted to change the plan and dilute the black vote. Bates said it wasn’t the case because the move would only affect 15 households and change the black and white vote percentages by one percent. Not too drastic, right? Well, Truly didn’t want any changes after the fact, despite Bates not being on the board back then. After more debate between Bates and Truly, the board voted to table the item and Bates will seek advice from attorney Carroll Rhodes from Hazlehurst, who assisted the city in the plan.
Bates motioned for the board to override Truly’s veto of approving the work order for SOL Engineering to begin work for the Street Improvement Plan. But it did not pass with only four aldermen voting in favor. This plan has been in the works for months and paving has yet to begin because of a disagreement between the mayor and engineers. $3.8 million in bonds have been earmarked for paving 22 streets in desperate need of repair.
The board voted 4-2 (Charles Weems and Bates against) to approve Walmart’s variance and site plan, causing Truly to subliminally call out the opposing aldermen. “I think we have given Walmart everything they asked for and Walmart has given us everything we asked for,” Truly said before going into executive session. “Any vote against Walmart bothers me. How can you ask the citizens for their vote then go against those citizens that could get jobs at Walmart?” That question was aimed at Weems and Bates. Bates is concerned with Walmart affecting small grocery stores and businesses including the Piggly Wiggly in his ward.
More business can get done without the bickering. I’m all for a healthy debate on issues that matter to citizens, but after what happened yesterday and the mayor not allowing the road paving process to begin, it doesn’t show cohesive leadership. The Walmart is very important to Mayor Truly, who is close to another election and promised the store to the people who elected him in 2009. After a year of waiting, the store construction is slated to begin this fall which is good timing for the mayor. I know the people (and some board members) are ready for cohesion and better teamwork.