Stone Mountain City Council members still deadlocked on some issues

City of Stone Mountain Municipal Building. Photo by Dean Hesse.

By Rebecca Grapevine, contributor 

Stone Mountain, GA — The Stone Mountain City Council trekked through a trio of meetings on Tuesday night in which they discussed many budget issues but did not allow citizen comments.

“So much for the people,” quipped Michael Schaaphok on the meeting’s Facebook Live page after Mayor Beverly Jones said the agenda was too packed to allow the traditional citizen comment time.

The council postponed discussion of contentious issues that have divided members since the start of the year, including approving the minutes from the January 4 meeting, selection of the mayor pro tempore, and the appointment of a council member to the Downtown Development Authority.

“State law is already very clear” on the controversy over appointing Councilmember Chakira Johnson to the Downtown Development Authority Board, Johnson said, though she agreed to postpone that discussion along with four other members.

Councilmember Shawnette Bryant was the sole member to vote against postponing the discussion.

Councilmember Clint Monroe said he would provide more details about the legal issues at play in the Downtown Development Authority appointment controversy, so the council could be fully informed on the issue at a future meeting.

Perhaps because the council kicked the contentious issues down the road, the tone of the meeting was generally congenial, in contrast to other meetings this year.

In other business:

– The council unanimously voted to provide vision insurance to employees, adding to the standard health dental, short-term disability, and life insurance that have made up its benefit package in years past.

The vision insurance will cost the city an additional $1900 for the rest of 2022 – but these costs will be offset by the $3532 in savings on health insurance expenses. Even despite increases in health insurance premiums, the city is saving money on health insurance due in part to vacancies in city government positions, said city manager ChaQuias Miller-Thornton.

Though it considered other providers, the city plans to continue to use Blue Cross Blue Shield for its health insurance, said Miller-Thornton.

There are currently 29 city employees eligible for the benefits packages, said Miller-Thornton.

– The council unanimously voted to allow vendors to sell items at an upcoming cancer-awareness walk.

Walk for a Cure will be held at Leila Mason Park on Saturday, March 26th, 2022.

Donations can be made via Eventbrite. All proceeds will go to St. Jude’s and the American Cancer Society.

– Councilmember Gil Freeman is spearheading an effort to apply for a grant from Kaboom!, a national organization that builds play spaces in areas that need them. Freeman said the organization was involved in building the Decatur Skatepark.

“Kaboom! Is definitely a class act,” said Freeman, who has helped build Kaboom! playgrounds in other communities in the past.

The council will vote on whether to move forward with the grant application at the next special called meeting, which has not been scheduled yet.

– The council discussed who can sign for many of the city’s bank accounts during an executive session closed to the public. After the executive session, it decided to table those decisions until the next special called meeting as well.

– The council heard brief reports from various city employees and agencies, including the police department.

According to documents provided by Chief Chancey Troutman, the police made 21 arrests and issued 199 citations in January and February of 2022.

– City Manager Miller-Thornton said that members of the police administration participated in an “Excellence in Policing Program” in February. The program focused on “building and fostering effective community partnerships,” she said.

– Miller-Thornton explained that sixty-eight individuals and 26 families had been helped by the second round of the city’s residential relief program, which started in August 2021 and is designed to help people impacted by COVID with rent or utilities. She said that $68,851.88 had already been awarded and $58,148.12 remained in the fund.

– The city just closed its 2021 books last week and is beginning its audit process, allowing the city manager to provide a preliminary snapshot of how the city performed last year.

“We ended the year on a good note,” said Miller-Thornton about the city’s 2021 budget. Though 2021 figures have not yet been audited, the city collected 101.99% of expected revenue, which means about an additional $20,000 in the city’s coffers, she explained.

“We did well in the expenditure category as well,” said Miller-Thornton, noting that the city spent only about $3.1 million against an expected $3.3 million, or 93.43%, she said. “… No fund went over budget in 2021, so we did a good job maintaining and operating within or below our expenditure expectancy.”

– The council agreed to move discussion of whether to extend the local declaration of the COVID emergency to a future meeting. The emergency is set to expire on March 26, Mayor Brown said.

Other items discussed – but not voted on – included:

  • The terms of a lease agreement for two new vehicles for the police;
  • A traffic control evaluation recommending putting in a multi-way stop sign at the intersection of Cloud Street and Ridge Avenue;
  • A corporate donor’s interest in donating 20 trees to the city through Trees Atlanta, and whether the city could pay for the donation of an additional ten trees at the cost of $2500 because Trees Atlanta only plants trees in blocks of thirty;
  • Councilmembers Teresa Crowe and Chakira Johnson’s proposal to improve landscaping in downtown Stone Mountain and Lowe’s potential corporate sponsorship of the plan;
  • Potential exemptions from the city’s open container ordinances during the spring and fall musical event Tunes by the Tracks;
  • Applications for a zoning amendment and a residential setback variance.

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