Clarkston receives clean 2020 audit of Federal grant programs

Clarkston City Hall. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Clarkston, GA — Mauldin and Jenkins presented a clean comprehensive audit of city finances to the Clarkston mayor and city council at their work session on Oct. 25.

The audit covered city finances for the year 2020 including the city’s handling of Federal award programs, specifically Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding. An audit for 2021 is also being conducted. Although the audit for 2020 was late, Mauldin and Jenkins did not find any irregularities.

“We didn’t have any account adjustments, meaning that the audit was very clean, which is not the norm for small and medium-sized cities,” said Josh Carroll of Mauldin and Jenkins.

Mauldin and Jenkins offered one suggestion for improvement, which was that the city should strengthen data security to thwart cyberattacks.

Councilmember Susan Hood asked if the city was responding to the suggestion for better cybersecurity.  City Manager Shawanna Qawiy said that the city had already acted to secure the city’s data and internal processes to meet or improve on what was suggested.

In other business:

— The Clarkston city council discussed amending regulations on rental dwellings to increase required annual inspections from 20% to 50% of units.

Hood asked if the council should wait until more apartment complex owners could weigh in, rather than voting on it at the next meeting. Vice Mayor Awet Eyasu responded that he felt there had been so many recent incidents that it should be voted on sooner.

“I’m more concerned about whether it’s doable for the city inspector,” said Eyasu.

Qawiy said that the current process is that apartment complex owners hire a third party to conduct the inspections, but that the city could check behind those inspections by looking at random apartments.

Councilmember Jamie Carroll said that if the amendment was tabled for a month, it would allow the city to research how other cities handle the same problem.

The council plans to vote on the regulation change at the December business meeting.

— The council discussed allocating $30,000 in ARPA funds to the Clarkston Community Center for expansion of adult and senior services, English as a second language (ESL) and civics instruction, and the digital literacy program.

Director of Education Programs Amber McCorkle said that because of the name, residents often assume that the Clarkston Community Center is part of the city government and come there seeking various services.

“With our immigrants and refugees coming into the community, the ESLprogram helps them to learn English and prepare to enter the workforce. Those who take our civics class prepare for the civics test so they have the opportunity to seek American citizenship,” said McCorkle.

The item will be on the consent agenda for the November business meeting.

— The council also considered a resolution to eliminate single use plastic products in the city of Clarkston by June 30, 2023.

Eyasu said that the Transportation and Environment Committee recommends both the resolution and a program to provide reusable bags to businesses and other assistance during the transition period.

Eyasu stated that he believed that the city could use American Rescue Plan Act funds for the program.

Savannah Sydel of Better Earth said that her organization, which makes compostable food service items and is based in Clarkston, would support the transition by providing special community pricing.

The initial ban would only apply to plastic bags. City Attorney Stephen Quinn said that he felt the city needed time to develop a detailed ordinance that would define what was not allowed and offer alternatives.

Councilmember Debra Johnson said that she felt that local grocery stores and other businesses which will be affected should be more involved in the discussion.

“I support this idea, but I don’t want to hurt them in the process,” said Johnson.

Councilmembers weighed the cost to the city of providing bags and where the funding would come from. Councilmember Laura Hopkins pointed out that most grocery stores charge customers for reusable bags if they don’t bring a bag with them. Johnson said that she was opposed to that idea in a community where half the residents are struggling to buy groceries.

Deepak Patel, owner of Super Fresh, said that if the city provided bags, it would help but that a ban would definitely affect his business.

“Those who make under $25,000 are most of my customers,” said Patel. Patel said that he has been in business in Clarkston since 2010 and appreciated everything that the city of Clarkston has done to help businesses. “[Banning plastic bags] is a good idea, but I need some support.”

Jim Wegayehu, a restaurant owner, said that switching to paper bags from plastic for deliveries would add additional costs.

Hopkins asked if the business owners thought their customers would make the switch to reusable bags. Patel that some would, but many came from work rather than home. He added that 50% of his customers have EBT cards and would not have the cash to purchase reusable bags in the store. In response to a question from Mayor Beverly Burks, Patel said that reusing boxes that items come in was a possibility but difficult because of limited space.

Johnson asked City Attorney Quinn to confirm whether ARPA funds could be used to offset costs to businesses of transitioning to plastic alternatives. Quinn said that he felt that he needed to examine the question further to be certain.

Further consideration of a ban will be deferred to the November work session while the city clarifies the language to only include plastic and seeks information about using ARPA funds, how other cities have implemented similar bans, how much reusable bags will cost, how an education program will be carried out, and how the ban will be regulated.

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