Catoosa County officials have approved the purchase of a new SUV for Economic Development Authority Director Keith Barclift, and did so despite public criticism from one of the county's most vocal residents.
During the Board of Commissioner's meeting on Oct. 15, resident George Battersby spoke out about the pending purchase during the public appearances portion of the night's agenda before the proposal was approved.
"Mr. Barclift was hired under a dark cloud through an arrangement with Sen. Jeff Mullis and you all, and not through the usual channels. His job was never posted on the website," Battersby said.
As was pointed out by multiple residents at the time of his hire in April, Barclift was hired in at almost double the salary of his predecessor, a point that Battersby took the time to reiterate.
"He (Barclift) got a $25,000 plus expenses raise, and now you want him to have a $30,000 Ford Explorer without proving himself in his job," Battersby said. "Usually you have to prove yourself before you get something."
While Battersby continued to voice his concerns, Chairman Steven Henry struck his gavel and interrupted what he deemed to be undue criticism.
"All automobiles don't cost $30,000," Battersby said. "Why he has to have one with a four-wheel drive ...
"One thing," Henry interrupted. "We want to not pick on our staff. You can pick on us, but they are hired positions and you're not going to call them out."
Battersby has been a permanent fixture at meetings over the past couple of years, and has never been shy about voicing his displeasure with certain purchases and decision-making, which seemed to contribute to Henry's interruption.
In fact, Battersby and fellow meeting-goers Phyllis Williams and Cherise Miller were all vocal in February when the board approved a $41,000 SUV for County Manager Alisha Vaughn.
After some back and forth that included Battersby criticizing Henry's temper and Henry accusing Battersby of constantly being disrespectful when he speaks, Henry asked Battersby to take a seat.
"You're disrespectful sir," Henry said. "Our employees deserve better than how you treat them. Please have a seat."
After sitting down, Henry heard Battersby continue to chirp from the audience and issued an ultimatum.
"One more time, and I'm going to ask you to leave the building," Henry said.
"You'd love that, wouldn't you?" Battersby replied.
"No sir, I would love for you to sit there and be respectful to everyone here. Try that," Henry concluded.
When the actual purchase of the vehicle came up on the agenda, Barclift explained the bid process and presented a recommendation.
"We have a proposed award for a county vehicle to Prater Ford for a 2020 Ford four-wheel drive Explorer," Barclift said. "Invitation to bid was sent out Sept. 11. Bids were opened Sept. 24, 2019, and two dealers sent in three bids. The bid that was chosen was for an alternate vehicle with essentially the same specs but with a faster delivery time in the amount of $29,304.70."
As for the vehicle being four-wheel drive, Barclift said the unpredictable terrain of some sites makes the feature a necessity.
"Basically, the requirements I asked for were four-wheel drive for the purposes of taking people on undeveloped sites or sites in the county that might not have paving on them," Barclift explained. "Sometimes if it rains, we need to be able to do that; bluetooth so I can talk when driving; third row seating so if we can have up to five or six more people come in to take a look at a sight; and then floor liners so that we don't have to replace the mats if they get muddy."
When it came time to vote on the matter, the purchase was narrowly approved by a 3-2 vote, with Henry, Jim Cutler, and Jeff Long voting "yes" while Charlie Stephens and Chuck Harris voted "no."
After all business was completed for the evening, Henry said he wants to change the way public appearances are handled moving forward.
"We have a form people fill out when they want to speak. Next month there will be an item attached to it with the rules and procedures of how to conduct yourself in a meeting and how to talk to other people," Henry said. "You will sign the form accepting the fact that you read it and that you agree to go by the rules. That's how we're going to conduct this meeting. If we can't conduct this meeting, you get two warnings and if that doesn't work, we have an officer here that will be more than happy to help everyone out. That's the way we're going to run things."
"... You get too warnings and if that doesn't work, we have an officer here that will be more than happy to help everyone out. That's the way we're going to run things.
Steven Henry, Board of Commissioners chairman
Residents in Ringgold exercised their civic rights on Tuesday, Nov. 5, by electing the incumbent mayor to a second term and choosing two new City Council members to be in the fold for the next four years.
After all the votes were finally tallied, Mayor Nick Millwood defeated Tony Hullender and Paul Lee to win a second term.
Incumbent Sara Clark (373 votes – 24%) was joined by Jake Haynes (304 – 20%) and Rhonda Swaney (334 – 22%) as victors for three atlarge City Council seats. Also in the race were Charlie A. Lamar (236-15%), Ray Reavely (150 — 10%) and Donald R. Pangle (148 — 10%).
Millwood garnered 413 votes (64%) to Hullender's 176 (27%) and Lee's 55 (9%) to earn his second term.
Millwood was first elected in 2015 after narrowly beating out Hullender in a runoff after neither man accumulated the required 50% of the votes plus one to win the seat.
After the election results became official, Millwood took to social media to thank his wife, those who helped with his campaign, and the residents of Ringgold.
"The biggest thanks goes to my constituents," Millwood said.
"Regular encouragement and uplifting messages throughout this process has helped brighten my days through a difficult campaign season. I truly love my city, and the things that bring us together are always more plentiful than the things that divide us."
Millwood added that being re-elected has him excited and ready to work even harder over the next four years.
"Thank you again Ringgold," Millwood said. "Your overwhelming vote of confidence has left me with a renewed motivation to work hard on your behalf and make our city proud."
As for the City Council winners, Clark stays in her seat for a second term while Haynes and Swaney will take over for Larry Black and Terry Crawford.
Haynes has previous experience on the council, having served from 2012-15; however, Swaney will be a first-time council member, an endeavor she says has her excited and humbled.
"What an absolutely amazing feeling it is when people in a community feel strongly enough about you that they cast a vote for you to represent them in local decisions," Swaney said.
As election day unfolded, Swaney said, there were some nerves, but that she could barely believe the results.
"I was excited and nervous on Tuesday," she said. "After the results were announced, I literally could not believe that it had gone the direction that it did."
Swaney says she's excited change and bringing more ideas to the city.
"The people of Ringgold are beginning to see that change is not bad, and it can actually be very good for the people of this city," Swaney said. "I want to tell Ringgold that I look forward to working for you. I am excited about big changes and implementing some amazing ideas in the coming four years.
According to the Catoosa County Elections Board, the city of Ringgold recorded a 34.2% voter turnout for the election with 648 of 1,894 active voters casting ballots this time around.
Adam Cook is a general assignment reporter and covers the Walker-Catoosa County area. He has been a reporter since 2009.
BY THE NUMBERS
Nick Millwood (incumbent) — 413 (64%)
Tony Hullender — 176 (27%)
Paul Lee — 55 (9%)
City Council members at large (three seats)
Sara Clark (incumbent) — 373 (24%)
Rhonda Swaney — 334 (22%)
Jake Haynes — 304 (20%)
Charlie A. Lamar — 236 (15%)
Ray Reavely — 150 (10%)
Donald R. Pangle — 148 (10%)
Police officers in Fort Oglethorpe will soon have new technology as part of their uniforms after the City Council approved the purchase of body cameras for the department.
During the Oct. 28 City Council meeting, Police Chief Mike Helton explained that body cameras are an item the department has been considering and researching for a while.
"Our department would like to recommend to you the purchase of Axon body camera systems," Helton said. "We've been studying this process for about a year and a half. We understand the need in society now that police officers are being watched more than ever, and at the same time, our officers welcome being watched."
While some law enforcement officers might be somewhat reluctant to wear cameras in the field, Helton assured that his officers are looking forward to having the technology available.
"We happen to have a department that welcomes this tool," Helton said. "We have trialed and errored probably about four different systems to try to narrow down what it was we wanted in a product.
Helton said his agency recently opened bids for the equipment and were able to settle on a company that met all the desired specs.
"We also went out to bid and received bids from seven different companies," Helton said. "Of the bids we received, the Axon system that we're recommending to you today is the only one that complied with everything that we were seeking. This particular tool also syncs with our particular tasers. If the tasers come out, then the body cameras come on. It's a feature that some of the other companies simply couldn't do."
Per the quote presented, the cameras will cost just under $88,000.
"This particular recommendation that we have before you tonight is five years worth of service and we own the products for $87,588," Helton said. "That will come from our general revenue funds from within the police department.
Although the cost is high on the front end, Helton said the cameras will offer a lot of value in the long run.
"This provides us with the capabilities essentially to record each officer for a year for about $674. That's a pretty good rate when think of all they can protect us with and be able to look back on," Helton said.
During testing, Helton says his officers and staff were impressed with how well the systems worked.
"We found these extremely useful," Helton said. "When it came down to showing young officers how they were looking and sounding when they were talking to some citizens, we found it to be a tremendous teaching tool and we would like to acquire these for the police department to use for the next five years."
The council unanimously (5-0) approved the purchase.
"We understand the need in society now that police officers are being watched more than ever, and at the same time, our officers welcome being watched. ... This provides us with the capabilities essentially to record each officer for a year for about $674. That's a pretty good rate when think of all they can protect us with and be able to look back on.
Police Chief Mike Helton