Jasper Mayor John Weaver and the Pickens County Board of Education went to battle during a called meeting last week. The purpose of the meeting was to finalize negotiations of an intergovernmental agreement between Jasper and the board of education for the use of the gymnasium located behind the BOE building on DB Carroll Street. In September, Weaver approached the BOE, requesting to use the gym for the JYSA program, a youth recreational program for wrestling, tumbling and cheerleading. But, negotiations started to break down when Weaver rejected some of the board’s terms.
During last week’s meeting, Superintendent Ben Desper, Assistant Superintendent Tommy Qualls, and Board Attorney Phillip Landrum III said Mayor Weaver previously stated he would not pay utilities for the building, a requirement of the contract for the gym offered by the BOE. Desper noted the board is not allowed to use tax payer money for recreational programs not associated with the school. As such, paying utilities for JYSA would violate the Georgia Constitution
After first denying the no-utilities charge, Weaver defended his position by giving a litany of favors Jasper had done for the BOE in the past, which the board regarded as irrelevant.
Other problems started to surface six weeks ago when the superintendent allowed the JYSA program to store mats in the gym, but not use it, because a contract had yet been signed by both parties. Since then, however, JYSA had been using the gym. When Desper learned this, he changed the locks, but said he allowed the kids to use the facility for the rest of the week.
“You said we did not have an agreement; (but) we were negotiating, sir,”
Weaver bellowed from the podium.
The board rejected the mayor’s first two proposals. Defending the JYSA’s use of the gym, Weaver went on to say he was waiting for the attorneys to contact him. He added that he assumed the board would sign the last proposal, so he allowed the JYSA kids to use the facility.
Desper agreed they did not have an agreement, but stressed the city never had approval to use the facility.
“Just because you sign a piece of paper and send it over here,”
“doesn’t make it an agreement.”
When Desper and Weaver started talking loudly and over each other, Board Chairwoman Wendy Lowe called the room to order. Lowe said she had called Mayor Weaver several times to discuss the matter, but, she said, the mayor had never called her back.
Additionally, Lowe called out the mayor on his communication with community members.
“I don’t appreciate that you’ve told people that it’s the board of education’s problem that we’ve got to work this out,”
she said. Similarly, Council Member Byron Long accused Weaver of politicizing the situation. Long explained by the city allowing the kids to use the facility without an official agreement, the board would look like the “bad guys” when the BOE was forced to lock the doors on the kids, a necessity due to liability issues.
Weaver was upset the kids had been locked out, but was also upset the county had presented a proposal to use the gym, calling the situation a bidding war. Speaking at the meeting, Pickens County Sole Commissioner Robert Jones said he thought negotiations were over between the city and BOE, so he offered a proposal in an effort to help the situation. Weaver asked Jones to exit negotiations. Jones agreed, saying he didn’t have a specific use in mind for the facility.
During the meeting, the board also saw some in-fighting. Board Member John Trammell said Lowe violated board policy, accusing her of negotiating a contract with the county on her own, without the consent of the board, calling her a rogue board member. Board Member Ervin Easterwood echoed the charge. In an email to FYN last Friday, Mr. Trammel issued the following statement:
A mess was created unnecessarily when an individual Board member apparently attempted to go out on their own and cut deals. The Board of Education is a unit. The power is in the unit, not individually (sic). We hire a Superintendent to carry on the day to day business of the school system. Board members, even the Chairman, have to understand they have no legal authority to be negotiating on behalf of the Board or the school system without the full Board consent and authorization. Nor do they have the authority to run the day to day operations or tie up the school leadership time in these type discussions. It violates every code that we must adhere to and could cause serious ramifications for the school system and the students. Hopefully this will finally teach this lesson and even if a member or the Chairman knows they have three votes, the rest of the Board must be considered and certainly the Superintendent should be in the loop. I believe management was working through this and it should have all been avoided.
I think the positive that came out of the meeting was how the County Commissioner and the Mayor worked together to help resolve the issue. The Board of Education has offered the gym for use from the start.
During the meeting, Lowe said she had not violated board policy and had not negotiated a contract, only that she received a call regarding the proposal. In a conversation with FYN Friday, Lowe reiterated she was not in violation of board policy or any ethics code.
FYN also requested a comment on the situation from Mayor Weaver and have yet to receive a response.
Near the end of the two-hour meeting, Landrum interjected, proposing to use the county’s proposal for the city’s contract. After Landrum read the unofficial contract aloud, Weaver and the board agreed to the terms, which were read as follows:
1)The City of Jasper is allowed to use the gym whenever school is not session (the facility is currently used for the North Star program.)
2)The City of Jasper is responsible for opening and closing the facility when using it.
3)The City of Jasper is responsible for cleaning and internal maintenance of the facility
4)The Pickens Board of Education is responsible for the external maintenance of the facility.
5)The City of Jasper is responsible for all utility bills for the facility (according to Desper, the annual utilities for the gym are approximately $11,000.)
6)The City of Jasper will use its insurance for the facility when the city is using it.
7)Each party will have the option of terminating the contract with 60 days notification.
Ironically, Weaver agreed to a contract converse to his initial offer, which stated Jasper would not pay utilities, where the above terms require Jasper to pay all utilities. Responding to the final agreement, the mayor said he would have to find a way to pay the utility cost. According to the discussion, JYSA will resume use of the gym once the contract is signed.