Council debates possible misuse of city property, grants church variance over protest of neighbors

March 21, 2012 11:01:08 AM

Jeff Clark - [email protected]


Columbus' public works director was criticized Tuesday, when members of the Columbus City Council alleged he misused city property. 


Before a full audience at the Columbus Municipal Complex, Mayor Robert Smith noted a local publication, The Real Story, falsely accused Smith of authorizing the paving of a driveway at Von's Exotic Hair Salon, located on Gardner Boulevard. 


"I told Mr. Pratt this would only be OK, if it was on the city right-of-way," Smith said, before calling for Pratt to explain his actions to the council. 


Pratt said he received a call from Von's owner Lavonne Harris concerning the roadway into her property. 


"We used a little bit of extra asphalt out of the truck that we couldn't use anywhere else," Pratt explained.  


Harris, who also is president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, appeared before the board to clarify Pratt's involvement. 


"(Mike Pratt) did not spread this asphalt; I spread it out myself," she said. 


Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens called for Pratt's resignation during the open-session council meeting. 


"All I can say is that it was put to our legal counsel and our counsel said it was illegal," Mickens said this morning. 


The council discussed Pratt in a closed executive session, but delayed action, pending further investigation into the matter. 


"It will be investigated," said Mickens today. "Something happened that should not have happened. We are up there to do a job by the taxpayers and we must do this job. We can't decide what we are going to sweep under the rug and what we are going to keep on top of the rug. There is too much of that going on. This ain't no black or white thing; it's a right thing." 


In another matter, the council unanimously passed a permitted-use request, allowing the construction of a new building, at 2533 Highway 69 South, for New Beginning Full Gospel Baptist Church. The property is located in a single family residential district. Ward 6 Councilman and Vice Mayor Bill Gavin recused himself from voting on the issue. 


The Columbus Planning Commission earlier passed the issue to the council, without making a recommendation, following a tie vote at the March 12 commission meeting. 


Residents Tuesday spoke in opposition, noting a privately owned easement as a source of contention and claiming the neighborhood is to small to accommodate the church. 


"I have lived here for 50 years," Jack Burks said. "This road was built as a one-car road, so that there would be access for the owner to feed his cows. I think a church with a congregation of 250 people needs to find another place to build. This road is private. We have always kept it up. The city has never done anything for this road. 


"The church is planning to have a daycare and an after-school program and it's going to create too much traffic in the area," he added. "This will be too much traffic for the easement."  


Gail Beatty said the neighborhood should remain only a residential area. 


"I'm not comfortable with a church of 250 people being behind my house," she said. "When I sold this property, I thought it would be for residential purposes." 


Fire Chief Ken Moore noted the property is wide enough for a fire truck to pass and features a fire hydrant. 


With a supportive, large, vocal crowd behind him, New Beginning Pastor Glen Jefferson pleaded with the council to grant his permitted-use request. 


"We bought this property," Jefferson said. "You can't keep us from going on our property. We are here tonight to ask for your approval." 


City Attorney Jeff Turnage urged the church -- and the council -- to err on the side of caution, noting research into legal matters concerning the easement is required. But Jefferson said the church was ready to move forward. 


After the meeting, Jefferson said he was happy with the council's decision. 


"I sympathize with the neighbors who didn't want this," he said. "I have no ill will towards them, but I'm glad we are moving forward. Being in this building will help us help the community and that's all we want to do. I was overwhelmed by the support that was shown for us tonight. This is a good cause. The blueprints are drawn and we plan to get going soon." 


In other news, 


Several Columbus residents appeared before the council to discuss a variety of issues, including Hilda Fox, who challenged Mickens on his commitment to her ward. 


"When you told us you were running for councilman, I worked for you and campaigned for you," Fox said. "Now, when I call you, you won't even answer the phone." 


Mickens countered Fox's claims, stating he "always returns her calls." 


And Amanda Mackay informed the council of a project she was working on in memory of her father, former Ward 2 Councilman Doug Mackay. 


Mackay plans to clean a detention pond, located on East Lawrence Highway in East Columbus, beginning May 12. 


"This was my father's vision and I want to do this for him," she said. 


Also, the council unanimously appointed Jason Spears to a seat, vacated by Bruce Hanson, on the Columbus Municipal School District Board of Directors. Spears will fill the seat vacated by Bruce Hanson.