'SOB' comment strains relations as county asks city for waiver

October 3, 2012 11:34:29 AM

Jeff Clark - [email protected]


Underlying tension between Columbus city councilmen and Lowndes County officials came to the surface during Tuesday's meeting of the Columbus City Council. 


County Administrator Ralph Billingsley appeared before the council to make a request to have some dumping fees for the city-owned landfill waived at the request of the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors.  


"I know the city is interested in tearing down the old health department," Billingsley said. "We did asbestos testing and we received bids on removing the asbestos. We received some bids on abating and demolishing the property and removing the debris and then we have a request for landfill-removal only. To waive the landfill cost would greatly help the county. We would also like to make a second request to have the landfill fees waived for a project at Pickensville Road and Pickens Drive. The second request would involve some trees and other vegetation that would have to be removed." 


Billingsley said the cost for the dumping fees on the old health department building would be about $14,500. City Engineer Kevin Stafford estimated the fees for the second project to be approximately $700 per truckload.  


"I think this would be about $27,000 in total dumping fees to be waived," Mayor Robert Smith said. 


Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem took issue with Billingsley's request, citing his displeasure with some derogatory comments made about the council by Lowndes County District 1 Supervisor and Board President Harry Sanders. In a local publication, Sanders was quoted as using an obscenity to describe members of the council. 


"This is no reflection on your request -- we've had some good relationships in the past -- but your board president Harry Sanders called us SOBs," Karriem said. "I think those statements need to be looked at before I vote on anything. You want some in-kind services and we're SOBs? No one has said anything about this. From (Ward 1) Councilman (Gene) Taylor to (Ward 6) Councilman (Bill) Gavin, that's a strong statement. I have a problem being called an SOB." 


This is the second time since February that Sanders has publicly criticized the council. In a statement made during a Columbus Rotary Club meeting in February, Sanders said, "We've got boards in the city with people who don't know how to tie their shoes." After the incident, Karriem demanded a public apology from Sanders.  


"I'm not going to apologize," Sanders said in February. "I think the city council has more things on their plate than to worry about what Harry Sanders says ... If they don't have a thick enough skin that they can take constructive criticism, they need to find something else to do." 


Billingsley said he was only doing the wishes of the county board but reminded the council members of a recent capital investment project.  


"I'm only doing what the board asked me to do," Billingsley said. "We have a history of joint ventures. I will remind you, the county put up $5.1 million for the soccer complex. The county paid the bulk of this." 


Billingsley statements drew a reaction from Gavin, who claimed the city had met its obligations with the Columbus Soccer Complex, which opened Sept. 22. 


"The city did a lot of in-kind work for the soccer complex," Gavin said. "To say we didn't do anything is degrading to the city. We said we'd do something about the Trotter (Convention Center) and we are going to do that as well. The city is inside the county and everyone uses the soccer complex. We did a lot of the in-kind services and donated some of the land. We did a good bit of work down there." 


The soccer complex is a 70-acre development in the Burns Bottom area. The construction of the project was a joint effort between Columbus and Lowndes County.  


Sanders chastised the city in the Sept. 13 issue of The Commercial Dispatch for unfinished work on the Trotter, which is funded by a two-percent hotel and motel tax. Sanders has also criticized the city for allegedly misusing the Trotter tax money. Smith said the city would unveil plans for the Trotter later in the year. 


Gavin questioned Billingsley on whether the dumping was going to be done by the county or by contractors. Billingsley said the health department work would be contracted out. 


"So you are asking us to waive fees to save money for some contractors?" Gavin asked. 


Taylor motioned the council table the request. The motion received a unanimous vote.