February 19, 2019 10:29:55 AM
Four months after Lowndes County and the city of Columbus formed an intergovernmental committee to improve communication and relations between the two entities, the eight-member body has yet to meet.
District 4 Lowndes supervisor Jeff Smith suggested forming the committee in September in the wake of several high-profile tiffs that had strained relations between the city and county. A month later, each entity had appointed four members to the committee, and Smith indicated the group would hold public meetings either monthly or quarterly.
Since then, though, it has hasn't even formed a concrete plan for holding its first meeting, an issue Smith told The Dispatch he plans to correct today. His understanding, he said, was County Administrator Ralph Billingsley and city Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong were tasked with coordinating committee meetings.
"The ball has been dropped on that at the moment," Smith said. "But since you guys have started asking about it, it's made me be more focused on following up and making sure we get this first meeting set up. That way, we can establish some guidelines for moving forward."
"I'll be certain to get with (Armstrong and Billingsley) today to make that happen," he added.
Smith and Billingsley, along with District 3 Supervisor John Holliman and county Chief Financial Officer Lloyd Price, represent the county on the committee. City representatives include Armstrong, CFO Milton Rawle, Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens and Ward 5 Councilman Stephen Jones.
Mickens said the city's focus on correcting its budget issues -- it operated at an $881,000 deficit in Fiscal Year 2018 and is working to cut spending this year -- has possibly blunted the priority for meeting with county officials.
"That's a good question," Mickens said, referring to why the committee hasn't met. "I've been wondering that myself. I think it's because we've been tied up, since we had some ... concerns with the city with our finances. I think that put us behind. But I see us getting in touch with the (Lowndes County Board of Supervisors) and meeting pretty soon."
Smith said the purpose of the committee, as he sees it, is threefold: to improve communications between the city and county, work together toward common objectives and avoid duplicating services where possible.
"Any time you have leaders sitting down, talking and trying to better serve the citizens ... it's a good thing," he said.
Both Billingsley and Armstrong, though, said there aren't any issues at the moment that meet that criteria.
"I wasn't aware (Billingsley) and I were supposed to call a meeting, nor do we currently have an agenda to discuss," Armstrong told The Dispatch. "If (Smith) thinks we should have met, then he should have told his county administrator to call a meeting, and we would have met."
Billingsley said he wanted to wait until there was an "issue" affecting both the city and the county before he set a time for the committee to meet.
"I was kind of waiting to pull (the committee) together until something happened," he said. "I'm not big on meeting just to meet. If we have something going on, we can pull the group together, but I didn't see a need to meet just to meet."
Billingsley added he and Armstrong haven't spoken "in a few months."
1. Report: City out of cash by October COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY