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West Point discusses mediation attorney

When the West Point City Council met virtually on Thursday, Councilwoman Sandra Thornton made a motion to amend the agenda to discuss a resolution that would engage the law firm of Smith, Welsh, Webb and White to represent the city in upcoming service delivery strategy mediation.

On Feb. 26, West Point along with the city of Hogansville, city of LaGrange and Troup County filed an application for extension of the current agreement, which was scheduled to expire on Feb. 28.

The extension has been tentatively approved by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) and pending formal approval would extend the deadline to submit a signed agreement to DCA by the end of May. City attorney Alex Dixon said he expects to have formal approval this week.

Dixon said city manager Ed Moon and Mayor Steve Tramell recommended the city hire the McDonough, Georgia law firm of Smith Welch Webb and White, specifically Andy Welch.

Councilwoman DeeDee Williams said during the discussion she felt as though she was only receiving partial information. 

“I learned a long time ago that there’s three sides to every story. In this case, there may be five sides, there’s a fourth entity,” Williams said. “I feel like I’ve just got a little bit of information from the source that I expect to get it from, which is my city.”

Williams went on to say that she is not opposed to mediation but would like that to be the last resort.

The SDS process encourages the county and municipalities within the county to discuss the terms of SDS and come to agreement, however, if an agreement is not reached with the county, the largest city – in this case, LaGrange – and at least one of the other city’s then mediation is the next step. 

Williams asked if West Point had made a list of what the city wanted out of the SDS agreement and communicated that to the county.

Tramell said he thought had been very clear about what his stance was. 

“I thought I’ve been very clear in the last couple of work sessions that I was through making lists,” Tramell said. “My stand, and I did not put this in writing, because it’s very simple, I want to end double taxation, I do not want to be billed for services we do not receive in the City of West Point, I want a separate tax district.”

Williams stepped in to ask if mediation was what the city wanted to do. 

“We’re not interested in coming to an agreement, we’ve got an extension for 90 days and 60 of them at least could be used to come to some kind of agreement or at least attempt to. So basically, we didn’t need we didn’t need an extension if we will go straight to mediation. Why not just skip the 90 days and go right into it,” she said.

Tramell attempted to move the conversation back to the discussion of the attorney. 

“We’re going to mediation, the county has agreed to go to mediation,” Tramell said. “We are discussing tonight to have an attorney represent us, so we need to get this job done. That’s what this discussion is about.”

Dixon stepped in to clarify that both West Point and Hogansville had requested mediation back in January. 

“First of all, with respect to mediation, the city of West Point and the city of Hogansville requested mediation back in January, well over a month from ago,” he said. “Until this week, Troup County had refused to go to mediation.”

Councilman Henry Hutchinson joined the conversation by saying he would like to continue to review and update on the progress of SDS. “I would ask that we continue to update and I’m not saying go directly into details of the negotiation, or going into exactly what we’re asking for and what our plans are going into mediation,” Hutchinson said. 

Hutchinson also said Tramell did call and discuss SDS with him and that the council has all said they are in support of going to mediation, but also said he did not see a problem with making sure people understand the SDS negotiations.

Councilman Joe Downs said SDS involves all types of taxes and the negotiations and it could be overwhelming for new council members. 

“These issues involve all the all different types of taxes. And these negotiations have been going on for almost 30 years, and it’s probably a little bit overwhelming for some of the newer council members to appreciate it,” Downs said.

Hutchinson rebuked that statement saying, “I don’t agree with that statement that this is overwhelming. That’s not the case, not with me.” Hutchinson he felt in the interest of transparency, there was no problem with clarifying something during the work sessions or business meetings.

Williams echoed Hutchinsons statements saying she did not feel the need to defend her ability to understand anything the council has to deal with.

The council will vote on the hiring of the law firm at the Monday, March 8 business meeting.

In other business, the council received an update from Moon on the municipal public defender position. Moon said there are two candidates that applied for the position. 

“We have two candidates that have applied within the time limit,” Moon said. “That’s Brandy Eastlick, who is a licensed attorney in both Alabama and Georgia, and we have Brian Aplinwho worked as an assistant public defender in Glynn County and currently practicing law in West Point.”

The council will meet again on Monday, March 8, 2021, for their regular business meeting.