Public opinion raises concerns in Kingston
by Matt Shinall
Oct 12, 2010 | 1971 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The city of Kingston held their regular meeting Monday to a crowd of residents concerned for the city's well-being after recent reports of an ongoing investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation into financial matters.

This news comes on the heels of months of debate as the mayor, Dexter Jones, and councilmen dispute the city's financial standing. Jones, who released the announcement of the investigation that was verified by GBI officials, continues to defend his stance that Kingston is financially stable.

"I know there's been a lot of talk about how broke Kingston is and all these things and I've said in the past and I'll say again that the city of Kingston is sound financially. Anybody who has any questions about the financial situation of Kingston, I'll be glad to meet with you personally and explain to you exactly what this financial situation is," Jones said.

After news of transfers occurring from the water fund to the general fund to pay bills at a rate ahead of the budgeted transfer schedule, Jones points to improper bookkeeping as the source of the problems and need for transfers.

Public outcry concerning financial matters began early in the meeting as former Mayor Peyton Silvers took the podium to speak.

"I was here, unfortunately, as mayor the last time that we went through this situation. It was embarrassing, it was humiliating to say the least. I still have nightmares of what happened," Silvers said. "I'm going to have to say it's time for the council to step up, and unfortunately, the mayor's position -- no matter who's sitting up here -- the council can override anything the mayor says. So, I think it's time for the council to get together because I think you know what needs to be done and get together and do it. I don't want to see anybody get laid off or lose their job because we're in tough economic times but I think the city has too many employees."

Comments from audience members signed in for permission to speak took up much of the meeting Monday, including City Clerk Michele Jones. As reports of mismanagement would fall primarily on her position, she took defense to make her plight in public forum. Referring to reports of incorrect billing and a misallocation of funds reflecting poorly on her, Michele Jones accused the mayor of using such allegations as a personal attack.

"The mayor's never come to talk to me, he's never questioned anything about my job performance, he's never brought it to me. I've heard over and over and read it in the newspaper that the bills are being paid out of the wrong accounts. I've collected every folder for all the vendors that we have for the water fund and I want the council and the public to go through them and if you find one general fund check I want you to let me know," Michele Jones said.

Addressing the subject of their financial situation, Michele Jones brought forth allegations of past due bills, including termination warnings for insurance through the Georgia Municipal Association. She also highlighted several staff increases and raises that have been made in the past year.

"I've told the council, I've told Sabrina [Cape of Capable Financial Solutions] and everybody, I've said it until I was blue in the face: 'We don't have the money to pay for this. What are we going to amend in the budget?' I was told we didn't have to amend anything in the budget," Michele Jones said. "It's not me. You have to start with the man in the mirror because it's not me. I just write the checks. I am one person, I don't have a vote. Nobody can sit up here and say that I have not told every single last one of you, including the city attorney. I have told Sabrina, I have called the auditors and everybody and practically said, 'We cannot pay for this stuff.'"

In defense of Michele Jones, Councilman Louise Howell spoke to a concern over a number of city employees allowed in city hall.

"I don't see how we can hold Michele responsible for the money in the office when there is so much traffic in there. I mean there's just people in and out of there all the time," Howell said.

The mayor remained adamant, however, that the allegations made were not personal in any way but only done in the city's interest.

"This isn't personal, it's business. The citizens of Kingston deserve to have their money looked after like its supposed to be," Dexter Jones said, adding that the 2009 audit continues to be late due to the poor shape of city records costing Kingston thousands of extra dollars. "I've had four different accountants that have commented that the paperwork, the bank statements, all of those things have not been reconciled for two years."

Councilman Chuck Wise raised concerned over the mayor's release of information concerning a GBI investigation without the approval of the council. Against the argument of Howell and Wise, Mayor Jones stood by his word that he did, in fact, make the council aware of the situation before releasing the information. Wise's comments Monday echo previous remarks he has made about the mayor's lack of communication with the council.

"You still don't run the city by yourself, you still have to have the council approval. You don't run the city by yourself," Wise said. "I am on the city council and these others here are too, and I haven't been informed of anything of the investigation of what was printed in the paper yesterday.

"I feel like we should have been informed before any statement was made to the press."

At the end of Monday's meeting, Councilman Ed Miklas asked for a special called meeting to be made next week for the discussion of personnel and city finances.

Before adjourning, Mayor Jones took the opportunity to address the crowd, which had voiced opposition throughout the meeting.

"Running a city of this size ... takes hands on, day in and day out. At times it has been somewhat trying on me. I'll do the best I can, I'll be forth right and come forth right with everybody on everything that needs to be done here. But this is not the first time in my life that I've been under fire. I'm a tough guy and I think that in the months ahead you're going to learn that and I'm going to do whatever I can to make sure that the city of Kingston functions properly, functions legally and functions financially," Dexter Jones said, adding an invitation for anyone to come meet with him and ask questions concerning the city.

Agenda items

The gross millage rate was set at 21.439 and rolled back to zero at the recommendation of City Attorney Peter Olsen. The high rate was calculated by measuring what the millage rate would have to be to offset revenue from Local Option Sales Tax. Doing this before rolling the rate back to zero will produce an increase in other revenues such as railroad franchises and stamp tax.

A motion was approved to establish a committee, including two members of the Planning Commission, Louise Harris and Joan Mannis, and two members of the council, Ed Miklas and Chuck Wise, to develop an ordinance describing procedures for recognizing citizens, naming new streets and the renaming of existing streets.

The motion to approve an engineering study at the corner of Johnson Street and Main Street was tabled until it is decided if the project for improving drainage at that location is covered by Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds.

The vote to approve reserve officers to serve on a volunteer basis in addition to current police force was also tabled until financial matters are clearer.