MANSFIELD, Ga. - In a town hall meeting that lasted less than hour in Mansfield Monday evening, Mayor Jefferson Riley and the city council fielded questions on pre-approved discussion topics.
Starting with the City Center project, a beautification project for the city downtown area, citizen’s raised concerns on the bid prices that the city had received for the project versus the amount budgeted for the project.
“There’s been some concern in the community that some of the decisions or the discussion of City Center and the cost would benefit some of the people directly that are on the council, as far as property is concerned,” Blair Northen, a citizen, said.
Councilman Chris Fulmer said he had expressed interest in purchasing property adjacent to the City Center project, but had not gone through with it. He said he didn’t believe he was doing anything wrong, as the property is available to anyone who is interested in purchasing it and he did not have any insider knowledge that would provide him an advantage in purchasing the property.
“I did speak with Chris about the cost of the City Center being $724,000 and he did tell me that he would vote no on that, so he was not willing to go over the budgeted about, is what he expressed to me,” Councilwoman Lisa Dunn said. “Just to make everybody feel a little better about that, he did tell me he would vote ‘no’ if it went over budget and it did, obviously, so he would have voted ‘no.’”
Councilman Bryan Hale agreed, saying he would have also voted against the City Center project because of the cost.
“As the mayor, I don’t get a vote, but if I had gotten a vote I would have voted ‘no,’” Riley said. “$724,000 is substantially beyond what any of us thought it would be. We originally thought it was going to come in somewhere between $250,000 and $300,000.”
He said the high price tag killed the project.
Resident Wayne Blackwell suggested the city go back to the drawing board and use locals to complete the project, instead of getting outside engineers involved.
Riley said the City Center project was proposed to help beautify the city and help bring businesses to the area.
Former councilmember Marty Smallwood said he did not believe the town hall meeting was beneficial for the citizens.
“This is the first meeting that the citizens have been invited to discuss that in a town hall-type meeting,” he said. “I know you’ve brought it up in work sessions and all that before, but the plans were drawn up before any of that.”
He said the citizens were never given the opportunity to have input in the City Center project.
“There’s a whole lot of more things in the city that’s really needing attention that the money could be used for,” he said.
Riley stressed that Smallwood needed to stay on topic with the City Center project.
“It all ties into that,” he said. “I’m a tax-paying citizen, Jeff. We’re in a meeting; I should be able to say what I want to say. I mean really this is, I don’t know this is not really a town hall meeting if you ask me, but we’re going to go with your way.”
Riley reminded Smallwood to stick with the topics provided by the council within the designated hour time slot.
“It’s not on the agenda tonight (for the council meeting following the town hall meeting), so as the city council you have the opportunity to put it on the agenda and vote it down tonight. You have that right,” he said. “They have the right to amend the agenda.”
“If you wanted so much input Marty, why didn’t you stay on the council?” Riley said. “There’s plenty of lies being passed around town and I don’t know where they’re coming from.”
Resident Austin Mitchell said the price tag on the project is not necessary and Dunn agreed that she was against any price tag over the budgeted amount.
Riley said another town hall meeting would be scheduled early next year, as the time allotted was not enough to answer the questions provided.