Porterdale city council member Kay Piper announced her resignation from the council at a called meeting Thursday night, after three years on the council. She citied her health as the number one reason, but also noted she had been unhappy with the direction of the council this year.
"The first two years were productive and the meetings were professional," she said. "This year, however, there has been turmoil and strife among the [council] members which has made the meetings unproductive."
Piper said she has numerous concerns, one of which is the financial situation the city is currently in, having a shortfall and going into the next year already owing more than $126,000 that was borrowed from the recreational fund (for the gym reconstruction) and put into the general fund to pay for the day-to-day operations of the city.
Another concern was the decision by the majority of the council to bring back a furloughed police officer when they had decided previously to have departments cut back by 20 percent.
"The proposal from some of the council was that tax bills would go out and the money that came in from those could be used to meet the budget shortfall from this year and in my estimation this is a very bad decision because the money that comes in at the end of the calendar year is for the 2009 budget," she said. "It was also suggested the city take out a loan which I felt was a bad idea. The city cannot pay what it needs to pay already and we cannot afford to take out another loan. That along with my health concerns contributed to my decision."
Piper developed a 10-year revitalization program for Porterdale 12 years ago called "Let’s Sweep It Clean" and in the research she did for the program she found that other mill villages similar to Porterdale had been successful in their efforts once the center of the community – in this case the Porterdale Mill Lofts – was restored, then the rest of the community would follow.
She is concerned with how the community will fare since the council decided to eliminate the code enforcement position. According to Piper, public works also voluntarily cut 37 percent and the director of that department is currently driving the garbage truck to make sure that Porterdale has the extra money it needs to operate.
Piper also said Police Chief Wayne Digby’s report to the council, stating the city had answered 615 calls for service in 45 days, sounded "alarming" but when broken down mathematically it was much less so.
"That [615 calls in 45 days] is less than 14 calls in a 24 hour period. So, on average, there are 10 calls in 24 hours which sounds much less alarming," she said. "It sounds like we have a crime wave but when you do the math 10 hours a day they [police department] aren’t doing anything. Also, with the other departments when they were asked to make their 20 percent cuts they had no other resources to rely on. However, I feel the police department never fully utilized the resources available to them."
The Covington Police and the Newton County Sheriff’s Department are available to assist the city, if needed, in any given situation. Though the city does have to call and request the assistance from the other departments in order for the officers and deputies to come to help.
Piper also addressed the dismissal of city clerk Sherry Stevenson, saying the clerk was one of only a few in the state to be a certified city clerk, and that she did the best she could with the resources available to her, saying software was inadequate as well as the computer system the city was using.
"Changes and improvements needed to be made, certainly," she said. "But I felt dismissing our clerk was the wrong thing to do. It certainly began my concerns about how this council was working."
Piper said she has "prayed and agonized" over whether or not to resign her post and that not even her family was aware of her decision to do so when she did. Her resignation is effective immediately.
"I did not want to resign," Piper said. "I love Porterdale and I have worked for the last 12 years to bring life back into this city but with the decisions being made as they were, I felt my vote no longer counted and I did not want the people of Porterdale and Newton County to think that I was a party to those kinds of decisions because I was not."
Piper said councilmember Arline Chapman had been a great asset to the council and brought a lot of experience from her work with the attorney general’s office.
Chapman called Piper’s resignation "a great loss," saying her financial experience was "first class and I regret we won’t have the benefit of her expertise."
"I know she has health problems so I was not shocked by her decision," said Chapman. "I did try to encourage her to continue on the council, but I recognize that she does not owe Porterdale her life. It’s a great loss but it is something she needed to do. She has dedicated a large portion of her adult life to this city and I think it will be difficult to find someone with her experience to fill the position."
Chapman also said she did not think it was a secret that many times votes on the council had gone 3-2 "and Kay and I were the two," she said.
"I went on the council in hopes we could work together — all of us — as a team, but it hasn’t always worked out like that. I think perhaps different people have different visions of what they want Porterdale to be. As time goes on the people will decide who the best team is to make their vision of Porterdale a reality."
When councilmember Robert Foxworth was asked to comment on Piper’s resignation he said that she had attempted to resign earlier in the year but was talked out of it and that he was "surprised she resigned this time."
Foxworth was asked if her resignation was a loss to the council to which he replied "we’ll survive."
"We’ll move on," he said. "If Mrs. Piper would have waited and resigned in January the council could have appointed someone. The way she resigned now will just cost the city more money. But this city isn’t going to stop.
"We’re going to continue doing city business and taking care of the city’s needs."
As for Piper, she isn’t through with Porterdale.
"I am not going away," she said. "I will still be working on Porterdale’s behalf, just in a different capacity."