2018-06-14 / Front Page

Cullars calls for mayor to resign, promises court action

editor and publisher

Charging that Washington Mayor Ames Barnett no longer lives within the city limits, Councilman Nathaniel Cullars called for his resignation at Monday afternoon’s June City Council meeting and promised to challenge Barnett’s residency in the Superior Court of Wilkes County.

A heated exchange erupted after Cullars inquired about residency requirements and he was prepared with facts and figures concerning a house in Oconee County purchased by Barnett on May 14. The Barnett home on Court Street in Washington was sold a few months ago.

However, the mayor claims 302 Sims Street in Washington as his current residence, pointing out that elected officials are not restricted from owning multiple properties. City attorney Barry Fleming advised that Georgia law “defers to the elected official to live where they say they live” allowing them to state their place of residency. An action in Superior Court would be required to challenge residency, he said.

Cullars began the exchange by asking a question about his own residency and the comments devolved into verbal hostilities including a claim by Councilman Peewee Armour that Cullars threatened to “knock the you-know-what” out of him.

A verbatim account of the exchange is included separately on this page. Except for a very few mutterings and extraneous remarks, everything that was said is included.

In another matter, Fleming explained that no bids were offered for financing of the fire station at the terms the city desires. Those terms call for a 15-year loan at a fixed interest rate. Some of the bids returned offered 10 years and other points but none met the requirements. However, BB&T did indicate a willingness to provide a 15-year contract but was unable to file the paperwork for an official bid before the deadline.

Fleming pointed out that the council had the option to vote to extend the deadline in order to accommodate BB&T and then later – possibly by the end of this week – have a called meeting to either accept or reject the offer that ensues.

District One council members asked how they could bid on a project when they didn’t have a final cost figure. Fleming said the bid would have a ceiling amount and as long as the cost was under that ceiling, the loan would be covered. Unsatisfied, those councilmen voted against the extension while District Two councilmen voted in favor. Barnett broke the tie to grant the extension.

The regular June meeting of the Washington City Council was held Monday afternoon at The Pope Center with all members and other city personnel in attendance. A fair crowd of visitors attended.

During the work session held just prior, Sharon Jones, a member of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), asked if the City would be interested in a “land swap” at the old Gordon Street School property. She said the Authority would like to trade the tennis courts for the old field house for purposes that would suit the URA’s development of the rest of the property.

Fleming advised that such a land swap is legally permissible. The matter will be considered at the council’s August meeting.

A “Distraction-Free Driving Policy” was adopted in order to insure city employees’ compliance with the state’s new law which will take effect July 1. City Administrator Sherri Bailey said that most of the city employees who drive already have the capability to be hands-free and she is working on inexpensive options to provide for those who do not.

In other business:

. The W-W Tiger Club was approved for use of The Square for its Iron Man promotion on July 26 from 5:30-8 p.m.

. Bailey reported on FEMA reimbursement funding for expenses incurred. She reported $75,060 in debris removal costs of which $63,801 is reimbursed; for electrical work, costs were $33,339 and reimbursements $25,004; for administrative costs, the total was $5,420 and reimbursements were $4,065.

. CHIP (Community Home Investment Program) Funding policies and procedures manuals for both new construction and Hands-On Washington were approved.

. An update to the City’s animal ordinance was approved.

. Councilman Peewee Armour was appointed to the Health Department board.

. Edward Pope III was reappointed to the Payroll Development Authority.

. John Keen was reappointed to the URA.

. Barnett announced the appointment of Barbara Burns to the Housing Authority.

Accusations and exchanges

(Verbatim. As recorded Monday, June 11, 2018)

Councilman Nathaniel Cullars asked, “If I’m in District One and decide to leave, do I have to give up my seat?”

City Attorney Barry Fleming responded, “Yes.”

“On that note, I would like to know the location, Mayor, of where you reside since you sold your house. Where do you live?” Cullars asked.

“302 Sims Street,” was Mayor Ames Barnett’s response.

“Have you bought another house?” Cullars continued.

“No,” the mayor said.

“So it must be a different Ames Barnett that lives at 1480 W. Fitzgerald Lane in Watkinsville, Georgia. That’s not you?” Cullars pressed.

“Yes. We can have several properties,” Barnett said.

“No, no, no, no. Is that your home? Where you’re living at?” Cullars came back quickly. “I’m asking you because I already know.”

“I’m not living there,” Barnett said, explaining, “I’m staying at 302 Sims Street.”

“You were elected in the City of Washington, Georgia. You sold your house and I have no problem with that,” Cullars said. “But you bought a house in Oconee County and you’re living there in a gated community. You’ve been there, you send your bills there, and you’re going to tell me you’re not living there?”

“Yes,” Barnett said.

“That’s a disgrace. I’m going to ask you to resign your seat because you just told the public something that’s not true,” Cullars said.

“It don’t make any sense,” he continued, turning to the whole council. “I want him investigated because he’s not living in Washington, Georgia. He lives in Oconee County. He bought a house last month ... he can say he lives at a certain place but I know for a fact he doesn’t.”

“Let me explain the process,” Fleming said. “I have tried cases before about the residency of elected officials. There is a lot of law in Georgia on that. The law defers to the elected official to live where they say they live. You can own multiple houses in multiple places but it’s the one that you claim as your residence.

“If that’s going to be challenged, someone would have to bring an action in the Superior Court of Wilkes County ...”

Interrupting, Cullars said, “I’m going to challenge that. I’m going to have the City bring the action.”

“... so it would basically be a court case to make that decision,” Fleming finished.

With a raised voice, Cullars continued, “We don’t need anybody sitting at the head of this table that don’t live in this town making decisions for us.”

“I’m going to finish out my term as mayor,” Barnett responded. “Right now I’m staying at 302 Sims Street. That’s what we’re doing. If anybody has any questions, you know you can call me.”

Before attention could turn to another topic, Councilman Peewee Armour interjected:

“Mr. Mayor. I was just threatened,” he said, looking at Cullars.

“By who?” Cullars asked.

“By you,” Armour responded.

“By looking at you?” Cullars questioned.

Barnett interrupted, “Councilman Cullars, we’re not going to have it.”

“I’m not going to have it,” Cullars retorted.

Speaking up again, Armour said, “Mr. Mayor, I don’t know whether Miss Debbie heard this ...”

Councilman Maceo Mahoney quickly offered, “I didn’t hear it.”

“I didn’t hear anything,” City Clerk Debbie Danner said. At the moment, her attention had been elsewhere.

“What did you hear?” Cullars asked of Armour.

“You said you were going to knock the you-know-what out of me,” Armour responded.

“Is that right?” Cullars asked.

“That’s exactly right.” Armour said.

“Councilman Cullars, we’re not going to have this at this meeting,” Barnett said, trying to end the conflict.

“You’re having it because you’re lying,” Cullars said.

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