Schools and public safety were prominent topics for council members, candidates and citizens alike at Monday night’s Smyrna city council meeting.
The council approved a measure to pay the remaining balance owed on its purchase of Smyrna Commons apartments with surplus funds from the City’s unrestrictive reserve fund. After the city finalizes the sale of the property to the Cobb County School District, it will still owe a remaining balance of $3.35 million.
This money will be paid from the City’s unrestrictive reserve fund, which currently comprises 35.35 percent of the City’s budget. Smyrna’s policy requires that the surplus be no fewer than 25 percent. After the balance is paid, the City surplus will be at 26.17 percent.
The measure was approved 6-1 with Wade Lnenicka, council member Ward 6, casting the only dissenting vote.
The CCSD plans to construct a new elementary school adjacent to and on the site of Smyrna Commons and it is scheduled to open in Fall 2013. Ron Newcomb, council member Ward 2, called the new elementary school a “godsend” explaining that it will help to attract families to Smyrna for the long-term.
“The quality of life is dependent upon the value that families moving into our neighborhoods place on the schools,” he said. “That is affected by the achievement scores. That is affected by the transiency rates in the neighborhoods feeding the schools. So strategically, it is worth every penny that we spend, in my humble opinion. Every penny that we spend, every time we can make this kind of arrangement. And especially getting a new elementary school; a new elementary school that will be the start for reinvigorating elementary schools throughout the city of Smyrna.”
Al Graves, a regular speaker during citizen input, applauded the City for using unrestricted reserve funds to pay the remaining balance owed on the Smyrna Commons purchase, but again questioned the council on the ultimate cost to Smyrna taxpayers and expressed general displeasure over the decision to purchase the aging and crime-filled apartments to begin with.
“I do not think it was a wise decision,” he said. “Y’all turned out smelling like a rose, but that was not the original intention. When you bought it, you bought a pig and a pole because you thought the police department was incompetent and couldn’t handle the problem.”
The mayor and council members don’t generally speak during citizen input, but Lnenicka broke convention to object to Graves’s remarks about the , calling it offensive to him as a Smyrna representative and citizen. Several of the city council candidates at the meeting made gestures of approval of Lnenicka's remarks including Jason Saliba, Ward 5 city council candidate.
Saliba, who took the podium after Graves during citizen input, explained that as an attorney for the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office, he has the unique opportunity of working with all the county’s police departments and that Smyrna’s police department “is as good or better as any of them.”
Smyrna mayoral candidate Donna Short Woodham also applauded the efforts of Smyrna’s public safety officers saying they should be rewarded for their efforts.
“I think that we need to unfreeze the wages,” she said during citizen input. “We’ve got $10 million in reserves. You’re giving the money away. Your priorities are all wrong. Buying apartments when your employees haven’t received any raise in five years.” (It was pointed out by a council member that the City has instituted a pay raise freeze for the last three years)
Ziad Salameh, Ward 7 city council candidate, took the podium to highlight the Nickajack Elementary School Foundation’s kickball tournament and fundraiser that was held Sunday, Oct. 2. He explained that about 500 people showed up to participate in the fundraiser at Rhyne Park with the Vinings Estates team winning the tournament.
Two other Ward 7 council candidates brought up the fundraiser during citizen input. Vick Yankouski noted that four fire trucks were parked at the event, one of which was draped with campaign signs for his opponent, Ron Fennel.
Based partly on some misinformation, Yankouski mistakenly believed the City had rented a fire truck for his opponent to use and he questioned the council about it. Fennel later clarified that the fire truck in question is a vintage New York fire truck from the 1970s. The truck was not from the City of Smyrna, rather is owned by a friend, who allowed Fennel to use it as part of his campaign.
“Just to clear that up, the City fire department is never going to be asked to compromise what they do for a living in a non-partisan and a non-political way," Fennel said.
During his address to the mayor and council, Smyrna mayoral candidate Alex Backry expressed confusion over the city’s bond rating. He said he placed a call to Moody's in New York and that the city’s bond rating was AA2, not AA+. Newcomb helped clarify Backry’s confusion.
“There is confusion on the rating, Mr. Backry, as you said and unfortunately the confusion is on your part,” he said. “There are two different rating agencies, Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s. You called the wrong one about the wrong rating. One is AA2. One is AA+.”
One of the meeting’s few lighter notes came toward the end of citizen input when John Miller announced he was seeking the Ward 1 city council seat. Miller explained that Friday he had interestingly received a letter addressed to Melleny Pritchett, Ward 1 council member and his lone opponent.
“I don’t know what the odds of this happening, but I got a piece of mail Friday that had my address on it, but Ms. Pritchett’s name on it,” he said. “So I just wanted to take it the last leg of the way.”
Miller handed the mail to Pritchett as laughter momentarily filled City Hall on a night when not exactly everyone was happy.
Smyrna-Vinings Patch will have more coverage from the city council meeting on Tuesday and in the coming days ahead.