Moving questions: Mayor, alderman-as-citizen discuss City Hall relocation

Published 2:00 pm Wednesday, June 5, 2024

For the second time in two days, Brookhaven Alderman Andre’ Spiller (Ward 6) appeared before local government boards “not as an alderman, but as a citizen.”

On Monday, Spiller asked the Lincoln County Board of Supervisors how the decision came about for the City to relocate its offices from the county-owned Government Complex. When he asked if the County wanted the city “out,” Board Attorney Greg Malta responded, “It is not relevant what the County wants. The city can leave under the 1980 interlocal agreement.” When Spiller repeated his question, Malta said, “No. The county never asked for the City to leave.”

On Tuesday, Spiller did not join his fellow aldermen at their places in the City Board Room during the regularly-scheduled board meeting. Instead, he appeared on the agenda as a “citizen, for general discussion.”

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He began his time at the podium by saying he wanted to address the Board’s decision concerning a move to the former Hartman-Harrigill Funeral Home.

“To me, I’ve lived here all my life. And the things I’ve seen that goes on around here in the City that we don’t really include the people of Brookhaven on, I think that it’s … it’s a shame,” Spiller said, looking around the room. “And we all should be a part of knowing if we’re going to leave the courthouse, then we shouldn’t have done it in an executive session, we should have done it in front of everyone so everyone would know what was going on.”

“As a citizen, I’m not talking as an alderman,” he continued, “when we talk about tax dollars — tax dollars can be spent in different ways, but we talk about we don’t want to … raise people’s taxes, why don’t we ask the people about if they have a problem with their taxes going up, and what’s feasible for them?”

Spiller then said he thought it was not fair for elderly people who have mobility issues to have to visit two locations to take care of county and city payments, etc., when it has been more convenient to do so at one central location.

“And I don’t think it’s right, and I don’t think it was done right, and we should ask these people, the taxpayers, how do they feel,” he said.

Spiller said when he appeared before the County Board he asked, “Who is forcing us out of the courthouse? Who is making us leave out of the courthouse? And who wants us to be out of the courthouse? And what … the supervisors said was, we are not forcing y’all out of the courthouse; we are not asking you all to leave the courthouse. So, I ask this question to this board: Who is asking us, or who is wanting us to leave this courthouse?”

Spiller then paused, waiting for an answer, and when none immediately came, said he had two minutes left in his allotted five to wait for a reply.


Relocation for space issues

Mayor Joe Cox answered that he could respond to some of what Spiller was saying, then read a written response.

“Mr. Spiller, yesterday you inquired with the Lincoln County Board of Supervisors whether City Hall was being forced to vacate the Government Complex. The County Board attorney clarified the situation, and the response was clear — No, the County would never ask the City to leave. This statement should ensure you and the others concerned that there are no intentions from the County to expel the City Hall, or to compel City Hall to move out of the Government Complex.

“I want to clarify that I have never implied or insinuated that the County Board is forcing the City out of the courthouse. In response to the question, ‘Is City Hall relocating?’ I have publicly stated that both City Hall and Lincoln County government offices are in need of additional space to better serve our citizens. Our negotiations are underway regarding the potential relocation to address these space needs, and an official announcement would be made when that decision is made.”

Cox said that as mayor, he acts as the executive with the authority to work on contracts prior to presenting them to the Board for discussion or votes. The Board approved moving ahead with negotiations on the former Hartman-Harrigill building at the previous City meeting.

“As you are aware, as mayor, I serve as the executive branch of government for the municipality and I am the administrator and official voice and representative of the City of Brookhaven. I oversee the day-to-day operations of the City, which includes having the authority to help draft, review or refine contracts before they are presented to the Board of Aldermen for action.
“The legislative branch of government, represented by our Board of Aldermen, does not arbitrate city contracts. Instead, it acts based on information provided by the mayor and responds to negotiations presented by the mayor.

“To be clear, over the past several months, and almost a year now, discussions and negotiations with the County have highlighted that it would be mutually beneficial for both the County and City if City Hall relocates. This relocation is necessary for space requirements for both parties.

“You mentioned taxes, and you also mentioned … other information that was presented, and I presented it to aldermen at the May 21 meeting, and at the same meeting the Board voted 4 to 2 to move forward with entering into contract negotiations and a letter of intent for the property located at 101 West Chickasaw St. for use as City Hall.

“And in addition, I want to alleviate any unnecessary concerns for the municipal tax increase implications due to relocating City Hall. In fact, such decisions are made with careful consideration of various factors (and) demands the cost of relocation.

“As mayor and city officials, we have a duty to the citizens of Brookhaven to be transparent and fiscally responsible while efficiently managing City fund, making decisions for the betterment of the City as a whole. Thank you very much.”


Kees to the City

Mayor Cox thanked Spiller, then called for the next person on the agenda.

“And it was done in executive session,” Spiller said to the room as he turned to exit. “And we never checked with the Kees.”

“Absolutely, we did check with the Kees,” Cox called after him, then addressed those still in the boardroom. “With all due respect to the Kees family, with information provided by my meeting with the family, what we have, among other things, is a simple math problem. The approximate demolition cost of the remaining structures located across the street on South First Street is over $1 million, let alone the additional new construction costs, as provided by a local commercial contractor, which exceeded $6 million. And I got another quote today, which the figure is over $7 million, just for the building. So, put that to rest.”

“I replied to [Spiller’s] comments, and I consider it a closed matter,” the mayor said Wednesday.