MOULTRIE, Ga. – With a theme of "Help us help you," a group of concerned citizens represented at the podium by Steven Reynolds addressed the Moultrie City Council in a special called session Tuesday at the council chambers.
The one word highlighted in this discussion was diversity with Reynolds focused on the city's department heads and on how the city's funds are spent. This is not the first time this year that the group brought its concerns before the city officials, and Reynolds wanted to know what the city planned to do about bringing diversity to Moultrie's leadership.
Reyonlds said there are 11 department heads in city government, and while there was once a time when four or five of those positions were held by African-Americans, there are none today.
City manager Pete Dillard spoke mainly on behalf of the council members present and Mayor Bill McIntosh. He gave, for one, an update on the hiring process for Moultrie's current open position, chief of the fire department. He also gave figures on what the city has spent on various projects throughout town, dividing things by four geographical sections.
Dillard referred to a recent situation in Moultrie when there were two openings but they had no non-Caucasian applicants. He also pointed out the Georgia Municipal Association's diversity program, and those at the meeting viewed a GMA video featuring former Atlanta Mayor Ambassador Andrew Young.
Assisting the city in the search for a new fire chief, according to Dillard, is Freddie Broome, once the City of Valdosta's fire chief who is now a consultant through the GMA. Dillard said Broome, an African-American, has offered diversity training and provided means to advertise the position not before available to Moultrie. This includes Facebook pages for the Georgia Fire Chief's Association and the Black Chief Officers Committee.
"The results so far with our fire chief .... we've received 13 applications. Many of those came with Chief Broome's recommendation," said Dillard, adding that the application process is now closed. "Two of the applicants have visited us to get information, and they are both Black males. Right away, we have proof that this process is working far better than what we've done before."
So Dillard then made the appeal to Reynolds on what he and his colleagues can do to help the city get more diverse applicants who reside in the city.
"I think we all would like to do a good job of recruiting locally," said Dillard. "Have as many local people involved. That's where we are open for advice. Send me some ideas."
Reynolds said there are many, especially in the northwestern part of Moultrie, who don't go to websites.
"We touch a lot of people in the community," he said. "That's why we started this group. We want to help the city be more diverse. If you look at the judicial system, a majority of them are African-Americans in prison. We are trying to keep them out. I deal with kids every day from football, baseball, basketball, schooling. On this group we have teachers, doctors.
"What we are looking at now is most of our leadership positions are Caucasians. You show us what we need to do to help train Black, Hispanic, Indian, any race."
Reynolds is retired from the U.S. Postal Service after working for the Georgia Department of Corrections. He recalled when Black postal customers told him how glad they were to see him there.
"We are trying to raise young men and women to be good citizens of this community," said Reynolds. "That's why we are pushing this diversity. They want to see diversity. Walking in the city hall doors, you don't see any Black faces. That makes a difference."
Reynolds commended the council on recent African-American hirings on the fire department staff.
The next major point was funding within the city and concerns how much money was being spent in certain areas.
"They want to see some improvement in Northwest Moultrie," said Reynolds.
Dillard went on to explain that most of what the city spends money on is not flashy but practical. This includes sewer systems, roads and culverts.
"To answer the question, here are some examples," said Dillard. Resurfacing funds are a big part of the budget, and Dillard said in 2019 $400,000 was spent in Northwest, or 51 percent of the total. Then 12 percent was spent in Southeast and 37 percent in Southwest. The 2020 plan was to spend $379,000 or 71 percent in Northeast. While not final, the plan for 2021 is to spend 60 percent in Northwest.
"That's where we think the greatest need is," said Dillard. "Northwest has the oldest streets. 2018-19, $317,000 was spent on the West Central sidewalk project. The city paid for 30 percent of it. That's money we could have spent anywhere, but we put it on West Central because we felt that needed the attention."
Recent utility upgrades include water and sewer lines on Fifth Avenue. Dillard said the upgrades for the next 18 months are in Northwest. He also said recent grants totaling well over $1 million was spent in Northwest.
"The things people live with every day, I think a good job's been done," said Dillard. On Northwest’s city-owned park, he said the budget was $155,000, and they are close to meeting that. "The council decided if we're going to have it we're going to make it nice. I think the results speak for themselves."
And, a smoke alarm project through the fire department is also mainly a Northwest project, Dillard said, as is the police department's backpack giveaway.
"It's an older part of town. It needs more attention and it will get more attention," he said.
Reynolds brought up an interest in seeing the area at the Highway 37 bypass built up. This is also a part of Northwest Moultrie, and he feels it would help the city generate funds with the amount of traffic in the area.
Dillard said commercial properties are about investors, not city governments. He said governments don't open businesses, but instead encourage and assist investors. He said they are willing to help with anything from the point of infrastructure, but it first takes investors.
Reynolds also talked about the need to expand the Ryce Community Center, and said there are “ridiculous” rates to use the center, but Dillard said the center is owned by the Moultire-Colquitt County Recreation Authority, a separate entity that is in charge of its own funding and does not answer to the city.
Reynolds also asked for an ethnic breakdown of each city department. He wanted to be clear these concerns were not about any department head personally, that those in these positions are qualified, but that diversity will show "what our city looks like."
McIntosh brought up the city's EDGE program (Encourage Development & Growth Efficiently), which is made up of the Moultrie department heads who will meet with anybody at anytime.
Dillard said Human Resources is also going through policies seeing if there is anything that keeps them from hiring people.
"If anybody thinks we're not trying, they're selling us short," he said. "We've had some success. I think we'll have more."
Reynolds said he would welcome the chance to serve on city committees when McIntosh brought up what helps the city make some of its decisions.