Swainsboro council members point to issues impacting government procedures

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SWAINSBORO, Ga. (WJBF) – Three members of the Swainsboro City Council want to address what they call an unprofessional conversation during one of the recent meetings.

Mayor – “We have a motion and a second.”

What started out as a Swainsboro City Council budget workshop on Zoom to discuss the budget and other matters on August 24th, quickly went downhill.

Council – “Second” “Unready”
Mayor – “I’m going to ask y’all to raise your hands because the sound is very poor.”
Council – “Unready!”

It started with technology issues that made it difficult to hear.  Next, a discussion on how to tackle rising COVID numbers.  A proposal from Councilwoman Rita Faulkner to issue a mask mandate for city employees and one to use CARES Act money to issue a 2 dollar hazard pay. But there was pushback. 

Julian Sconyers, City Councilman for District 2 said, “If we got a secretary sitting in the office who don’t come in contact with any of the public, you ‘gon give them the same thing that you give our policemen or firemen?”

And then it took a left turn.  The Zoom call abruptly ended.  But not all representatives returned. So, City Administrator Al Lawson began to round everyone up.

City Administrator Ali Lawson said, “Hey Siri, call Julian Sconyers….y’all ‘gon have to click in on the backup link.”

“Hey, you don’t have a quorum at this point and we ain’t sitting there and listening to Parker.  He and Rita planned everything out,” said Sconyers.

City Councilman for District 5, John E. Parker said, “Sir, if I were you, I would stay on the meeting because if you and Johnny Ray get out sir, it’s still 3-2 and 3 would be the majority so I would stay on the meeting.”

Councilmembers from Districts 4, 5 and 6 say the issue started months ago when the councilman from District 1 was removed due to lack of attendance.  That vacancy called into question whether there are 5 or 6 seats that determine a quorum.  Mayor Pro Tem Bobbie Collins tells us councilmen Julian Sconyers and Johnny Ray Stafford have made reaching a quorum even more difficult. 

Mayor Pro Tem Bobbie Collins said, “One time they didn’t show up at all.  The second time, which was on August 24 they walked away.  And on September 7 they walked away again.”

“We were under the assumption that three was the simply majority of five,” said City Councilwoman Rita Faulkner for District 6.

And presumably, Mayor Charles Schwabe thought so too.  And with just three councilmembers, the vote on hazard pay took place. 

Mayor Charles Schwabe said, “My research tells me that we do not have a quorum and the meeting will stop now.”

Then, things took a turn for the worse. 

“This whole thing is a da** monkey show,” said Mayor Schwabe.

While Collins, Parker and Faulkner stay on camera, Lawson and Mayor Schwabe’s voices could be heard off camera, saying the entire meeting was a monkey show and discussing their next steps.

“You know what Charles?  You go to the house, tell them all kiss yo ass you pulling out of the race.  And give it to them and I’ll give you my resignation tomorrow,” said City Administrator Lawson.

We reached out to councilmen Johnny Ray Stafford and Julian Sconyers along with the city administrator and the mayor. Nobody was available for comment for this story. But we found out in Wednesday’s local paper that the mayor is discontinuing his re-election campaign.

City Councilman Parker said, “Right now we have five members on our council and three of them are African American.  When we want to do something right they have other ideas that are not protocol.”

The day after our airing of this story, Mayor Schwabe reached out to us with the following statement:

Thank you for this opportunity to comment on your recent story

In response to your story, the question concerning “quorum” has arisen due to the council’s recent expulsion of one of its elected members.  In seeking a clear directive on the subject of quorum, the city sought opinions from multiple attorneys.  Four of  five attorneys consulted agreed that quorum was established based on the number of representative seats provided in the city charter, not by the number of people in attendance at any one meeting.  Based on this information, the City will follow that guidance until otherwise instructed by legal directives. 

Other concerns in your story referred to the contentious, unproductive nature of recent council meetings and the lack of any substantial progress.  Without reserve, I offer my personal apologies for any offenses created or failure of duty.  The citizens of this community absolutely deserve our best, and I will work in the time remaining in my term to see that the situation improves.  In the meantime, I would encourage all of us to employ a little old-fashioned cooperation, compromise and civility in dealing with the challenges of local government. 

Charles Schwabe
Mayor, City of Swainsboro

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