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Council Disciplines Five City Employees

The second meeting of 2013 for Mayor Robert Smith and the Columbus City Council was short & sweet. Smith moved through the short agenda very quickly Tuesday night.

The Consent Agenda included approval for a request to block off some streets for the upcoming Sunday, January 20th Dream 365 Celebration March. The march will be followed Monday by a national holiday in observance of Martin Luther King Jr.s birthday as well as Robert E. Lee.

The only board appointment that was available for action was that of the Golden Triangle Regional Solid Waste Management Authority. Tommy Harrison’s term expired on December 31 of 2012. The only applicant was Michael Pratt. The term is 4 years. Pratt was nominated and approved unanimously.

(Dewitt Hicks, Jr.’s Columbus Conventions & Visitors Bureau (CCVB) board appointment position will expire on March 1st. Any applicants must be a Historic Home Owner. COO David Armstrong said there are no applicants at this time, though Hicks is expected to re-apply. The position is a 4 year term and can be filled on February 19th.) (Tommy Prude’s 5-year term on the Columbus Municipal School Board will expire on March 2nd. There are no applicants at this time, said Armstrong. The position can also be filled on February 19th)

During the Citizens Input Agenda, Tamica Patton came before the mayor and council to ask for participation in the MUW Annual Community Health Fair. Patton asked the council to support the date of February 13th as Community Health Day. The council voted unanimously to do so.

Patton said that the health fair will begin at 8:30 a.m. that morning (of Wednesday, 13th) and end at midnight. The health fair is free and open to the public. Patton said the annual event is held to “increase awareness” of health issues.

During the Policy Agenda, approval was given by the council to hire a full-time temporary Municipal Court Clerk with no benefits, contingent on successful completion of pre-employment of medical examination and drug screen.

Ward 6 City Councilman Bill Gavin discussed acceptance of an easement of Chapman Road. Gavin said that shrubbery will be placed along the roadside (payed for by nearby Tractor Supply). Gavin said that Public Works will plant the shrubbery, which should take between a half day and a full day of work.
While in executive session, the Columbus City Council voted on four personnel matters. The Packet staff has learned the following from trustworthy sources that were in the session: CPD Officer Bo Pearson received a seven day suspension follows an incident on 14th Ave. N. which resulted in damage to his patrol car. CPD Officer Greg Harstad was suspended 30 calendar days (approximately 17 days of pay) for an incident in the fall of 2012. Harstad was transporting well-known trouble maker Robert Nelson, Jr. to the Lowndes County Adult Detention Center when sources say Nelson started verbally assaulting Harstad, calling him a “white devil” and “evil”. Nelson, who is suspected of being mentally unstable, has a very long history with local police and routinely calls 911 to his residence in the 2400 block of College. When approaching the jail, Nelson reportedly challenged Harstad to “take off your badge and we’ll see what you can do.” Upon arrival at LCADC, Harstad reportedly granted Nelson’s request and removed his badge and walked towards Nelson. Guards at the jail intervened before the incident escalated and several sources said no physical contact was made between the two. Harstad has been with the CPD since 2009 and had a decorated career in the US Air Force.

Columbus Municipal Clerk Virginia Watt, who was arrested at the court last Wednesday and charged with two counts of Sale of a Controlled Substance, was suspended with pay until her trial. Several council members questioned the wisdom of paying someone while they were suspended, especially considering the length of time that could pass until a trial date could be set. Sources who witnessed the session said city attorney Jeff Turnage and Mayor Robert Smith advised the council that the same procedure had been followed in past incidents and that a precedent had been set. One councilman who spoke to The Packet on the condition of anonymity said, “Heck, you might as well let her work in the meantime, what’s the worst than could happen?” (It is worth noting that narcotics agents considered Watt’s role in the drug activity as “active”, and dismissed any notion that she was just caught up in a bad situation with her male companion Roosevelt Dempsey Davis, who was also charged. It is believed Watt was seen by agents on more than one occasion participating in the trafficking of the prescription pills.

A Public Works employee who worked in the city barn was terminated, but we were unable to garner a name or reason as of press time.

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