At a recent Brunswick City Commission meeting, Mayor Cornell Harvey said it’s “time to take off the gloves” when dealing with Glynn County commissioners.
He believes they reneged on a verbal agreement to extend the deadline to start construction on the proposed Oglethorpe Conference Center. He also expressed concerns about the level of service provided by the county for animal control in the city, and for recreation programs at Howard Coffin Park.
Glynn County officials say there’s nothing to fight about, and they are surprised to learn about the recent criticism by Harvey and some city officials.
“I understand that our partners in the city, they have a lot of issues on their plate all the time. Sometimes you get frustrated,” said Mike Browning, chairman of the Glynn County Commission. “Sometimes when people are saying things, you’re hearing frustration coming out.”
County commissioner Allen Booker, whose district includes much of the city, said he was not aware relations between the city and county were strained until he read Harvey’s comments in the paper.
“I know that there’s always been some kind of tension there just because it’s two separate entities, but the mayor and I, I believe, we have a pretty good relationship,” he said. “Doesn’t mean we see eye to eye on everything but we usually are respectful of each other and supportive.”
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Harvey said he made a vow when he became mayor six years ago after serving more than a decade as a city commissioner. The plans for a conference center had been tabled for more than a decade because of the economic recession a decade earlier, and he believed it was time to make the conference center part of the city’s recovery.
“The city was in dire need back then,” he said. “Everybody got affected hard. When I was elected mayor, I wanted to resurrect it.”
He doesn’t think it was unreasonable to ask the county for an extension to give city officials enough time to salvage the project.
“I realize the conference center is a hot topic but the city has to deal with it,” Harvey said. “I don’t want to change courses midstream. I think we should push it through.”
The mayor is supported by city commissioner Johnny Cason, who believes the city and county should have followed the original agreement to build a conference center on the Oglethorpe tract.
“It all comes back to the city,” Cason said. “I did not want to deviate from the original agreement with the county. After completing the project, the city was to get the property.”
City officials have also recently expressed their displeasure with the animal control services provided by the county. At a recent city meeting, commissioners were told Brunswick police officers are spending too much time responding to animal complaints that should be handled by the county.
The county agreed to provide the city’s animal control services during the Local Option Sales Tax negotiations held in 2012 in exchange for a larger portion of the 1-cent sales tax.
“We gave up quite a bit with our LOST negotiations,” Harvey said.
Browning didn’t dispute Harvey’s claim. Instead, he noted that officers with the Glynn County Police Department will still assist city cops any time they need, even though city residents are no longer paying taxes to support county police. If the Brunswick police have to pick up a little slack on the animal control side, Browning said he didn’t see much of an issue.
Another source of contention from the LOST negotiations is the county’s management of recreation programs at Howard Coffin Park, Cason said.
“By our not using Howard Coffin Park for the youth programs, I feel that both commissions have let city youth down,” he said. “On animal control, there is little doubt their service could have been much better in the city.”
And a problem in the county tax commission office forced the city to return to the business of tax collecting, Cason said.
“I feel the mayor is right in questioning billable charges the county makes on city residents,” he said. “However, I also wonder why in 2019 taxpayers need to be concerned with the problems of dual government in a community of our size.”
Despite his criticism, Cason said he has very few complaints with Glynn county.
“The county does really well with EMC service, coroner services, and mosquito control for city residents,” he said.
He also praised the county commission for its help with the Terry Creek cleanup.
Harvey said the city has also been cooperative with the county when it got city alleys for a veterans park with no stipulations and the city didn’t object when the county announced plans for a 400-seat conference room at the library downtown.
“We were looking out for the best interests of the county,” he said. “Everyone works together when we have to.”
Booker said the county commission has worked to improve services provided to the city.
“The city does have some concerns, and the mayor’s been raising them with the support of the city (commission),” Booker said. “One was, we recently witnessed the service delivery agreement with the police departments. Of course, that allowed the city’s millage to go down a bit. The county’s didn’t change any.”
Browning said he believed city and county officials have a good working relationship.
“They helped us with the veterans memorial park, we are very appreciative of that,” he said. “That’s a project that the city and the county want to see come to fruition. It’s something that this community, I think, is going to be extremely proud of once it’s completed. Working together on that is a good example.”
Cason said both sides need to find more ways to work together.
“My belief is if we let our city manager and the county administrator work through differences/problems, relations can be strengthened,” Cason said. “In my opinion, both governmental entities need to rely on and put more faith in their key administrative employees.”
There are going to be other opportunities for city and county officials to work together, including SPLOST 2020, where the city and county will have to agree on a projects list.
Browning gave other examples where city and county officials work together to accomplish mutual goals.
It may have been possible for the city and county to continue consolidating government services, but Harvey said he is not interested in holding those discussions. Once he took office as mayor six years ago, Harvey said he and other commissioners got more involved in city operations and they saw inefficiencies that have since been resolved.
“This is a fresh start now,” Harvey said. “Consolidation should go by the wayside. Brunswick wants to stand on its own.”