Councilman John Beresford wrote the resolution, which was intended to “determine the city council’s position on discussing fire services with Cherokee County.”
The city council’s “position,” Beresford told the council, should not be to invite county officials into Canton to help the city with fire services options.
“I do not recall council ever having that discussion where we said ‘Let’s invite the county,’” Beresford said. “Therefore, I felt that we might just need a resolution that (says that) at some future time we can invite the county to be involved. But right now, I think we need to try to take care of our own business in the city.”
Beresford said Cherokee County, which recently presented Canton officials with a plan to take over their fire services, might not have the best intentions in their willingness to absorb the Canton Fire Department.
“The county is looking for land,” Beresford said. “And we just happen to have some excellent land locations.”
Councilman Glen Cummins asked Beresford to clarify which council member his resolution referred to.
Cummins has been the most outspoken council member in support of exploring the option of consolidating Canton and Cherokee County fire services.
Beresford was quick to respond.
“I believe it applies to you, sir,” he said.
Cummins responded with a prepared statement.
“Being an elected official, neither this council nor any legislative body can tell me who I can discuss anything with,” he said. “I can discuss any issue with whomever, wherever, whenever I chose to do so, and I will do that.”
Cummins pointed out that Mayor Gene Hobgood has formed a committee to research different options for improving Canton fire services.
Cummins was named chair of that committee and Beresford’s resolution would conflict with his committee fully exploring the possibilities.
“Excellent statements, well stated,” Beresford replied. “But bottom line, when you get involved in something you have a tendency to overrun what’s going on.”
The vote to approve the resolution failed 2-3, with Beresford and Councilman Bob Rush being the only council members voting in favor of it.
After the long, contentious discussion on fire services, Beresford was scheduled to speak again and give the council his position on potential pay raises for council members and the mayor, another controversial topic.
“This is going to be a fun evening, huh,” he joked.
Beresford said the annual salaries of $2,100 for sitting council members and $3,000 for current mayor Hobgood, are far too little.
His plan called for a raise for future council members to $8,000 and $10,000 for future mayors.
Councilman Bill Bryan spoke up in support of the idea.
“It’s a bad thing that a city in Georgia, 41st in population, pays their elected officials almost just a volunteer salary,” Bryan said. “(This) is a gigantic sucker of time, and it doesn’t pay anything. I’m asking that we don’t make this a political issue, get out and stir up the troops to come talk and spew all the stuff about not raising and all that stuff; that’s a bunch of crap. People up here need to be paid some kind of decent, respectful compensation for what they’re doing.”
Cummins also said he supported the raises but said the timing was wrong since several current officials could benefit from the changes, if they’re re-elected. He said he planned to bring forward the motion himself in 2014, when no sitting council member or the mayor could benefit.
Beresford motioned for a vote to approve the potential raises, but a vote was not taken since the other council members had not received a copy of the proposal.