Keisha Jeffcoat elected mayor pro tem of Mableton, city closer to setting regular meeting schedule

a screenshot of the six districts in Mableon, with 1,2,3 to the south, 4, 5, 6 to the north

by Arielle Robinson

At its first meeting of 2024 Tuesday, Mableton’s Mayor and City Council elected City Councilwoman Keisha Jeffcoat as mayor pro tem and had its first reading of an ordinance creating a regular meeting schedule.

The city started with the first of two readings on the ordinance establishing a regular meeting schedule. The readings must be held at separate meetings before the council can vote. The city’s charter requires a normal meeting time.

The discussion is not new, but the city is now closer to finalizing the issue. The council has met at various times throughout the last year.

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Mayor Michael Owens said the city wants to keep its meetings at the 6:30 p.m. time. He said it would be difficult to push it back more than that because some meetings can run for a few hours, and people’s time should be respected.

Owens also said the city wants regular meetings on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month, excluding holidays.

The mayor said city work sessions are proposed to occur from 5:15 p.m. to 6 p.m. at every other meeting, so the work sessions would be once monthly.

Councilwoman Patricia Auch proposed moving meetings from the Riverside EpiCenter to the South Cobb Regional Library after March 27. The EpiCenter has allowed the city to use its venue for free through that date.

“It has been a request of my constituents and frankly, some of the constituents of some of these other districts, that we have our meetings in a more central location to the city. The library is well known and well respected in the community and it’s very central…The benefits of having it at the regional library is one, it would be at no cost to the city. Then they do have rooms available for executive session as well. And I think it meets all the criteria we would need to have our meetings at that location,” Auch said.

Owens disagreed with Auch’s proposal. Owens said he thinks everyone agrees, though, that they all would like a centralized location.

“I think we all agree and understand that the long-term prognosis is that we have a city hall,” Owens said. “…[The library] is attractive in some ways. However, the library closes between 6 and 8 p.m. and…our meetings don’t start until 6:30, so what we’re really doing is shifting that burden onto the library to have their staff have to stay late, if they can.

“And what the branch manager told me was that it’s subject to their availability because they couldn’t actually schedule people to stay late.”

Auch invited the library’s Regional Manager, Jo Lahmon, to the podium to discuss the issue.

A concern Owens brought up to Lahmon was that the library is a polling location, and this year is an election year. The council meetings and polling would be held in the same room, leading to scheduling conflicts during election season.

“It is a polling place,” Lahmon said. “Now, there are some available meeting times if you wanted to have a meeting at the library for the sake of the citizens who live closer there than here. I wasn’t proposing having all the meetings, but at least some meetings at the library. Now the problem with March 27 is that elections [the Cobb Board of Elections] does have that booked up, but there are meeting times from now until February 10.”

Lahmon also said having meetings at the library would be free, which is another benefit.

Lahmon also addressed the concern about library staff having to stay late.

“It would be full-time staff members who would be staying over, not regular staff members. It will be no charge to the county, they would not be paying overtime. So it would only be salaried staff who would be there. And I know the library is not as attractive as this [the EpiCenter], but we do have a room for your sessions. It’s something that I was considering because my constituents, the library community, were asking me questions that I couldn’t answer,” Lahmon said.

Councilman TJ Ferguson asked her what the AV system at South Cobb Regional Library is like.

“Nowhere near this [the EpiCenter],” Lahmon said.

Lahmon said the city would have to bring its own microphones.

Jeffcoat thanked Lahmon for offering the library.

“I think it’s great that it’s free,” Jeffcoat said. “I like that, but I think we talked about it before in our previous meeting about consistently having the same location so that people, our residents know where their meetings are going to be.”

Auch asked about the EpiCenter in relation to elections.

“Isn’t the EpiCenter also used as an early voting location?” Auch asked.

“Yes, but unlike the library we have multiple rooms here to choose from,” Owens said.

“Can we utilize the library and utilize the EpiCenter when at times the library is not available?” Auch asked.

“I think that was what Councilwoman Jeffcoat said earlier about having a single location, and now I’ll go back and say again, it is important to have continuity around knowing exactly where the meetings are going to be for the whole year. The idea that we would use the space until there’s a cost associated and then move somewhere else, I’m not a fan of that,” Owens said.

Auch asked how much being in the EpiCenter would cost after March 27.

Owens said the proposed cost would be $300-$350 per meeting. He said that includes the AV, setting up and breaking down the room, use of the executive room, and on-site security.

After a little back and forth, Auch and Owens calculated that staying in the EpiCenter per year would be about $5,250.

“Okay, well that’s $5,250 in savings per year by having it at the library, correct?” Auch said.

“We have to be careful because our AV [equipment] is going to increase in cost,” Ferguson said.

Owens said after the meeting that the library is not exactly free because as Ferguson pointed out, the city would have to provide its own equipment to livestream meetings.

Auch said that she has looked at the price of microphones on Amazon and can get several that would still not add up to the yearly price of the EpiCenter. Auch made it clear that at the next reading and vote she will entertain a motion to move meetings to the South Cobb Regional Library.

A little later in the meeting, the council elected Jeffcoat mayor pro tem. The mayor pro tem carries out the mayor’s job when they are absent or somehow unable to do their job.

Pursuant to the city charter, the city elects a mayor pro tem at the first meeting of each year. City councilors get to nominate their fellow councilors for the role.

Councilman Ron Davis nominated Jeffcoat. Auch nominated Councilwoman Dami Oladapo. Councilwoman Debora Herndon nominated Auch.

Davis, Oladapo, Jeffcoat herself, Owens, and Ferguson all voted for Jeffcoat.

Lastly, Auch gave a personal update during council comments. She talked about why she was absent for the last few meetings of 2023.

“At the beginning of [last] month I had a cold,” Auch said. “And by the end of that week, I was blind in my left eye. I went to the hospital and I was admitted and had a lot of tests done and I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

“It was a pretty overwhelming diagnosis but I was more overwhelmed by how much the community and neighbors were so supportive and came to visit me or brought soup for me, but you guys really reminded me of why Mableton is such a wonderful place to live. And I’m very grateful for all of you here and for the people who make Mableton such a wonderful place.”

Arielle Robinson is a student at Kennesaw State University. She also freelances for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution and is the former president of KSU’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists as well as a former CNN intern. She enjoys music, reading, and live shows.

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