MEIGS — Tempers flared at a recent meeting of the Meigs City Council, and the Thomas County Sheriff’s Office was eventually called to settle things down.
Mayor Cheryl Walters said last week’s special called meeting to discuss the budget was going well up until interim police chief Antonio Mango requested that he present his department’s budget.
“Then the shouting started,” she said.
It was when Mango was passing out hard copies of his budget that he says the trouble began. He said one council member crumpled his budget into a ball and threw it on the floor.
“I made a remark that it was that type of incompetence that has kept this city from prospering,” Mango said.
Individuals and council members began yelling at one another, and the tension kept escalating. People began shouting at police officers present at the meeting, and the action soon spilled out into the street.
“There was no physical contact, but there was enough screaming and yelling to get us on ‘Jerry Springer,’” Walters said.
The Thomas County Sheriff’s Office was called at some point during the confusion, but by the time they arrived’ the council had dispersed.
Walters said she erred in not having the sheriff’s office present from the beginning. Deputies have been present at several recent council meetings as tensions have risen in the city, but Walters figured that last week’s meeting, intended solely as a discussion of the budget with no formal actions, would be different.
“Despite all of my best efforts, the council is still at each others’ throats,” Walters said. “They tell me who they hate and who they won’t work with. It’s like trying to herd cats.”
Though the evening ended on a sour note, Walters said the discussion on the budget been mostly productive for a majority of the meeting.
“Up until the police chief presented his budget everybody had been almost civil,” she said. “There were nasty cracks back and forth and comments from the audience as always, but the meeting had gone pretty smoothly.”
Walters said she even received some helpful feedback from Council member Tommy White, who corrected a budgeting error she had made.
“To me, that was the most important thing that I took away,” she said.
Each council member received a budget worksheet and were called in alphabetical order to make comments on the budget for 10 minutes.
Walters began the meeting by announcing that there would not be any votes. The meeting was meant to center solely on a discussion of the budget and would avoid more volatile topics like the police department.
The mayor said she was unaware that Mango would request to present his budget, but she gave him 10 minutes to do so.
“From there, people started behaving rather ugly,” she said.
Mango said he had been instructed to have his budget ready for presentation at the meeting.
Recent council meetings concerning the police department have resulted in the city’s legislative process coming to a halt. Meetings in July and August were unable to get underway when White and fellow council members Dorothy Wimes and Lizzie Battle were not present and a quorum could not be formed. In another special called meeting in August regarding a recently terminated officer, Wimes, White and Battle walked out of executive session before a vote could be taken. A closed door interview between a police chief candidate and the council in June was cut short when Mango arrived and refused to leave.
Walters said last week’s meeting was initially called with the idea of avoiding the topic of the police department altogether.
“That would be like jumping into a volcano,” she said.
Another special called meeting will be held next Thursday with the intention of continuing last week’s budget discussion. The council will review each item line by line and then vote on whether or not to pass a budget — if a quorum can be formed.
“It’s my job to try to keep this government going,” Walters said. “I can’t give up and I just have to try to remember to always be calm.”
Sheriff’s deputies will be present for next week’s meeting.