Jacksonville City Council OKs settlement talks in Austin matter
by Paige Rentz
Jul 24, 2012 | 4815 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
JACKSONVILLE -- The Jacksonville City Council hopes to settle out of court with a man whose house was ordered demolished by the city and, in the process, avoid a lawsuit. At the Monday meeting, council members authorized the mayor to enter into settlement negotiations with Bill Austin, the man who was rendered homeless by the destruction of the East Mountain Street home.

The city ordered the man's house to be torn down on Jan. 31 for multiple nuisance violations, but now council members are willing to pay up to $20,000 to keep court fees at bay.

After stepping out of the public meeting on Monday for a brief executive session, council members voted unanimously to allow the mayor “to negotiate a settlement of a legal claim against the city in the amount not to exceed $20,000.”

“In the long haul, in a cost analysis of what we’ve got before us, this would be a much smaller dollar amount for the city than would be going to court and trying to prove principal of right and wrong,” said Councilman Mark Jones upon re-entering chambers from executive session.

Mayor Johnny Smith echoed this, saying the lawyer fees alone would likely cost more than $20,000.

A search of online court records revealed that no lawsuit had been filed by Monday evening. And the mayor declined to confirm whether he knew if such documents had been officially filed against the city.

City attorney Richard Rhea said Monday that Austin had either filed a notice of claim or “certainly made his intentions known that he will be filing a claim.”

Council members at the meeting said they wanted to approve settlement talks and move on to other issues.

“All the hard feelings that might be caused by this being dragged out leads to us being able to do other business and put it behind us,” Councilman George Areno said.

The demolition of Austin's house left him homeless, sparking much debate among community members.

A number of residents citizens rallied around Austin. He told The Star in February he had been given notice by the city that his home would be demolished if he didn’t make improvements on the property, but said he didn’t think they would actually tear down his house down.

Council members Sandra Sudduth and Derek Raulerson were absent from the meeting.

In other business the council:

Approved an ordinance amending the city code regarding the parking of large vehicles in residential zoning districts.

Scheduled a called city council meeting for Sept. 4 at 11 a.m. to canvas the votes and certify the election of mayor and open seats on the city council and board of education.

Approved resolutions declaring Truman Norred and Sandra Sudduth duly elected to the office of city council, places 3 and 4, respectively because they were the only persons filing statements of candidacy for the offices.

Authorized the mayor to sign an agreement with Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency with the Homeland Security Grant Program for the purchase of personal protective equipment for the Calhoun County Medium Rescue Team at a cost of $7,650, with no matching cost to the city.

Authorized the mayor to sign a second Homeland Security grant program agreement to purchase radio equipment that will allow various emergency responders to communicate with one another on various radio systems. The city’s portion of the cost will be $1,696.32.

Star Staff Writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @Prentz_star
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