Weak Early Voting Turn Out In Lake Park Special Election

By: Greg Gullberg Email
By: Greg Gullberg Email

[Update] - Lake Park, Ga. - March 27, 2012 -

Voting is going on now for the Lake Park Special Election, but some might say the turn out is fairly weak.

As of Tuesday, only 22 Lake Park residents have participated in early voting. The election was called to fill two vacant City Council seats that were emptied when the members resigned in protest of a City Council decision to let go of three city employees.

There are three candidates running: former councilman David Whitfield, Department of Family and Children's Services employee Shauneen Moss, and former Police Chief Bert Rutland. Rutland was one of the city employees who were let go of.

Lowndes County Supervisor of Elections, Deborah Cox tells Eyewitness News reporter Greg Gullberg that she wishes more voters would turn out.

"Well if you live inside the city of Lake Park, the wait time for early voting is about 15 seconds. We've got all the machines ready; people standing by. Just come on in. We'll even give you a cup of coffee," said Cox.

Voting is being held at the Lowndes County Board of Elections in Valdosta until the end of the day Friday. The last day of voting is Tuesday April 4th at the Lake Park Civic Center.

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[Update] - Lake Park, Ga. - March 15, 2012 -

Lake Park is gearing up for a Special Election to get the City Council up and running again.

It's coming April 3rd, and already three candidates have qualified. Two of them are familiar faces around City Hall.

One of the candidates is David Whitfield, a former Lake Park City Councilman. Another is Shauneen Moss, an employee of the Lowndes County Department of Family and Children's Services.

But the most interesting might be Bert Rutland, Lake Park's former Police Chief. Rutland tells Eyewitness News reporter Greg Gullberg over the phone that if elected he will not be another "rubber-stamp" for Mayor Ben Futch.

Rutland is one of three city employees who were let go of by the mayor and half the council. The two seats were vacated when former councilmen Eric Schindler and Paul Maulkey resigned for not being consulted in the decision.

Rutland says that City Hall is greatly in need of his experience and that Futch has taken it upon himself to be the "Lord High Mayor".

Gullberg asked Mayor Ben Futch for his take on the candidates. He says he knows Ms. Moss and Mr. Whitfield and that either one would be an asset to the council. When asked about Mr. Rutland he said "I have no comment about Mr. Rutland".

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[Update] - Lake Park, Ga. - March 1, 2012 -

The city of Lake Park has essentially been in Limbo as their city hall is shutdown.
Now Eyewitness News reporter Greg Gullberg tells us how they may soon get up and running again.

I'm standing in front of Lake Park City Hall where there hasn't been a city council meeting in nearly a month.
On February 7th two city councilmen resigned in dramatic fashion. Ever since - the council hasn't had enough members to make quorum. But that will soon change."

The council is in need of a special election to fill the vacant seats.
Lake Park City Attorney Robert Plumb had feared it would take six months to get it in.
But now they have it set for next month.

Robert Plumb / Lake Park Attorney @ 0:25
"The city is certainly glad to have the opportunity to proceed with the election earlier, rather than having to wait till the end of July."

The Special Election is set for April 3rd.
It was granted by Southern Circuit Judge Harry Altman Wednesday.
The seats were emptied when former councilmen Eric Schindler and Paul Mulkey resigned in protest of the mayor.
They say they were kept in the dark about decisions to fire three city employees.
The police chief.. fire chief and city clerk.
Mayor Ben Futch says there had been several complaints about the former employees and better people are now in their place.

Over the phone - Schindler tells me he thinks the special election is a mistake.
He says it only robs citizens of their electoral rights and doesn't leave voters enough time to make an educated decision.

Stand up -
"Mayor Futch tells me there is no word yet on who the candidates in the special election will be.
His only concern is getting Lake Park City Hall back to work.

Attorney Plumb says qualifying for candidates will start early next week.

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[Update] - Lake Park, Ga. - Feb. 15, 2012 -

New details Wednesday on a scandal in Lake Park, Georgia that has effectively shut down city hall.

With the resignation of two city councilmen, there aren't enough members to hold official city council meetings. A special election could solve that, but Supervisor of Elections Deb Cox of the Lowndes County Board of Elections says the next opportunity isn't for another six months.

Robert Plumb is Lake Park's City Attorney. He tells Eyewitness News reporter Greg Gullberg that he hopes it won't take that long.

"We'd like to get the council back to work sooner if possible. So right now the plan is to petition the court for approval for an earlier special election date," said Plumb.

Plumb says they're shooting for April 3rd if they can get state approval. Even if there can't be anymore city council meetings for a while that doesn't mean that Lake Park is completely shutdown. The grass will still be cut and the trash picked up. Even programs like the "February Clean Up" where residents can toss away all their old junk are still in progress.

"But without a quorum the city can't enter into any contractual relationships. They've got some projects they'd like to get started on. But they can't really proceed until a quorum is established," Plumb told Gullberg.

In February 7th's city council meeting, two members resigned in protest of being kept in the dark about decisions to not reappoint three city employees.

If they are unable to appeal for an earlier special election, it will be held July 31st.

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[Update] - Lake Park, Ga. - Feb. 12, 2012 -

Lake Park is a city caught in Limbo.
With the resignation of two city councilmen now there are only two left.
And without three, there can't be anymore city council meetings.

A special election needs to be held to fill the vacant seats. But the Lowndes County Board of Elections says that no special election will be possible for another six months. Now all the projects the city had planned are on the fritz.

"I just hate when politics get in the way of the community because i think we all lose," concerned citizen Tony Drawyer tells Eyewitness News reporter Greg Gullberg.

Former City Councilmen Eric Schindler and Paul Mulkey resigned in February 7th's city council meeting saying they had been kept in the dark about decisions to not reappoint three city employees: the Police Chief, Fire Chief and City Clerk.

"This is a Mayoral-Council Government. Not a Mayoral Government. And I feel it's just an injustice and I couldn't stand by it," former councilman Eric Schindler tells Gullberg.

Mayor Ben Futch says there have been several complaints about the former employees and that better people are now in their place. He calls the councilmen's dramatic display a rebellious tactic.

"There's a select group of people who are out there and they are being very vocal with their objections to what we are doing," Lake Park Mayor Ben Futch tells Gullberg.

Mayor Futch says there won't be any interruption of regular services.
Trash will still be picked up, grass will be cut, there just won't be any new ordinances until those seats are filled.

The Mayor's office is conducting an internal review of the three city employees who were let go. They will not discuss details at this time.
But the results should be available in March.

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[Update] - Lake Park, Ga. - January 09, 2012 -

New Details on the two city councilmen who resigned in protest of the mayor of Lake Park, Ga.

They're now leveling new accusations of illegal activity. The two city councilmen resigned in Tuesday's Lake Park City Council meeting because they were excluded from plans to let go of three city employees.

Mayor Ben Futch says those employees were not living up to standards. But the former councilmen say that it was personal.

Former Police Chief Bert Rutland says he never got along with Mayor Futch. And when he says Futch was caught stealing city water, that sealed his fate. He showed Eyewitness News reporter Greg Gullberg the pictures.

"We were losing a large amount of water for a while, but right after he put that agricultural meter in, it slowed down a lot," Rutland told Gullberg.

But Mayor Futch says he wrote the city a check to pay for the water. It was used to water trees being transplanted into the community.

Rutland and former Fire Chief David Brown were surprised in January's meeting to learn they'd not be reappointed. City Clerk Ann Peterson was also let go.

Brown tells Gullberg he caught Futch burning yard waste after hours.

"His words to me were that I had lost a friend and the support of the fire department," Brown says.

Mayor Futch says he had started the controlled burn with his permitt during day light hours, and it simply simmered past sunset. He denies any confrontation with Brown.

"There is a select group of people who are out there and being very vocal with their objections to what we're doing," Mayor Futch tells Gullberg.

Futch says there have been several complaints against the former employees and that more qualified people are now in their place.

Futch has been hinting that there's much more to this story but he simply can't discuss it at present because there's an internal review in progress involving all three released city employees. But he says there are financial discrepancies of more than $76,000.

The results of the internal review should be available sometime in March.

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- Lake Park, Ga. - January 08, 2012 -

Two city council members resigned in dramatic fashion in Tuesday's city council meeting in Lake Park, Georgia in Lowndes County.
They say they resigned because they were kept in the dark about plans to get rid of three city employees. And they say Mayor Ben Futch made that call without them.
Eyewitness News reporter Greg Gullberg asked Futch point blank, "Why were certain members of the city council excluded from talks about who was going to be reappointed?"

"The city council people that you're talking about, they were political adversaries of ours," Futch told Gullberg.

Mayor Futch says the now former Councilmen Eric Schindler and Paul Mulkey are protecting the three city employees.
Futch says former Police Chief Bert Rutland, Fire Chief David Brown and City Clerk Ann Peterson have not been performing to standards.

"We heard complaints on these individuals and that's one of the reasons we did not reappoint them," says Futch.

Former Fire Chief David Brown says that's the first he's heard of it.

"I've never been reprimanded by a council. Never been talked to from the previous city council about any problems with the fire department, any problems with myself. So we assumed we were doing a good job," Brown told Gullberg.

Former Councilman Schindler says he also didn't know of any complaints and was caught off guard by the announcement to not reappoint the three people in January's meeting.

"This is a mayoral-council government, not a mayoral government. And I feel it's just an injustice and I couldn't stand by it," Schindler told Gullberg.

Mayor Futch will not publicly discuss the reasons for not reappointing them at this time.
He says there's an internal investigation involving all three of them - including financial discrepancies of more than $76,000.


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