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Carpenter again urges councilman to step down
Residency issue part of dispute between council and one of its members
Russ Carpenter
Russ Carpenter

The last word so far on a dispute over whether a Richmond Hill city councilman should resign after taking a job in Columbus and living there at least part of the time came from Mayor Russ Carpenter.

Carpenter said late Monday that Councilman John Fesperman “should do what is right by our citizens and resign,” but if he doesn’t, Fesperman “will be included on every decision and process that all other councilmembers are entitled.”

Carpenter, along with councilmembers Jan Bass and Tara Baraniak, called for Fesperman’s resignation on Saturday claiming he now works and lives in Columbus.

Monday, Fesperman responded to the initial request by council, claiming he regularly attends council meetings and remains accessible to both council and his constituents. Fesperman asked whether the request was due to his questioning how city officials are spending money.

 Fesperman’s statement drew a lengthy response from Carpenter.

It is included in its entirety here:

 “In regards to Councilmember Fesperman’s comments, a few clarifications and corrections are needed.

 1.  Council, not just the mayor, has asked for his resignation since he no longer resides in RH.

 2.  Effectively serving on council requires much more time than 2 meetings a month. Last year, there were approximately 43 events relating to his position that Mr. Fesperman did not attend.  These included Memorial and Veterans day services, training sessions, workshops with the County, and various other events that require city representation.  

 3. Mr. Fesperman missed 2 city council meetings in the last few months.  His first absence resulted in the lack of a quorum, therefore we could not hold the meeting.  The second time resulted in Councilmember Murphy having to delay departure to Atlanta for cancer treatment, requiring him to fly up early the next morning for his appointment.

 4.   As for questioning spending items: that’s exactly what councilmembers should be doing. He’s not the only councilmember that does so.  We all do, and our city is financially responsible. I joined John in voting against the Tahoe that was purchased. 

 5.  Discussions with the County on fire department consolidation will begin when our current legal issues are resolved.

 6.   Mr. Fesperman questions spending money on a bridge that is part of the major drainage project that ensued after the two hurricanes.  The current bridge, according to our engineers, serves as a chokepoint in draining several low-lying neighborhoods.  But we have yet to vote on the bridge, and, when we do, it is certainly Mr. Fesperman’s prerogative to vote against it.

 In the end, Mr. Fesperman simply doesn’t reside in Richmond Hill by any practical definition of the word. Again, we urge him to do what is right by our citizens and resign; however, should he choose to stay, he will be included on every decision and process that all other councilmembers are entitled.  

 --Russ Carpenter

Mayor, City of Richmond Hill   

Fesperman, a golf pro, noted Sunday his wife continues to live and work in Richmond Hill and he’s a longtime resident of the city and county.

 He e-mailed a statement Monday morning. It's included here:

 "Let me set the record straight. Recently there was an article in the Bryan County News in regards to Mayor Russ Carpenter asking for my resignation due to the fact that I have to work out of town. Many elected officials are salesmen or have jobs that takes them away from home for many nights during the month. I too have such a job but nevertheless I am always accessible via phone or email and I do regularly attend the monthly council meetings. There is much more to this request for my resignation and I will explain in more detail. I have usually been the lone council member that questions capital expenditures {city manager's new Tahoe}, wants to explore ways to combine services with the county that could save both governments money instead of duplicating services {study to consolidate fire services), and recently questioned whether we really need a new bridge built on Timber Trail Rd. I was elected by the citizens of Richmond Hill to do what is right and to insure that tax monies are spent for goods and services in the best manner possible. I make no excuses for my actions and will continue to be the people's representative even if some of my other elected council people treat me as the "odd man out". They might try not to include me in many discussions but I made a pledge to represent the people and that is what I am going to do. Proudly serving the people John Fesperman."

Carpenter said Richmond Hill’s charter is vague when it comes to residency requirements for elected officials. It requires office seekers live in the city for two years prior to running for office and that they “continue to reside with the city during said period of service.” It does not define whether residence is full time or part time, or whether someone working out of town can another residency.

“No person shall be eligible to serve as mayor or councilmember unless he or she shall have been a resident of this city for 24 months immediately preceding the election of mayor or councilmembers; each such person shall continue to reside within the city during said period of service and shall be registered and qualified to vote in municipal elections of this city,” the charter states.

As for the Tahoe driven by City Manager Chris Lovell, it was purchased in August 2017 for $48,000, when Carpenter was the city’s mayor pro tem and Harold Fowler was in office.

The council is currently short one member after the Dec. 19 death of mayor pro tem Johnny Murphy. A special election will be held March 19 for that seat. Qualifying is 8 .m. to 5 p.m., minus an hour lunch break from noon to 1 p.m., beginning Tuesday, Jan. 29 and ending Thursday, January 31. The fee to qualify is $150.Carpenter said if Fesperman resigned, a replacement would be appointed.

John Fesperman
John Fesperman - photo by Photo by Paul Floecker
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