Perhaps the biggest news out of Tuesday’s Richmond Hill City Council meeting came almost as an aside, when Development Authority of Bryan County CEO Anna Chafin asked the council to approve an amended agreement with a medical supply company aiming at locating a warehouse at the Belfast Commerce Center, which is delaying plans to complete its facility by roughly a year due to COVID-19.
But even that took a back seat to what took place during the public comment section of the meeting, usually a somewhat low-key affair.
That’s when a fairly high-profile local business owner, Ron Elliott, was escorted by police out of council chambers at Mayor Russ Carpenter’s request, though not before Elliott shouted he was resigning his post from the city’s planning and zoning board.
The removal of a resident from the chambers was probably a first, Carpenter said later.
What’s more, it was all shown live on Facebook, as are all Richmond Hill council meetings.
Elliott earlier saw council vote down his after-the-fact petition for a variance to allow a portion of the building housing his business, Georgia Game Changers Running Company, to be painted a color not approved in the city’s development ordinance.
The vote came after Elliott, whose company supports a number of local causes, and several employees and residents asked the city to approve the variance for the paint job, which he said was done after his building was damaged.
There was more.
Kathryn Johnson, CEO of the Richmond Hill Bryan County Chamber of Commerce, read a “letter of concern” to council from the organization’s Board of Directors.
While not naming the council member, the letter said in part the member acted in an “anti-new business manner” during an Aug. 4 council discussion of Memorial Health University Medical Center’s request to annex land on which it plans to build a free standing emergency room, and the letter went so far as to call the nature of the questioning of Memorial representatives “slanderous,” Johnson said.
“For example, questions from council included topics such as: morality of the company, ethics of the company’s history, and their pricing methods compared to existing area businesses,” Johnson read. “Also, the slanderous nature in which questioning proceeded was far from inviting to a private company looking to bring businesses to our community that would ultimately create high paying jobs, provide taxes to take the burden off of our rooftops or residents, and provide additional healthcare service to our community.”
Johnson, still reading from the letter, said the questioning appeared to “base land use decisioning upon ethics, business practices, or costs of services rather than certificate of need, which was obtained in this case.”
The letter said the “free market should dictate these needs rather than politics,” Johnson told council.
Moments later local activist David T. London praised councilman Mark Ott, who has been critical of the hospital’s plan for a freestanding ER, for “courageously bringing to light so many potential concerns that our community should be looking into,” with regard to the proposed emergency room.
“That is what the people of Richmond Hill depend on the folks in your seats to do, ask the tough questions that we would want answered.”
London’s defense of Ott came after London, speaking as a video played in the background, addressed “the ongoing national and local discussion of systemic racism,” and said he was there to “express our community’s gratitude for how that conversation is progressing in Richmond Hill.”
London is a retired Army officer and member of The Falcon Group, a local civil rights organization, and the Bryan NAACP. He praised local leaders and churches and pushed council members to respond to requests he made of the city in July following the death at police hands of George Floyd, which sparked national protests, including a peaceful gathering in Richmond Hill.
London asked council members to answer in writing his requests, “so all residents can hear and see what you have to say.”
READ LONDON'S LETTER TO THE COUNCIL (PDF format) -- London.pdf
As for Medline, the medical supply company at the center of Chafin’s request for an amended agreement with the city, it still plans to build a 1.2-million square foot distribution center at the Belfast Commerce Center, she told council.
The company, which in March announced it will bring about 150 jobs and invest $70 million into the local economy, also said in an email Wednesday that, “the construction timeline for Medline’s Richmond Hill facility has been pushed back one year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead of stretching our resources, we focused on continuing to deliver critical medical supplies needed by our customers to combat the virus. Medline has now been able to shift our focus back to the Richmond Hill project and plans to complete the building by the end of 2021.”
Also, council held a first reading of a rezoning request from Memorial for 46.6 acres off Port Royal Road. That’s where the hospital intends to build a freestanding Emergency Room.