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Pickin’ potties: Franklin council debates best bathroom options for events

Pickin’ on the Square is held every Friday night during the summer at the Franklin Town Square. Donated photo Pickin’ on the Square is held every Friday night during the summer at the Franklin Town Square. Donated photo

Tempers flared at the Franklin Town Council meeting Monday night as board members tried to find a solution to a public bathroom dilemma for its summer Pickin’ on the Square series. 

Some councilmembers wanted to place a town police officer at the courthouse bathrooms so they could continue using the facilities while Mayor Bob Scott insisted bathroom patrol was demoralizing for the town’s highly trained law enforcement officers. He suggested renting Port-a-Johns instead.

“The past two Pickin’ events we’ve had Port-a-Johns and there were no complaints about not being able to use the courthouse bathrooms,” he said. 

While the town has traditionally utilized the public restroom facilities at the county courthouse during the Saturday night music event at the town square, the town learned a few weeks ago that would no longer be an option due to county security concerns. 

It was the town’s understanding that the courthouse bathrooms would now be locked up after 5 p.m. and other bathroom facility options for the community needed to be explored. Also in the midst of the 2018-19 budget process, the council was considering budgeting $23,000 for the purchase a portable bathroom trailer to have at events. 

Scott was adamantly against the purchase, saying he couldn’t justify spending $23,000 on a portable toilet trailer when the town was looking at increasing taxes by 4 cents this year and the town maintenance crews were in dire need of a new vehicle. He suggested the town continue to rent Port-a-Johns every Friday night for the event at a cost of $160 for two units. 

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In addition to the $23,000 price tag, Scott said the trailer would also have to be hauled in and out every Saturday by an employee and that employee would have to be paid overtime. It would also have to have a tag and title and regular maintenance — costs Scott said could be $8,000 a year. 

“I don’t know where the $8,000 figure comes from,” Councilmember Joe Collins said to Scott. “You’re coming up with numbers I don’t believe.”

Councilmember Dinah Mashburn told the board Monday night that she had found a more permanent solution after reaching out to county officials that would take the portable toilet trailer option off the table. 

After reaching out to Commissioner Ronnie Beale, Mashburn said she was told it was Superior Court Judge William H. Coward who had ordered the restrooms be locked after office hours for security reasons. Beale told Mashburn he would discuss the issue with County Manager Derek Roland and Judge Coward and get back to her. 

Beale came back with a compromise approved by Coward — the town could use the courthouse bathrooms during Pickin’ on the Square as long as the town could station a Franklin Police officer at the bathrooms inside the building for security and pay the county $150 to make security improvements inside the bathroom facilities. 

With that being the cheapest and easiest option, Mashburn recommended use of the county bathrooms and placing an officer inside the building instead of outside the building. 

“Given what Dinah presented, we should go with the county bathrooms. That’s a very clear choice,” said Collins. 

The town already pays an officer $56 a night for security during Pickin’ on the Square, but Scott said he wasn’t willing to make a trained law enforcement officer stand by the bathrooms all night to be on “potty patrol” instead of monitoring the crowd as originally intended. 

Mashburn argued that Pickin’ on the Square didn’t have a police presence for many years with no incidents. 

“Pickin’ on the Square has grown exponentially in the last few years,” Scott said, adding that he hadn’t seen Mashburn at the event in years. 

“I take offense to you saying that about me not going to Pickin’ — all I did was reach out for a solution with the county,” Mashburn said. 

Councilmember David Culpepper said he agreed that an officer shouldn’t just be standing by the bathrooms all night. 

“I am very hesitant to host an event with a uniformed officer on bathroom patrol,” he said. “They should be walking around inspecting the large crowd. If the judge will let them walk around and check on bathrooms every once and a while I’d be OK with that.”

Since it’s a county building, Scott asked why the Macon County Sheriff’s Office couldn’t have one of its deputies patrol the bathrooms. He also questioned why the town should have to pay $150 to better secure the county courthouse bathrooms.

After more squabbling back and forth, Councilmember Barbara McRae suggested the board go ahead and adopt the budget and decide later which direction to go with the bathrooms. 

“We can vote on the budget but I don’t want this to keep rocking for weeks and months — the judge has spoken and we need to make a decision,” Mashburn said. 

Scott asked Police Chief David Adams how his officers would feel about guarding bathrooms for several hours. 

Adams said he hadn’t discussed it with his officers yet. However, he did point out that those bathrooms aren’t even guarded during office hours Monday through Friday when anyone from the public can walk in and use the facilities. 

“They are in the process of changing that,” Mashburn said. 

Trying to end the bickering, Collins made a motion to approve the 2018-19 budget and it was approved unanimously.

While some board members were trying to delay a vote on the bathroom issue, Collins then made a motion to use the courthouse bathrooms in accordance to Judge Coward’s request to place an officer at the door and to pay the county $150. The motion passed 4-to-2 with Culpepper and Councilmember Brandon McMahan opposing. 

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