CUMMING, Ga. — Mayor H. Ford Gravitt closed the books on his leadership over the city of Cumming at his final City Council meeting Dec. 19.
Gravitt has held the position of mayor since 1971 and served four years prior to that on the City Council. All told, he has 50 years of public service.
In November, he lost his seat to local businessman Troy Brumbalow.
At his final meeting with the gavel, Gravitt took time to thank his supporters over the years. Since he joined the council, there have been 612 meetings and he said he hasn’t missed any.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the voters and citizens of Cumming,” Gravitt said. “We’ve worked very hard for the city. It’s been a privilege and honor to serve the citizens and state of Georgia. I’m lucky to have served this long.”
But before he officially signed off as mayor, Gravitt wanted to clear the air on a few issues from the last few years of his tenure.
“When you’re in office you get tied to a lot of allegations,” Gravitt said.
Since the council’s November meeting, Gravitt said there had been a lot of hoopla regarding the Cumming Fairgrounds and Cumming Fair Authority.
At that meeting, the City Council voted to transfer all income from the 2017 Cumming Country Fair & Festival – a little over $1 million – to the Fair Authority which operates the Fairgrounds.
Some have alleged the city gets no revenue from the fair and has no say in how it is operated. Instead, the Authority, partly made up of current and former city officials, gave themselves control of the Fairgrounds.
“This board has worked tirelessly over that time,” he said. “The members can be replaced. That’s up to the new administration. They can do away with the board and fair if they want to. We think the fair has been a great economic engine for Cumming and Forsyth County. It’s not an easy job.”
Last year, a little over 200,000 people visited the fair.
He suggested the board start working to secure sponsorships with for the fair by tapping into the local business community.
The outgoing mayor also addressed the Habersham sewer issue which has created a stir among some residents. The privately owned wastewater treatment plant that sits on about 10 acres has been run for the past 30 years by a homeowners group known as the Habersham Action Committee.
A fire last spring spurred the City Council to condemn the plant and build a new facility to service the neighborhood.
But recently, the City Council rescinded that condemnation after learning the property is not optimal to build a future wastewater treatment plant.
Additionally, after the fire the city moved customers to its own sewer system. That caused a ruckus when residents were sent a letter in May stating that they would be billed $6,250 per household for the connection.
“Everybody’s got to pay a sewer tap,” Gravitt said. “That money that’s taken in is put in reserves for the expansion. We thought about not charging, but if you don’t charge the fees like you charge everybody else, they’d feel left out because they have to pay and sue the city.”
Finally, the mayor addressed allegations that his girlfriend, Angie Mullinax, had been receiving health insurance illegally through the city.
That issue came to a head in 2014 when the City Council launched impeachment proceedings against the councilman, a move that eventually led to action against a former councilman after he was accused of releasing a document online disclosing personal financial and health insurance information for city employees, specifically Mullinax.
The document raised questions as to why Mullinax was listed as receiving health insurance paid for by the city, and whether she qualified as a city employee.
The FBI eventually investigated, and Gravitt said that turned out in Mullinax’s favor.
“Angie Mullinax was a city employee,” he said. “She was nonpaid and paid by insurance. It’s a good thing she kept good records when it was being investigated because everything was in order. Nothing was illegal or going on.”