Chairman polices dispute; highlights county governance issue

The Blount County Commission approved by split vote a budget amendment dividing costs for the recently-finished county road 42 bridge evenly between the two districts involved in its replacement, ending a lengthy and messy public dispute between the two commissioners involved in the project: District 2 Commissioner Carthal Self and District 3 Commissioner Dean Calvert.

Cost reconciliation was affected by reducing the District 2 budget by $66,990.53 and adding the same amount to the District 3 budget, since much of the cost had been originally absorbed by District 3 for the bridge spanning Whippoorwill Creek, the dividing line between the two districts. Both Districts will bear $116,182.17 of the cost as a result.

Calvert and District 4 Commissioner Gary Stricklin voted in favor of the amendment; Self and District 1 Commissioner Allen Armstrong voted against it. Commission Chairman Chris Green voted yes, breaking the tie and carrying the motion.

Calvert and Self, had argued – publicly and privately – for well over a month over the cost split, exhorted repeatedly by the chairman to reach an amicable agreement; when they failed to do so, he instructed the county administrator to divide the cost in half, based on commission staff records on exact expenses incurred for the bridge project and to charge each district the same amount.

Green commented on the repeated and occasionally obstreperous exchanges between commissioners in public meetings: “These kinds of issues would not be issues if the county transitions to the unit system, because the good of the whole county is the focus, not the interests of individual districts.” Other significant actions

The commission voted 3-1 Monday to proceed with a shared cost arrangement with Blount County 911 to hire a geographic information system (GIS) mapper within that organization who would provide mapping services both to 911 and to county departments needing them. District 1 Commissioner Allen Armstrong cast the lone no vote, apparently because of a problem he broached in last week’s work session unrelated to the hiring of a mapper. The problem had to do with reception difficulties with the county radio communications transmission system managed by 911.

The commission also adopted a resolution to assume responsibility for maintenance of existing public roads within the municipality of County Line, with the exception of roads in the Green Acres Subdivision, Industrial Center Road, and Commercial Drive. The county stipulated it is not accepting ownership or liability for the roads. In exchange, the town will remit monthly to the county all gasoline tax and other revenue designated for road maintenance received from the state of Alabama.

In a third significant action, the commission approved a 25-year lease with the Alabama Department of Forestry for a 3- acre tract of land owned by the department and adjoining Palisades Park. The tract includes a small area at the park’s entrance, and also includes a forestry tower that the commission is renovating as an additional park attraction. Other development is also contemplated. The lease, under negotiation for some time, still must be approved by the Department of Forestry. In routine actions, the commission:

adopted the Personnel Policies and Procedures Manual recently revised under the auspices of the Auburn Center for Government Services, and approved the estimated expense of $8,200 from the 2014 budget.

• authorized the human resources manager to notify co-workers of the need for donated leave time for employees on catastrophic leave (without apppearing before the commission to request approval) such that catastrophic leave and family medical leave run concurrently; also authorized amending the catastrophic leave policy, as needed.

• adopted a resolution declaring Feb. 20- 22 severe Weather Preparedness Tax Holiday for home improvement items purchased relating to severe weather preparedness.

• postponed awarding bid for Moss Bridge replacement project in District 4 in order to discuss bid submitted by Con-Tek Engineering; bid of $210,124 was 25 percent above the anticipated amount and requires discussion of commission.

• authorized chairman to execute contract with Alabama Department of Youth Services for bed in Anniston long-term detention facility; cost is paid by Youth Services on behalf of the county.

• approved District 2 loan payoff and budget amendment in the amount of $25,585 to reimburse the District 2 budget for the amount in excess of current year payment.

• approved establishing a housekeeping department within the general fund; the measure simply consolidates housekeeping budget and activities now housed in separate buildings within a single entity; no increase in cost applies, just consolidation of budget and management.

• authorized the commission chairman and/or the county administrator to close the courthouse when deemed necessary during inclement weather; procedure replaces practice of consultation among the several commissioners and department heads for decision, which can lead to untimely delays in making a decision needed for public safety.

• approved re-establishing $1000 per month retainer for county attorneys.

• authorized commission chairman to approve expenditures for contracted expenses related to the April 28, 2014, tornadoes as FEMA and state EMA funds are received.

• approved fiscal year 2015 participation agreement with Association of County Commissions of Alabama in county selfinsurers fund.

• passed a motion to congratulate EMA director Don Roybal for achieving Certified Local Emergency Manager status according to state standards; confers eligibility on county to access certain state and federal grant funds.

• adopted a proclamation naming Nov. 21-27 as Alabama Farm-City Week. Engineering items

At the recommendation of county engineer Winston Sitton, the commission approved:

• the final plat for Old Stouts Road Subdivision in District 1.

• speed limit of 15 mph for Cataba Road in District 1.

• speed limit of 15 mph for Hackney Road in District 2.

• speed limit of 15 mph for New Lebanon Cemetery Road in District 2.

• speed limit of 20 mph for Highland Dam Road in District 3.

The commission went into executive session briefly at the request of county attorney Jeff Sherrer to discuss pending litigation. The commission took no action on its return. Quorum

All commissioners and the commission chairman were present at the business meeting. Armstrong excused himself before the executive session to attend a previous engagement.