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County meeting erupts into shouting match

Chris Buchanan

Longstanding tensions flared when commissioners brought their personal feelings to the table on issues of private property work at a called meeting last Thursday.

Charlie Summerlin brought an item to the agenda regarding private property work and questioned the county manager, Carl Rowland, about use of county equipment to remove concrete from a private residence in recent weeks – an item that brought at least two residents to the meeting in protest of the practice.

Summerlin’s questioning inferred that the county manager illegally used the equipment and provided county dirt to the private land owner – something he said ended in a lengthy legal battle years before and was stopped.

However, before he could respond, commissioner Mike Edgy spoke in the county manager’s defense and said that the concrete – the foundation of a former chicken house – was provided to the county in exchange for the dirt needed to fill in the holes.  Edgy said that the action saved the county money and that this is what the county manager was charged with doing.  Edgy also said that the county did not fill the hole, but instead left dirt for the landowner to do it himself.

Summerlin said he felt it was against regulations set in place by the county regarding private property work and said that he was still against doing so.  He also said that Edgy and commissioner Skipper Harris had worked with the county manager to make the decision underhandedly. Edgy responded that the acquisition of the concrete was the decision of the county manager and that he had the right to do so.

But Edgy also added that Summerlin had recently asked the county manager to have work performed on a private road, foregoing the commission and overstepping the rights of the commission chairman.

Summerlin said the county manager had agreed to the roadwork however Rowland denied this.

In previous years, the county has walked a tight- rope regarding private work and has only allowed the work in rare cases, such as to repair damage done by county equipment in the process of regular work.

However, previous discussions may allow the county to take the work slightly further if strict guidelines are met.

The county’s current attorney, C. Deen Strickland, brought his expertise on the item to the table last year when a Saturday work program was first considered.  Years before, Strickland actually defended the item in the Georgia Supreme Court – and won.

But in order for the practice to be legal, several very strict rules must be met including a standing, first-come first-serve list of private road work and a means of allowing the land owner to pay for the work and the equipment use.

However, some residents said that this was still against the interests of the county.

Resident Raymond Smith was among them, saying that county labor costs would undercut and hurt local businesses that are in the market to perform the same work.  Smith said that in the downtrodden economy, this was unfair to local businesses.  Smith said lists could also be easily changed to the detriment of a resident if he or she angered the wrong county official, taking away from the fairness of the process.

Summerlin requested the the commission bring forth a motion limiting the use of county equipment to fill in water holes only and Mike Edgy did so, but said that he hoped no one would second.  The motion died for lack of a second.

After a considerable amount of heated discussion, county attorney Strickland broke in explaining that the item could be discussed in a more civil manner.

Commissioner James Spradley agreed adding that the afternoon’s events were going to reflect badly on the commission and that they should cease “fighting over the steering wheel” of the county and work together.

Meanwhile a jail refinancing plan will save the county almost $1 million after being approved at the meeting.

The commission voted unanimously to approve the new financing rate of 2.3 percent down from the previous 4.58 percent rate set in 2006.

The new rate will mean a savings of about $965,000 over a 12 year period.

With work between the county manager and representatives from Merchant Capital, LLC, the county was able to negotiate out of a lock-in rate with SunTrust and get the new rate.

Edgy clarified that despite some wording in existing documents the county was not issuing a bond and that there would be no general obligation indebtedness. If it were, it would require a ballot item and public advertisements and it would be illegal to enter into such an agreement without, he said.

Discussion of approving three items for work on the airport also came to light and were passed at the meeting but not without discussion of a letter from Summerlin to the Georgia Department of Transportation representative Charles Evans giving the go-ahead on other projects.  Among them was the acquisition of land for a runway protection zone which included land belonging to nearby landowner Raymond Smith.

Edgy said he was against taking Smith’s land for the amount he was being offered for it but so did Summerlin who said that his signing off on a letter giving the go-ahead was a mistake and Edgy had taken advantage of it to attack him.

However, Edgy responded that it should have been the county manager and not the chairman sending this e-mail.

The county approved the reimbursement for terminal plan update, phase one design of a fuel farm and design of a parallel taxiway for the purposes of showing intention to move forward and continue to receive grant money for the project.  Of the three projects totaling around $110,000, the local portion would be about $6,000 with the rest being picked up by state and federal money.

In other business, the county:

•  Approved transferring funds from the jail SPLOST to the general fund to be distributed to the cities as their portion of the special tax.

•  Tabled an item regarding the transfer of cable franchising for BCI James Cable

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