Concerned Citizens Feature Prominently at Dade County Commission Meeting

Concerned citizen Ron Weeks tells the county commissioners they get along a little too well. “I’d like to see some discussion and some disagreement,” he said. Also visible are Commissioners Robert Goff (left) and Allan Bradford.

Besides hearing about the Trenton Golf Club’s desire to sell beer and wine (see previous article), the Dade County Commission took care of a good deal of usual business at its Dec. 7 meeting—and heard from an unusual number of constituents who stood up to have their say during the citizens’ participation part of the meeting.

The commission granted $29,000 in SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) funds for a new fire truck for the West Brown Volunteer Fire Department. A discussion of new playground equipment for the county Four Fields athletic complex—a subject which arose at last month’s commission meeting—went no further than the talk stage, however. Dade County Executive Chairman Rumley said a third of the planned updated lighting for the park had been installed. As for the play equipment itself, County Clerk Don Townsend pointed out that the commission had gotten a bid from a vendor for it long ago. “They’ve held the price for us for two years,” he said, adding that the price would change at the end of the month. But no suggestion was made of buying while the deal was hot. “We’re trying to do it in phases,” said Rumley.

Public Defender David Dunn (right, with County Attorney Robin Rogers and the back of Commissioner Robert Goff's head) appeared as he does each year to ask the commission to renew its contract with his office for indigent defense. The Public Defender’s office defends cases in the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit—Dade, Walker, Catoosa and Chattooga—for a combined budget Dunn said was about $1.6 million for the coming year. He said Dade’s share of that would be around $100,000. Chairman Rumley said Dunn saved the county money and did a good job of living within his budget.

Dunn reported all was going well in the Defender’s office, though: “I wish I had as many lawyers as the DA.” He said his major headache recently had been scheduling gaffes in the courts owing to recent friction—well reported in the regional press—among the circuit’s warring judges. “We’re feeling a lot of the backwash of that,” he said. The commission agreed to renew its contract with Dunn’s office.

Similarly, the county renewed its contract with Tony Moreland’s Georgia Probation Services for post-parole follow-up of arrestees, specifying that the contract would now be a year-to-year as opposed to five-year commitment. The company serves Dade’s superior, probate and magistrate courts.

Former County Commissioner Lamar Lowery (left, in a file shot) was reappointed to the Board of Tax Assessors for a three-year term. Emergency Services Director (and Trenton Mayor) Alex Case was appointed for another two years on Region One Emergency Medical Services Council, Billy Pullen for four more years on the Water Board and Peter Cervelli for one year on the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission.

The commission approved a budget amendment that Townsend explained was necessary to register reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for funds spent during a past natural disaster. Dade is still paying and pushing paper related to the tornadoes of 2011 and the floods of 2015. District 3 Commissioner Robert Goff emphasized, as he does often when this issue arises, that the amendment is paperwork only and does not signify that the commission spent more than it ought to have. “This is money that has to go through our books,” he said.

Another on-paper-only matter was the second reading and adoption of a soil conservation policy change that County Attorney Robin Rogers explained, as he did at the first reading last month, was required to bring the county’s policy in line with the state’s.

As he did last month, Clerk Townsend brought up, and tabled again, the matter of a joint city-county historic preservation committee. “We’re still in the draft process,” said Townsend. “We don’t want to rush this.”

The commission approved a resolution to designate two Ford Crown Victorias used by the sheriff’s office as surplus and send them for auction to

In his monthly address to the public, District 1’s Mitchell Smith mentioned last week’s information meeting by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) on its plan to raise the Dugan Loop road over I-59. District 2’s Scottie Pittman was away on day-job business, and District 3’s Robert Goff said as he often does that SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) collections were down again for November. He reminded all that the Georgia Legislature would reconvene in January and said he would be keeping his eye on it.

District 4’s Allen Bradford thanked GDOT for clearing Highway 136 up promptly after an accident the week before, “which is very rare.” He noted that with Christmas on the 25th, the veterans’ representative who usually visits Dade on that date would come on the 20th instead. And in his monthly State of the Dump address, Bradford reported that 464 tons of garbage had been processed in November at the county transfer station. “You wonder where all this garbage comes from,” reflected the commissioner.

Chairman Rumley in his own report also touched on GDOT’s bridge-raising plan: All the I-59 bridges south of Dugan Loop will shortly be raised except Trenton’s, said the county boss, some as little as four inches, some as many as a foot. “Some have marks on them already where trucks have touched them,” said Rumley.

The Boss mentioned CHI Memorial’s recent purchase of Cornerstone Medical Center, the old Hutcheson, long designated as Dade’s indigent care provider. “It’s definitely a plus for Catoosa and Walker,” he said. Rumley also expressed hope that the county’s age-old struggles with Georgia’s Safe Dams officials over what must be done about the dam on Lookout Lake would be settled soon. Lowering water levels there would save up to $400,000, he said, but he acknowledged the matter has been pending 13 or 14 years. There’s no point discussing draining the lake, said Rumley; it doesn’t belong to the county and anyway environmental authorities won’t hear of it. “They won’t even talk to us about it,” he said.

Rumley said he and Commissioner Goff had met with an attorney for Georgia’s on-again-off-again “Water Wars” to gain rights on the Tennessee River, an effort he said was reviving, and which if it came to fruition would bring prosperity to Dade as the county in the right corner of the state at the right time. Atlanta will have to do something about the matter sooner later, he said. “They’re going to wake up one day with no water,” the Boss prognosticated grimly.

Both Rumley and Peter Cervelli, executive director of the county Industrial Development Authority (IDA), who attended the Dec. 7 meeting to give the commission one of his periodic updates, spoke of a big mystery manufacturer potentially interested in building a plant in north Dade. Rumley said sewage capacity would probably be a deal breaker. Cervelli said he wouldn’t have divulged that much, but said, “There are people interested in Dade County,” and left it at that.

Also on the ec-dev front, Rumley expressed what sounded like doubts about the work of NextSite 360, a marketing firm IDA had hired to bring retail business to Dade. “They said we need more food chains here,” he said, referring to a presentation last month by the company.

County Boss Rumley listens to NextSite 360's Andy Camp at a Nov. 14 presentation at Southern Lineman's Training Center.

“They didn’t do as good a job as I would have liked in telling the story,” said Cervelli in his turn. He said the company representative, Andy Camp, would be back to make another stab soon. As far as bringing new retailers to the county, he said the company advised patience. “They made it clear that these things take a long time to happen,” said Cervelli.

Cervelli reported to the commission, as he had at a recent IDA meeting, IDA’s triumph in whittling down its bill to Norfolk Southern for the railway crossing at Vanguard Road to $100,000 from several times that, this time adding the interesting detail that it was state Sen. Jeff Mullis who had negotiated the reduction. “The railroad had a deal with the senator,” said Cervelli. “I don’t know what it was. It’s not my business.”

Now, as to appearances:

Marshana Sharp, manager of the Dade Public Library, spoke about the new small recording studio the library is building for public use. “If you need it, you know it’s there,” she said. The studio should be ready by the first of the year, she said.

Concerned citizen John Huffman (left, with Commissioner Bradford) then stood up to urge the commissioners to make themselves available on social media, including The Village Idiot (editor's note: a local Facebook page on which local government is routinely flayed, flagellated and fricasseed). Many people don’t read newspapers or watch television for news anymore, Huffman argued, but rely on Facebook and other social media to keep them informed. “Shannon Whitfield of Walker County was quick to embrace this,” said Hoffman.

Whitfield, sole commissioner of neighboring Walker County, went live on Facebook before the November referendum on TSPLOST (transportation local option sales tax), a measure that would have financed transportation projects like roads and sidewalks by imposing an extra penny in sales tax. Though Whitfield was already raising property taxes in Walker by astronomical rates—50 to 70 percent in some cases—voters in Walker voted themselves the extra TSPLOST penny after Whitfield took his case to them directly on FB.

In Dade, Rumley and Goff spoke in favor of TSPLOST at commission meetings and left it at that. And in Dade, TSPLOST was defeated soundly at the polls.

Citizen Ron Weeks (pictured at the beginning of this article), manager of the Food Outlet grocery store, came next, to tell the commissioners: “I just want to ask you to focus on needs not wants.” Specifically, Weeks questioned the commission’s decision to spend county money on a lake.

The commission’s ambitious decision to build a dam, lake and reservoir on Lookout Creek seemed to have sprung fully formed from the commissioners’ collective brow in June, when they voted unanimously, and with a marked lack of discussion, to approve $50,000 in SPLOST funds to option acreage for the project. Weeks also questioned that unanimity. “I want to see some debate,” he said. “I’d like to see some discussion and some disagreement.”

County boss Rumley invited Weeks to examine the commission’s spending record. “We’ve very conservative with money,” he said, and added Dade had one of the lowest millage rates in the region. He invited Huffman to come back for every meeting, and said the commission would probably sign up for a Facebook page—“Whatever it takes,” said the Boss. But he rather noticeably offered neither defense of nor explanation for the lake project.

Finally, Summer Kelley (right), writer for the other online newspaper in town, changed hats from press to public and stood up to ask the commissioners if they could do anything about irresponsible shooting in her Sand Mountain neighborhood. She was keeping her children inside after a bullet hit the tree one of them had been standing next to. Another bullet had ricocheted off the family home, she said.

Rumley promised to meet with Dade Sheriff Ray Cross about the matter but said this was the first he’d heard of Ms. Kelley’s problem. “You’re the first one in the county that’s complained about this for years,” he said.

The Dade County Commission meets at 6 p.m. the first Thursday of each month in the county Administrative Building. The public is welcome and encouraged to attend—and to participate in—county meetings.

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