October Commission Meeting Pepped Up By Public Participation

Monthly meetings of the Dade County Commission are usually poorly attended by the public. The commission’s October meeting went a step further and was poorly attended by the commissioners as well. The two who may feel they are only keeping their seats warm for others now, Mitchell Smith of District 1, who did not seek reelection this year, and Scottie Pittman of District 2, who lost his bid for it, let their chairs cool prematurely this month. But three’s a quorum if not a crowd and business proceeded as usual.

First of all, the commission approved SPLOST (special project local option sales tax) funds of $136,300 for a new roof on the Dade Justice Building, which houses the jail. “This is something that’s been needed for several years,” said Dade County Executive Director Ted Rumley. “When it rains, I don’t know how many buckets they’ve got over there.”​

​SPLOST in the amount of $81,998 was also approved for the installation of two long-awaited outdoor emergency weather warning systems such as the one currently towering over the county government buildings in downtown Trenton (left). The new ones will be installed in the Davis community on Sand Mountain and at the Four Fields county athletic complex south of Trenton on Highway 11. Mostly paid for by a federal grant via the Georgia Emergency Management agency (GEMA), the towers (locally known as sireens) emit emergency warning sounds and also voice announcements that can be heard over a one-mile radius. They can receive and transmit tornado warnings directly from the National Weather Service.

And finally, the commissioners okayed $16,000 for new (to Dade) playground equipment for the Four Fields. Rumley stressed that more would come later, but that Dade had elected to snap up these four pieces because: “We came upon a really good deal.” The county had an opportunity to buy some of what Rumley called the Cadillac of playground equipment, gently used, from a playground that had gotten a grant for all-new gear.

​​The commission has long heard appeals from parents who yearn for better play equipment for their young children at the county Four Fields park. The city of Trenton upgraded its Jenkins Park playground (right) two years ago, delighting children and parents but providing the county playground a model for unfortunate comparisons. Safe, modern new equipment is enormously expensive and the county had hesitated to part with such sums until it came upon this bargain.

“It looked good and we need it,” concluded District 3 Commissioner Robert Goff.

Speaking of SPLOST funds, in the regular business part of the meeting, Goff announced that collections of the tax, which had been sagging for the past several years, had been up for September for yet another month. “We don’t know what’s driving it but it seems to be a trend,” he said. September SPLOST revenues were $234,133, which Goff said was better than any month for the past nine years.

District 4’s Allan Bradford reported for District 2’s Scottie Pittman, who usually reports for the Four Fields, that the new LED lighting system at the ball fields there was up and running at last. Also, he said, one of the pavilions there had been provided with picnic tables. When the new video surveillance camera system at the park is complete, and the pavilions thus protected from vandalism, he and the other commissioners explained, the other three new pavilions will also be equipped with tables.

Bradford also reported on the upcoming tire amnesty day at the transfer station, when residents can bring in trash tires without paying a fee, as he did last month, but he still did not have a date to announce. He repeated as he did in September the rules: that only 20 tires per person will be allowed; that they must be clean; that they must be standard as opposed to big-truck size; that only Dade residents may bring tires; and that they must be there between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. on whatever date is eventually chosen. The Planet reiterates these strictures here and will do so when a date is announced.

Executive Chairman Rumley in his own report said that road workers would be in the county this week putting down markers and it might take them three days. “Just bear with them,” said the county boss. Engineers will also shortly be wandering about the county roadways evaluating Dade’s smaller bridges, he said.

Rumley said he’d met with the Southeastern Cave Conservancy. “After the first of the year, they’re going to actually wind up in charge of or owning possibly the biggest part of the Preserve at Rising Fawn,” he said. “That’s a good thing,” he said, because over 2000 acres there will now be available for recreational purposes through SCCI, but protected for future generations.

The Preserve at Rising Fawn is a scenic area in Johnson’s Crook in Rising Fawn that was not that long ago the site of a massive land fraud scheme that ended in a federal trial and a chain of foreclosures. SCCI and the Georgia-Alabama acquired much of the land though some homes and lots were bought by individuals, a few of whom live there.

Rumley juxtaposed the protection the Rising Fawn acreage enjoys with current grand-scale logging on the side of Lookout Mountain. “In all of my life I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. He said about 1000 acres were being logged on Lookout and “they’re cutting everything.” He said the county as well as environmental regulators were watching closely but “they’re right by the book as far as harvesting the timber.” He said the county would encourage the private landowners to replant the logged acres. “We can’t force them to do it,” he said. He said he’d been getting a lot of calls about the logging, and would report at every meeting on it.

Rumley also said he’d been getting concerned calls about a rock plant that had opened in the Cole City area of the county. He said the business was taking rocks from the stream, caging some of them for sale and crushing others. “It’s not a small operation,” he said. He said that the company had been duly permitted by the state and federal environmental authorities but that the county was, again, watching closely. “We’re doing everything we can do by law to protect our road,” assured Rumley.

On the subject of a reservoir that the commission proposes to build on Lookout Creek off Sells Lane, Rumley said two private donors had emerged who may help foot the bill for the land.

In June 2017, the county commission paid $50,000 to option 60-odd acres from landowner Jack Sells toward his asking price of $500,000. This year, Rumley extended the one-year option with a $25,000 grant he’d obtained. But no other grant money has so far emerged and the extended option expires this December.

Meanwhile, the Dade Water Authority—Rumley had originally introduced the reservoir as a joint project of the county commission, the city of Trenton and the water company—secured a $450,000 loan from GEFA, the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority, a financial organization that helps water companies build big infrastructure projects such as the reservoir. The water company’s board of directors, or so called “water board,” agreed when it got the loan to use the money, or whatever part of it was needed, to make up the price of the land for which grant money could not be found.

But the water board specified when it got the loan it would require another vote before parting with any of the proceeds, and that has not so far come to pass. The water board did meet with Rumley and then with two other commissioners—Goff and Bradford, the ones who will retain their commission seats come January—at the water board’s September meeting, but it did so at two separate executive, or closed-to-the-public, sessions, and announced no votes when it resumed open proceedings.

Rumley has hinted in recent months that negotiations might be taking place to lower Sells’ price for the land. The Oct. 4 meeting was his first mention of private pockets to delve in for the money. Further questions after the meeting failed to extract much more information about the prospective Secret Santas, though. Rumley would part with no names but only said that two individuals from two different families had stepped up with the possibility of chipping in for the land, and that one of them had been heavily involved in supporting the community financially before.

County Executive Ted Rumley (left), and Commissioners Allan Bradford and Robert Goff pose with Coach Rhonda Bradford and her Davis School students. Front row kids, from left, Stryder Bradford, Haven McAdams, Lakelynn Bradford, Owen Accord, Charly Steele-Dixon; Back row, Paige Accord, Jake Harris and Carter Accord.

Coach Rhonda Bradford, a physical education teacher at Davis School, appeared at the Oct. 4 meeting with a delegation of her students to thank the commission for completing the walking track at Davis, a consummation that occurred this summer. They presented the commissioners a piece of artwork that included fingerprints from each Davis student.

Marshana Sharp, manager of the Dade Public Library, reminded all that that the library’s Crazy 8s after-school math club would be meeting another six weeks—parents may call to enroll their children at (706) 657-7857—and that the library’s big annual Trick or Treat event is Saturday, Oct. 27, 5:30-7:30 p.m. The theme this year is Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, and Ms. Sharp passed out bars of the brown stuff as a reminder.

​​(Photo: All's right with the world! Anyone whose equilibrium in the universe was shaken by library manager Marshana Sharp's recent uncharacteristic sporting of sensible footwear will be comforted to note that at the commission she had returned to her usual stiletto-heeled ways.)

Alison Henderson of Dade 4-H had glad tidings: Dade’s sorely-missed county extension agent, Katie Hammond, promoted this year to bigger and better, will be replaced on Jan. 1 by Sarah Flowers, who is currently finishing her master’s degree in Florida. Ms. Henderson has been running the popular farm-and-garden-based program agentless this year and has been a bit stretched. Like to help her? She needs to interview 15 Dade citizens about their opinions on solar energy in order to get the program some funding for a solar project. So please call Ms. Henderson and weigh in—the number is (706) 657-4116.

About this time, The Dade County High School homecoming parade careened in front of the Dade Administrative Building with motorcades, floats, a full marching band and frenzied fans lining the streets to scream encouragement. So enthralled was the Dade Planet, however, in chronicling the deeds of the county government for posterity that the parade failed to penetrate past that publication’s outer planetary rings.

Parade photo courtesy Alex McAlpin

​Providentially, the keener auditory faculties of youthful newsman Alex McAlpin did pick up emanations of the approaching photo opp and he rushed outside from videotaping the meeting, camera snapping in a businesslike fashion. So here’s a doting photo credit to the talented shutterbug and a big old Thanky Alex! for saving The Planet’s bacon one more time!

Maj. Tommy Bradford, the Dade County Sheriff's Office second-in-command who lost his leg in an Aug. 7 high-speed chase in which the suspect driver ran him down on Highway 11, was up and around and had come to Trenton with his lovely wife, Mary Ann, to watch the homecoming parade. He told The Planet he was getting around his house well enough these days--and keeping up his spirits, too--though acquisition of a prosthetic leg is still down the road some. Keep your chin up, Major Tommy!

Back to meeting business: Dr. James Cantrell has resigned from the Dade Board of Tax Assessors but, said Chairman Rumley, is in conversation with someone who may take his place by next meeting. Dennis Kelley was reappointed to the Northwest Georgia Region 1 EMS Advisory Council. There was a kind of shocker in IDA (Industrial Development Authority) appointments: Board member Sharon Moore has agreed to serve another term but longtime IDA chairman, workhorse and powerhouse Nathan Wooten has not. County boss Rumley said he has no idea who will take Wooten’s place.

Besides the distraction of the homecoming parade, the dull business of the meeting was also perked up at the end by citizen participation. The splashiest appearance was by local businessman Jay Patel, who owns several convenience stores throughout the county, is currently working toward opening a beer and wine store next to the Subway restauarant, and is simultaneously collecting signatures on a petition to get package sales of alcohol legalized in Trenton so that he can operate it as a real liquor store.

Patel had appeared this time to ask the commissioners to consider allowing Sunday alcohol sales in the county. Why lose the tax revenue for booze that is currently going to Alabama and Tennessee? he asked. He could open a liquor store in either other place, said Patel, but: “I’ve been living in this county for 14 years and I’d rather invest my money in the county.”

Next, frequent commission inquisitor John Huffman took another whack at the Oct. 4 meeting, asking this time about, among other subjects, the role of a communications director the commission has recently added to the county payroll. Chairman Rumley said the employee would shortly have on the county website all the information citizens might want to ask about. “Another two months, come back and you’ll see,” said Rumley.

And locked-out Bull Moose workers Eddie Pittman and Joey Casey, who appeared at the commission’s September meeting, came back this month to report: They were still locked out. Scheduled negotiations between their United Steelworkers union and Bull Moose’s St. Louis, Mo., management hadn’t materialized, they reported; the company was not talking to them but sticking to its announced policy of using the lockout to “apply financial pressure” to the workers. This bewildered them, said Pittman, because, “What we found was we were the lowest-paid facility Bull Moose operates in the country.”

So they were no close to being allowed to return to their jobs, reported the two, but: “It helps your morale to know people are supporting you,” said Pittman.

The Dade County Commission meets at 6 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month in the county Administrative Building. The next regular meeting is Nov. 1.

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