Bull Moose employees Joey Casey (gesturing) and Eddie Pittman thank the Dade County Commission for their help during the company's current lockout of its unionized workers. "The company is the one who put us on the streets," said Casey. Visible commissioners are Robert Goff (left) and Allan Bradford.
Last Thursday’s September meeting of the Dade County Commission was unusually
aquatic: Besides the information update-slash-Q&A session about a proposed Dade reservoir on Lookout Creek (go directly to The Planet’s earlier article on that by clicking Flipper), commissioners also heard a plan to restructure the board of directors of the Dade Water and Sewer Authority, or so-called water board.
District 1 Commissioner Mitchell Smith, who is leaving the commission after this year (not having sought reelection), presented the commission a written proposal suggesting the current water board be expanded to include a representative from “any city within Dade County,” in effect Trenton. Trenton does not currently have representation on the board, it emerged during subsequent discussion. But the big change Smith was advocating was ousting Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley, who as matters stand also chairs the water board.
Smith (left) suggested the chairmanship be rotated each year among the water board members. “If a board member did not wish to serve their term as chairperson, the appropriate commission, city or county, would remove said from office and appoint a new member to the board,” read his document.
So it’s lead or leave for the members, and for the current leader, get lost! proposes Smith. Those ineligible to serve, he suggests, would include county or city elected officials or employees, Dade Water Authority employees, and parents, spouses, siblings or children of any of the above—a caveat which, if applied to county government at large, would pretty much clear out the Administrative and Justice buildings. (Dade is a small, isolated county in which everybody is related to everybody else to the point it’s unwise to propose marriage or spread mean gossip without extensive genealogical research.)
“What brought this up?” asked District 2 Commissioner Scottie Pittman, who is also leaving the commission this year (having sought but not won reelection). “Is there a problem with the board as it is?”
“I sort of feel there’s a conflict of interest with the county executive sitting on the board and sitting here,” said Smith.
The county executive in question expressed no sorrow at the prospect of giving up his seat on the water board. “I might even get to take a vacation,” said Chairman Rumley (right). “There’s a lot more to it than people realize.”
Why stop at those changes? opined Pittman. Why not make water board members elected rather than appointed?
“Any changes would have to be through local legislation,” said County Attorney Robin Rogers.
Since he was leaving the commission, said Pittman (left), he’d rather let the matter wait until his successor, Phillip Hartline, took over. The change wasn’t something that could happen this year anyway, the commissioners agreed, and left the matter at that.
But The Planet must add for historical context that Rumley was put at the head of the water board as part of a previous massive shakeup of that body seven or eight years ago. After the housing market collapse of 2008-09, when developers began going belly-up, Dade discovered to its astonishment that its little local nonprofit water company now owned and operated a sewer plant at failed luxury golf development Tauqueta Falls, only a small portion of which was located in Dade County, as the result of a deal the water board had made with the now-bankrupt developer.
Dade also discovered that water board members were paid four times as much as civic-minded citizens who sat on similar boards, even the board of tax assessors, which requires math skills and the ability to remain awake through infinite columns of numbers and recitations of tax code. Also around the same time, a Dade firefighter made at a commission meeting the dramatic revelation that only a fraction of the county’s fire hydrants would actually dispense water in the event they were required to put out a fire. One way or the other, there was a feeling back then among the Dade commissioners that the water board might benefit from more county oversight.
In other business...
Also on the subject of firefighting, the commission this month granted Chris Lowrance (right) the $8998 in SPLOST (special purpose local options sales tax) funds he had requested at the August meeting for reconditioned air packs for the North Dade Volunteer Fire Department. Equipment for fire departments is a permissible and time-honored use for SPLOST money, which may only be spent for capital expenditures as outlined by the state. But last month the county attorney, Robin Rogers, had worried that since what the county is paying for in this case is the refurbishing, the expenditure would not be considered so much a purchase as a repair, which is not a kosher use for SPLOST under the rules.
Solution: The fire department gives the company the old air packs, and then: “They will sell back to us as refurbished air packs,” explained Lowrance. Thus the rules were honored, the fire department got its gear and the county saved over $70,000—Lowrance said new packs would have cost $80,472.
The commission also gave County Clerk Don Townsend’s permission to post requests for bids for a new HVAC unit for the park concession stand, a new roof for the jail and emergency warning sirens already approved by the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. Townsend explained bids were required for items and services over $10,000 but: “If we don’t know how much it’s going to be, then to be safe, we have to put it out there.” Bids are listed on the county website—here’s a link: http://www.dadecounty-ga.gov/221/Bid-Opportunities
The commission renewed as it does every year its Georgia Department of Transportation grant agreement for public transportation and contract with Transit Alliance Group, the contracting agency that administers the program. Dade gets a $151,027 grant from the federal government to run the transportation program plus a smaller one of $49,338 for supplemental services to the elderly.
Dade Transit director Annette Cash (left) briefly addressed the commission and the audience, describing how drivers begin picking up passengers in all four corners of the county before dawn, make trips within the county, and get patients to and from medical facilities in Chattanooga before rush-hour traffic sets in. “We’ve really got it down to a science so that they can get home,” she said.
She explained that public transit in the county was initially just for the elderly—the program is still housed at the senior center—but that it is now open to Dade residents of all ages. “We’d like to grow and have a second shift,” she said. For more information on the transit program, click Ms. Cash’s photo to go to The Planet’s 2017 feature article. Call to schedule a ride at (706) 657-8277.
Lynne Reeves spoke on behalf of the Area Agency on Aging, which administers nutrition programs at the senior center. She said in the past year the agency had served 8450 meals at the center and delivered 11,619 to seniors’ home. But she also distributed consumer guides for the elderly—they can be had at the commission office—and described anti-elder abuse programs among other services her agency offers. “Anything that an aging person may need, we’re there for them,” she said. Readers may call Ms. Reeves at (706) 295-6485, and Chairman Rumley invited her back to speak at future commission meetings.
Another yearly agreement the commission approved at the Sept. 6 meeting was with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the county’s soil conservationist. The feds pick up half of that employee’s salary.
In other routine business, the commission at Clerk Townsend’s explanation voted in two resolutions concerning 9-1-1 charges on prepaid wireless and landline and wireless services. “We already have all these on our books,” said Townsend. “There is no new fee.” The legality stemmed from a name change by the agency that collects the fees, he explained. The commission also okayed what Townsend described as the “second and hopefully final” amendment to last year’s county budget, explaining that there is no way to predict what the courts will collect in fees in a year and that therefore it was necessary to correct the figures retroactively.
One agenda item, the replacement of a bridge on Newsome Gap Road by the Georgia Department of Transportation, county boss Rumley presented as an information item only. No date has yet been set for the replacement, said Rumley, but GDOT had agreed to cover most of the bill with the county kicking in a smaller percentage. “It’ll come out of SPLOST if and when it happens,” he said of the county’s share.
The commission received from the Alcoholic Beverage Control, or so-called “beer board,” a proposed amendment to the county’s liquor ordinance, that would deny the right to sell beer and wine to stores that sell drug paraphernalia including pipes, bongs, digital and postal scales, roach clips and cocaine spoons. The proposal was tabled while the county attorney has a look at it, and Clerk Townsend said if the ordinance is in fact amended he presumes it will have to be introduced at next month’s meeting and then undergo a second reading before it becomes law.
In his monthly report to the public and the commission during the business part of the meeting, District 1’s Mitchell Smith explained that a notice in Wildwood about an “alternate safe room site” referred to its designation as a prospective location for an emergency shelter. It had earlier been hoped that one of the federally-subsidized tornado shelters Dade is awaiting hopefully could be sited there, but funds were not available for all the shelters Dade wanted and the north Dade site was passed over. “Alternate” means it could still get a shelter if funds do materialize, said Smith.
Boss Rumley interjected that the storm shelters are required to be on government property of some kind and this has presented a problem in applying for a shelter for Lookout Mountain, which notably lacks same.
District 2’s Scottie Pittman, reporting on the Four Fields athletic complex, said picnic tables should soon be going into the new picnic pavilions there. The delay has been because the treated wood of the pavilions needed a certain period to dry, he said. He also said the new lighting should be going in soon, and in fact the county closed the park Monday while the work was done.
District 3’s Robert Goff crowed that SPLOST collections were up past $200,000 for the third time in a row in August, a trend that hasn’t happened since April of 2012. Also in charge of monitoring the Georgia Legislature for the county, Goff warned of a push by the trucking industry to legalize bigger trucks, raising the weight limit from 80- to 93,000 pounds, which he said could play hell with the county’s road budget. “Our roads barely stand up to 80,000 pounds,” he said. Making the trucks longer would also have implications with the county’s industrial park, he said.
Finally, he said county drivers should prepare themselves for the Oktoberfest Chattanooga Challenge bicycle event that is slated to roll through Dade and Walker on Oct. 13. (For those worried about prospective “BUI” accidents, The Planet looked it up and the beer part comes after the bike part of this Oktoberfest event.)
The big news Allan Bradford of District 4 had at the Sept. 6 meeting is that he was hard at work on Dade’s coming “tire amnesty day” at the transfer station, though he had not yet set a date. He was, however, solidifying the rules: Though the transfer station will accept tires free of charge that day, a maximum of 20 tires per household will be accepted and only from those who can prove Dade residency. Hours will from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. only, tires must be off the rim, and they must be cleaned out—no mud, rocks, et cetera, said Bradford. No tractor-trailer tires will be accepted and none over 20 inches.
Bradford said all the rules are necessary. “The last time we had a tire amnesty day, it just got out of hand,” he said: People were showing up with 60 or 70 tires, backing up the line so other residents couldn’t get in. Bottom line, he said, is: “Don’t come down with more than 20, and make sure you have the right ID.”
In his own report, besides the reservoir update, boss Rumley warned that absentee landowners were clearing 700 acres of timber on Lookout Mountain on the south side of Highway 136 East. He expected it to impact the view of the mountain dramatically from the south part of the county but could only hope the owners replanted. “There’s not a lot we can do about it as a government,” he said.
Marshana Sharp, manager of the Dade County Library, reported that the library still had a few spaces open in its intermediate American Sign Language class through the beginner’s class is full—call (706) 657-7857 if interested. Crazy 8s Math Club starts Sept. 25 and 27 after school, Tuesdays for grades K-2, Thursdays for grades 3-5. The library will host Have Coffee With a Cop Day Oct. 3 from 10-11:30 a.m. and Have Cookies With a Cop after school the same day. And she said the library had received an anonymous $1000 donation for its children’s department.
Dade 4-H Educator Allison Henderson introduced Wade Hutcheson, the UGA Extension Agent Coordinator for the region, who will be visiting Dade once a week or so in the absence of an extension agent of the county’s own. (Dade’s former agent, Katie Hammond, was promoted up and away at the end of last school year.) The two said with any luck a new extension agent should start here Jan. 1. Meanwhile, 4-H forges on regardless and Ms. Henderson reminded all that Ag Day, Dade’s big agricultural fair, is Thursday, Sept. 20, from 5-7 p.m. in and outside the Ag Building, which is in front of Dade Middle School.
Cheryl Allison spoke for the Dade Chamber of Commerce, announcing that Dade’s annual Small Business Expo, the local-business early-shopping-all-day extravaganza spearheaded by Nathan Wooten, will be Dec. 8 at Dade High. William Back spoke for the Industrial Development Authority (IDA), and Ted Rumley interjected that Leonard Nixon had died. Nixon is the Dave L. Brown heir whose Wildwood Farms acreage IDA and the Dade Water Authority agreed to extend sewage service to in order to attract industry. Audrey Clark (left) reported for the Trenton/Dade Joint Historic Preservation Committee that the group will send delegates to a state conference on preservation. “From what we understand so far, there is grant money we had no idea about,” she said. The committee is working to restore the old Dade County Courthouse.
In citizens’ participation, Bull Moose employees and United Steelworkers union members Joey Casey and Eddie Pittman (photo at beginning of article) stood up to thank the commission for its help during the company’s current lockout, and to bring their plight to the public’s attention. They stressed that union workers were not on strike but that St. Louis, Mo.-based Bull Moose management had locked them out of their jobs after ending negotiations unilaterally. “The company is the one who put us on the streets,” said Casey. Eddie Pittman, brother of Scottie (what did The Planet tell you about the kinship thing?), dispelled notions that Bull Moose workers were making the big bucks. He said $16 an hour is the norm at the Dade plant, with one coworker’s recent take-home $390 for a 40-hour week. But he said the company is keeping operations going by filling orders at other plants where workers’ pay is much higher. “This is unusual,” he said.
If you’d like to read more about the lockout, click on the photo from The Planet's earlier article on it at right.
The Dade County Commission meets at 6 p.m. the first Thursday of each month in the county Administrative Building. The next meeting is Oct. 4.