Not much was resolved at the regular November meeting of the Dade County Commission on Thursday. Most business was tabled until December. One of the deferred items was the proposed amendment to the county's liquor ordinance described in The Planet's previous article. Here is a brief roundup of other highlights of the Nov. 7 meeting.
County Attorney Robin Rogers reported that the citizens group, or subcommittee, the commission had appointed to shape the county's first venture into zoning had met three times and expected to meet once or twice more. He said it should have a recommendation for the commission at its December meeting. Parenthetically, the subcommittee's meeting for tonight, Nov. 12, has been cancelled because of concerns about the weather.
Rogers also reported he had been coordinating with the city of Trenton's out-of-town city attorney about an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) for the SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) up for renewal in next year's election, but would not have a final IGA to present until the December meeting.
In reference to the SPLOST, Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley said officials had been having weekly meetings about SPLOST and soon planned to have public meetings in order to gather input from the public about SPLOST projects. But he did not announce dates for any such meetings.
Last year, the commission announced it would have public meetings about TSPLOST, the proposed extra one-cent sales tax proposed to pay for transportation projects, but never got around to holding any. TSPLOST was defeated soundly in the May 2018 primary.
Speaking of public meetings, Nathan Wooten, who has announced his intention to challenge Rumley in the 2020 election for the county executive slot, will hold the latest in his series of public forums tonight at 6:30 p.m. in the New Salem Community Center. Wooten also appeared, for the first time since he announced his candidacy for Rumley's job, at the Nov. 7 commission meeting. Rumley invited him to speak. Wooten declined. One of the issues Wooten discusses in his forums and on his regular campaign Facebook releases is SPLOST projects and their management.
(Photo: Candidate Nathan Wooten (right) chats with a citizen at the Nov. 7 commission meeting.)
And speaking of SPLOST, Dade Fire Chief Rodney Ross appeared before the commission on behalf of all the county's volunteer fire departments to ask for SPLOST funds for special firefighters' cameras. He explained the specialized instruments are used to find hot spots in fire and for search and rescue. “It’s not a toy thing we’re asking for,” he said. But as well as the full-sized camera, he demonstrated another that was in fact toy-sized and fit on keychains for easy portability. The combined fire departments asked for $30,530 for 24 cameras. This was another piece of business that was tabled until next month.
Because there had been questions about the financial side of Ross's request, County Clerk Don Townsend during his financial reporter later went through the amount of SPLOST money allocated to the individual fire departments from the current SPLOST, which was approved in 2014. All the departments had comfortable balances remaining. The total for all left was $623,535. Dade's fire departments are staffed by unpaid volunteers, but their firetrucks and firefighting equipment are paid for by SPLOST.
Another item brought up by Chairman Rumley during his monthly report was that Dade had gotten the go-ahead to start on its long-awaited storm shelters. The county has yearned for them since the tornadoes of 2011 killed two residents, carried off any number of homes and decimated the south business end of Trenton. The federal and state emergency management agencies approved grant money for the shelters, but it has been slow in coming. Now, said the county boss, the money's there, though: “You probably won’t see any construction until spring.”
Rumley said only four shelters had been approved so far, for the north and south ends of the county, the senior center area where the Head Start building is and the Davis community. “That’s really good news for our county,” he said. Three more will eventually be built, said Rumley. Each shelter will seat 214 people and be equipped with restrooms, heating and air conditioning. “They’re not just little bunkers.” said Rumley. He added they could be used for public meetings.
But before The Planet gets started on public meetings again, here's another item that was added to the November agenda at the last minute so as not to miss an opportunity: Joining a lawsuit of local governments against pharmaceutical companies for damages incurred as a result of the nationwide opioid epidemic. Last month, the commissioners heard a pitch by Savannah law firm Tate Law, and this month they voted to accept it. Commissioner Goff said there was talk big settlements were coming out of the legal action and: “If we don’t get our name in and that money’s turned loose, Dade County won’t get any of that money.”
Robin Rogers presented the commissioners with an agreement to retain the Savannah law firm with no retainer fee. The firm will be compensated by a 25 percent of any settlement Dade gets from Big Pharma, which Rogers said was not a bad deal. “I would have expected a third,” he said.
Marshana Sharp, manager of the Dade County Public Library, announced that though the library's Halloween event had been well-attended despite relentless rains, its drive to restore a full complement of jack-o-lanterns around the old courthouse had been less successful. Only 12 pumpkins had arrived. Next year, she vowed.
Meanwhile, she announced "Grand Illumination," a tree-lighting on the square on Saturday, Nov. 30, from 4-7 p.m. There will be Christmas carols and free hot chocolate, and Ms. Sharp encouraged all to attend.
During the citizens' participation part of the meeting, Reagan Wooten, a man who came before the commission years ago to ask for help resolving charges resulting from a traffic stop in Dade in 2009, came back to give it another go. “They destroyed my life over something absolutely meaningless,” he said. “Now, I want this taken care of … I’m running out of options.” He said the law provided that citizens could petition local governments to address the wrongs done them in their jurisdiction.
Chairman Rumley allowed Wooten five minutes to describe his problems, then directed him to County Attorney Rogers.
Also during the citizens' participation part of the meeting, the Bank of Dade's Audrey Clark stood up to announce the bank would be staging this year's Christmas parade. The theme is "Merry and Bright" and all floats and even pedestrian attendees are urged to festoon themselves with Christmas lights. The parade will start from South Industrial Blvd. at 6 p.m. on Dec. 14 (the next Saturday, the 21st, if it rains). For more information you may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or Seth Houts at email@example.com.
No mention was made of the Dade Chamber of Commerce, which usually sponsors the Christmas parade, and which had previously announced a parade before falling into what now seems extinction. The Planet has initiated inquiries.