Dade County Commissioners, from left, Lamar Lowery, Phillip Hartline, Ted Rumley, Robert Goff and Allan Bradford.
Attendance at the regular February meeting of the Dade County Commission last Thursday was unusually high, around 60, but if the audience was looking for drama it was doomed to disappointment. Not only did the commission approve without argument a resolution to allow Dade citizens to vote on whether to allow Sunday alcohol sales (see preceding article), there was no whiff of dissent as it also passed its long-debated heavy industry ordinance--even though a last-minute alteration made it ineffectual against the peril it was conceived to protect against.
A speaker at the Sept. 30 public hearing on the proposed ordinance had pointed out that the Pilgrim's Pride plant in Chattanooga, the rumored incursion of which into Wildwood had begun the push for a zoning ordinance, operated on 2.25 acres, and would thus be allowed in Dade under the ordinance as originally drafted. That first draft exempted premises of less than five acres. Meanwhile, C&S Plating on Highway 11, which has been accused of poisoning local groundwater with the deadly carcinogen chromium-6, sits on only 2.2 acres. A citizens committee was appointed after the September hearing to rework the ordinance, and during its months of deliberations it lowered the exemption limit to one acre.
But County Attorney Robin Rogers unilaterally bumped it up to three before presenting it for a vote at the Feb. 6 meeting. District 2 Commissioner Hartline noted the change and asked Rogers about it. The attorney replied he had consulted attorneys for ACCG, the association of county governments. "They had thought that one might be too small," he said.
"I'm good with it," said Hartline, none of the other commissioners had anything to say at all, and thus amid shrugs ended the prolonged and noisy battle to protect the county against a threat that may or may not have ever menaced it in the first place. There must be a "second reading" of the ordinance next month before it becomes law but this is a formality. In point of fact, ordinances are not read--aloud, in any case--even on the first go-round.
The commission passed another resolution County Clerk Townsend described as a formality concerning SPLOST, the special purpose local option sales tax. The county uses SPLOST funds to buy everything from police cars to specialized software for business licenses, computers to courthouses, road-paving equipment to creekside real estate. Dade's current SPLOST will expire in 2021 unless voters decide to renew it on May 19. This resolution, the formal calling for a referendum, was the last step, Townsend explained.
The commission had earlier mentioned public meetings seeking the voters' input on SPLOST projects and discussing the benefits of the tax. Those meetings have never been scheduled. But the county has in any case already finalized its SPLOST project list without benefit of public input, and its confidence that the voters will again vote the tax on themselves is tacit in its intergovernmental agreement with the city of Trenton on how to divvy up the proceeds.
On the subject of seeking--or not--input from the public, Dade County resident Susie Talbott asked during the citizens' participation part of the meeting, when residents are allowed to speak for five minutes, that this session be moved up to the workshop part of the meeting, or between that and the formal meeting begins. As it stands, she said, commissioners can introduce a matter, discuss it, and vote it up or down without citizens ever being able to comment. Would the commissioners consider moving the session, and respond to her request at their next meeting? she asked.
"That was good, Susie, three minutes, six seconds," replied Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley.
But on being asked a second time whether the commission would respond next month, he said it would.
Ms. Talbott also asked that the county post online resolutions it plans to vote on at meetings sufficiently in advance to give citizens time to read them.
What with zoning ordinances and resolutions about liquor, the commission has been generating a lot of billable hours for the county attorney, and another agenda item at the February meeting should rack him up a few more: He was directed to draft a resolution declaring Dade a "Second Amendment Sanctuary."
Sheriff Ray Cross spoke briefly, explaining the move was an unnecessary formality in his case. "I will not force my deputies to take a gun from a law-abiding citizen in this county, ever," he said. But he agreed that "these left-wing radicals" with their proposed gun control legislation needed addressing. "You let them take one of our rights away, we'll never get it back," he said.
"It at least lets Atlanta know how we feel," concluded District 2's Phillip Hartline.
The commission approved Dade Probate Judge Kerri Carter Bray's request to add $5 to fees associated with her court to help defray the costs of technology such as computers and printers. It approved the appointment of Richard Stephens to the Board of Tax Assessors, acceded to a request by a local family to rename a tiny creek on Lookout Mountain Webb Creek"--"It never really had a name," said District 4 Commissioner Allan Bradford--and honored the Trenton-Dade Optimist Club by declaring the first Thursday of the month Optimist Day.
The Commission poses with members of the Trenton/Dade Optimists.
The Commission also officially announced the upcoming second "Joint Governmental Work Session"--the mega-meeting of all the major governmental and quasi-governmental bodies in Dade--on March 26. That meeting, which will include county, Trenton city, water company and Industrial Development Authority leaders, will be at 6 p.m. in the Dade Administrative Building.
Jane Dixon addressed the commission about the new "Alliance for Dade," which is meant to take the place of the Dade Chamber of Commerce. She said the old C of C had fallen into inactivity though the visitors center it ran was still in operation. The new organization will cover both those functions, she said. "We're using that word, 'alliance ,'as an umbrella," said Ms. Dixon. She asked if the commission would like an Alliance member to report each month. The commission replied it would be tickled.
During his monthly report to the public, District 1 Commissioner Lamar Lowery addressed rumblings he said he'd heard about citizens not wishing to vote for SPLOST renewal. "I hope people will really think that over," he said. He pointed out that a lot of the county's emergency response capability depends heavily on SPLOST funds. "If you do away with that fund, that money's got to come from somewhere," he said.
District 2's Phillip Hartline responded to complaints he's been getting about practice fields at the county athletic complex being kept locked by reading rainfall statistics for the past few months. "It's been wet," he said.
Disrtrict 3's Robert Goff said SPLOST collections were still strong--over $200,000 last month--and warned what state budget cuts might mean for county government. The accountability courts and public defender's office have already been hit, said Goff, and: "They're going to come back to the county commission and say, well the state cut us."
District 4's Allan Bradford gave his traditional State of the Dump report: The county transfer station had handled a record 720 tons in January. he said. In his newer tradition of the monthly "State of the Dollar General" report, he said records had also been set there. "They've moved more dirt than I've ever seen anybody move in my life," Bradford reported of the Dollar General under construction in New Salem.
Chairman Rumley in his own monthly report said he'd met again with Puckett EMS and the other counties the ambulance service serves and now felt better about Puckett's ability to cover Dade's needs. "They presented a plan that we feel, all three counties, that it will work," he said. There had been occasions in the past few months when no ambulance was available for emergency calls, said Rumley: "I was really worried."
He'd also attended a meeting about another worrisome issue, said the county boss: the railroad. Trains park on north-south the railroad that bisects the county east from west, keeping people from getting to work in the morning or home at night and clogging commerce at the industrial park. "The DOT and the federal government realize that there is a problem," he said.
Rumley touched on the paving of Highway 136--that'll probably be in 2021, he said--and described plans for replacing the bridge on 136 East near Dade High. The Georgia Department of Transportation is now planning to close it for 13-18 days this summer, he said. "But look at the number of people who would be affected," said Rumley. "What we're proposing, if they do the runaround bridge, is not close it at all." He said he'd keep the county posted on GDOT's evolving plans.
Commissioner Goff had touched on expected problems with the new Georgia voting machines, and Rumley added the board of elections could use some help. "We're hurting for poll workers," he said. Anyone interested can call the election board at (706) 657-8170.
Manager Marshana Sharp reported for the Dade County Library that it would host at 6 p.m. on Feb. 20 "Kiss the Ground," a program on replenishing farm or garden soil. RSVP so the library can have enough snacks on hand, she encouraged--that's (706) 657-7857. She said the library has 2019 tax forms and computers dedicated to help patrons fill out their 2010 U.S. Census questionnaires.
She also reminded all that the library has stuff old-timers might not associate with libraries. "We have a sewing machine," she said. In the future patrons might be able to check out the machine and take it home, but for right now they have to use it in situ. Same goes for another handy DIY contraption, the library's 3D printer.
Like Lamar Lowery, Ms. Sharp put in a plug for renewing SPLOST. She stays out of politics, she said, but: "I will tell you that SPLOST has really, really helped the library."
County Sarah Dyer said Dade 4-H had a flower bulb sale going on. You can call if interested at (706) 657-4116. She also said registration is open for 4-H summer camp.
Candidates Nathan Wooten and Jerry Henegar (depicted at left rubbing elbows with a prospective constituent) attended the meeting and both spoke briefly. Wooten, who is running against Ted Rumley for the county executive job, invited volunteers to help him with the annual Dade July 4 bash he stages each year. Henegar, who is running for Robert Goff's District 3 seat, invited all to vote for him in the May 19 primary or in early voting before the date. Goff has since announced, though not in The Planet, that he will defend his seat.
Chairman Rumley took the opportunity to encourage all to vote. "You don't need to sit at home and look at the 6 o'clock news and say, 'I forgot to vote,'" he said. Not everybody who complains about the government bothers to get registered to vote, said the Boss.
The Dade County Commission meets at 6 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month in the Administrative Building. The next regularly scheduled meeting is March 5.