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County supes consider consolidating services


Kristin Mamrack



Board President and District 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders didn't get very far Tuesday with his plea for the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors to consider consolidating city and county emergency services. 


Doing so would make things "run smoother," he said. 


"There's more synergy we can get by consolidating more services," he explained, noting he and District 2 Supervisor Bill Brigham met with Columbus Mayor Robert Smith and Columbus Fire Chief Ken Moore about the possibility of pulling "all emergency services under one umbrella." 


Sanders suggested making Moore head of all emergency services and for county personnel -- Fire Coordinator Sammy Fondren, Emergency Management Agency Director Cindy Lawrence and E911 Director Sherry Fancher -- to report to him. 


They currently report to County Administrator Ralph Billingsley. 


"He knows how to deal with the (state fire) ratings bureau, how 911 operates," Sanders said of Moore. "He is (regional) head of Homeland Security. He was instrumental in emergency management. He has the expertise and the knowledge in every one of these fields." 


Sanders said talks were only preliminary and mainly to determine if the idea is legal and feasible, but efforts to derail the idea already were underway. 


"Next, I hear rumors Ken is going to take away fire trucks (and money) from volunteer fire departments," he said. "All that's baloney. It's not going to happen. We have a contract with every county fire department. I want to squelch all those rumors. 


"Somebody jumped the gun and spread all this rumor around that's not true," he added. 






District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks vehemently opposed the concept. 


"Did y'all believe that?" he asked the county emergency personnel in attendance.  


Brook then addressed Sanders: 


"I understand y'all met with Ken Moore prior to (meeting with) the mayor, which is really out of whack. 


"There's no reason to trust you to do anything. I think it was insulting to talk to the city employees without talking to the county employees. I think that's disrespect. I think it was very disrespectful." 


Calling Fondren, Lawrence and Fancher "very capable," Brooks also complained the idea was not first brought to the entire Board of Supervisors, especially to him and District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith. 


"If you're not going to respect us, come to us, then I don't think we need to come to the board meeting," he said. "Whatever your intent was, you disrespected people, but, more importantly, you disrespected us. From day one, you have always had a problem with emergency management. With all due respect to Ralph (Billingsley), he can handle it." 


Brigham said he wanted clarification before bringing the matter to the board. 


"My intent was to see if what we were doing had merit and was even legal, before we brought it out for discussion," Brigham said. "It is here and out and we will discuss it. It's not my intent to be disrespectful and I'm kind of tired of hearing that word, because I don't think it's anybody's intent. We can agree without being disagreeable." 


"I don't think anybody's intention was to disrespect anybody," agreed District 3 Supervisor John Holliman. 


"There probably needs to be some changes in some areas," said Smith. "But instead of allowing the entire board to be part of the process, there are individuals who prefer to go out on their own. This should be a lesson the process should be an open process to allow everyone to have input." 


Sanders said he told Smith "before (he) went to see the mayor," and that he "knew automatically Leroy would be opposed to any consolidation of emergency stuff," so he did not tell him before verifying with City Attorney Jeff Turnage the legality of consolidating services. 


"It was a fact-finding deal to find out if anybody was interested," he said of meeting with city officials. "Leroy has been trying to torpedo this discussion since it started." 


"Harry, you're never going to outdo me," said Brooks. "You just aren't smart enough. I have forgotten more than you'll ever know about county government." 


No action was taken on the consolidation of emergency services. 






In another matter, the supervisors were asked to act as a judicial body in a dispute over whether Fleming Road should be considered a county road. 


Representing property owner Steve West, attorney Will Cooper asked the supervisors to correct the Lowndes County Road Registry, adding Fleming Road, so West could have access to property he and his family currently use for "recreational purposes" and on which they likely will build camp houses. 


West testified the county earlier had maintained the road. 


Fleming Road is located off Sullivan Road and provides the only access to West's property, Cooper said, noting "irrigation pivots" recently were placed on the property of West's neighbor, Glenn Mast, who wants to close both Sullivan and Fleming Roads. 


Representing Mast, attorney William Liston noted West and his neighbor placed a locked gate on the road for about 10 years, the presence of which is "inconsistent" with Fleming Road being a public road. 


"Was Fleming Road ever a public road?" asked Board Attorney Tim Hudson. "If so, was it abandoned? Once we decide those facts, y'all will have to go to another court." 


Cooper argued the road was "never formally abandoned" by the county and "the proof says the road was maintained" by the county, 


"If it wasn't put on the registry, it's not a county road," stipulated Liston. "The purpose of this board is not to protect private interests; it's to protect public interests." 


Sanders motioned the supervisors add the road to the county registry, but Brooks made a substitute motion the board table the matter for further research. 


The matter was postponed until the board's Aug. 15 meeting. 




Board vacancy 


Additionally, the supervisors voted to accept the resignation of George Swales from the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors' Bureau Board of Directors. 


Swales, who resigned last week, said he was willing to serve until a replacement was found, Sanders said. 


The board will accept applications for the position until Aug. 15 and will vote on an appointment for the term, which expires Feb. 6, 2014, at their Sept. 4 meeting.




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