September 5, 2013 10:46:53 AM
Nathan Gregory - [email protected]
A Lowndes County supervisor's request that the board change an ordinance so the county could haul debris off a property owner's land led to a debate over communication between county leaders on Tuesday.
The county dedicates an amount of money each year to the Tombigbee River Valley Water Management District for projects-of-a-local-nature (PLN) funding.
On Tuesday, District 4 supervisor Jeff Smith wanted the board to reallocate about $12,000 in remaining PLN funds toward similar work on Lindsey Ferry Road.
There had been two previous resolutions authorizing work to be done upstream because of blockage on Lindsey Ferry Road. But when water management district crews recently revisited the area they discovered the vegetation and amount of debris was such that the county would need approval to haul it away. That was not part of the initial resolution, Smith said. He added that the county could be reimbursed for the hauling costs by using PLN funds.
Board president Harry Sanders said using the PLN funds for that purpose would set a precedent for all future projects that require hauling debris. Sanders said that's only happened once previously. The water management district also doesn't have enough trucks to haul away mass debris in a timely manner, he said.
Supervisor Bill Brigham said he had recently driven down the road and didn't notice the area in question. Smith told Brigham it was behind the fire station on the road in a wooded area. Brigham asked what property owners were being affected by the drainage issues.
"It's offensive to all the people that live there next to that (Lindsey Ferry Road) fire station," Smith said. "The water bottlenecks right there behind the fire station causing a backup."
Brigham noted he was asking specifically about the debris.
"To my knowledge, and I'm new on the board, we've never hauled off debris," Brigham said.
Smith said a similar project had been completed on Hughes Road that including hauling. Brigham then asked how many landowners were involved. Smith said there was one main landowner experiencing the majority of the blockage from debris.
"Can he not burn that? That's what's happened in the past, and I'm not as familiar with Hughes Road, but I don't think we need to start a precedent when (the water management district) tells us on the front end that they don't have the trucks to haul this stuff," Sanders said. "That's the landowner's responsibility."
Smith said no supervisors had approached him about the project before the meeting.
"You haven't come to any of us, either," Sanders replied.
"If you had asked me, I would have told you," Smith said. "Up to this point, I didn't think, nor did I get any indication from anyone, that there was a problem here because this has been routine -- being able to go in and use these discretionary funds to do additional work on property that the county can't legally do. That's why we contract with Tombigbee Water Management. This is just an extension of a project we already have approved. We've done this project in two different phases already, so I don't know why it's all of a sudden an issue with this particular part of the project when all the other projects were done with no discussion."
Brigham said if hauling debris would be a component of the project, it should have been listed in the initial contract, which Smith said he agreed with.
"If (the water management district) didn't give us instruction to put in additional money for hauling, that's not my mistake," Smith said. "They're the ones that tell us what to do and how to do it."
Supervisor Leroy Brooks noted that the board had unanimously approved two resolutions related to PLN funding without discussion and without supervisors going into a district they don't represent to assess its merits.
"If I were to go and look at a specific project, out of protocol I would think we need to call the supervisor of that district," Brooks said. "If (the water management district isn't) raising hell about the project, why are we here trying to stop a man from trying to help facilitate the quality of life in his district? Jeff and I don't even need to be at the table. If y'all are going to micromanage everything we try to do and start talking about setting precedent, then why do we need to be here?"
Brigham told Brooks he "would not be offended" if Brooks went into his district to question a project.
"The only way I learn is to ask questions," Brigham said. "I haven't done a (a water management district) project yet, but if I do one, I'm going to have some understanding on what's going to be done and how it's going to be done."
Sanders then said amendments to resolutions involving PLN funds had become a pattern for Smith, to which Smith objected.
"There's always add-ons and add-ons after the fact. That's what frustrates me," Sanders said. "At some point, it has to stop."
"My responsibility to the taxpayers of Lowndes County is to try to do what I can to serve them," Smith said. "If that means I have to come in here 10 times to ask for this board to work along with me to accomplish that, then that's what my responsibility is. You're tired of me coming in here and asking for things for my district. I'm not going to apologize for that. I would think that's what I'm supposed to be doing."
Sanders redirected the discussion to the hauling component, stating the water management district didn't anticipate the hauling because "they don't haul." Smith disputed that statement before Sanders said hauling was done on Hughes Road because Smith "brow-beat them into doing it."
"We had to do some mitigation ... which required that we had to haul debris off, that it could not be left on the property," Smith said. "That's a fact ... We have emails and other kind of information to support that. I haven't brow-beat anyone. I haven't even asked to be involved in it. It's been other people that's been involved in it and keeping me abreast of what needed to be done. I have not tried to keep anything from anybody in this board room. In fact, I've tried to ask for your support because I need your support, and all I'm getting back from you is a bunch of crap."
Smith then said he would withdraw the motion to give other supervisors time to review the issue and place the item back on the agenda for the board's Sept. 13 meeting.
Second TRVWMD request refuels debate
Sanders then discussed a request from road manager Ronnie Burns for a resolution with Tombigbee River Valley Water Management District to resolve drainage issues on Freeman Road, which is in Sanders' district. Burns was not at the meeting.
Brooks immediately moved to table the motion until Burns could present the request himself. Brooks then asked for more communication between supervisors before meetings about ward-specific projects.
"(County administrator) Ralph (Billingsley) sends the agenda out in time enough that if there are any questions, then we can ask each other," Brooks said. "Then you use such words as you 'brow-beat' people. That's harsh. We're not little children. We are grown men, and we got here the same way -- by the majority of the voters in our district. I know me and you, Harry, we may have to hold our nose to talk to each other, but we still can do that so we won't have these dialogues in the public about somebody doing something in our district."
"Since this is in my district and you have a problem with that, if you want this tabled I'll be glad to table it until the next meeting and you can have your way," Sanders told Brooks, who then changed his motion to approve the resolution. Smith seconded.
After a few moments of silence during time granted to discuss the motion, Smith reminded Sanders he previously didn't know about the agenda item.
"I didn't know it either until Ronnie Burns gave it to me," Sanders replied.
"No one took time to talk to me about the project, but it's a project in your district that has been recommended to be done, and I'm willing to support it based on that recommendation," Smith said. "All I'm asking for is the same courtesy and respect."
The board unanimously approved the request.
Supervisors will meet Sept. 13 and hold a public hearing for the proposed budget for the 2014 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.