Commission waits for new light bulb at Chapel Hill traffic signal

Monday, August 31, 2009

From a split vote to recess their meeting so a commissioner could change a light bulb, to another split vote that ended plans to record committee meetings, Marshall County commissioners' August meeting was chock full of change.

Other developments included appointments of: Tony Williams over R.L. Williams to succeed Linda Williams-Lee who resigned; and members of the Ethics Committee which must select a secretary before allegations about a former commissioner can be forwarded to the district attorney.

Some commissioners continued conflicting views on procedures and etiquette. While differences were expressed, emotions were suppressed. However, recurring split votes on some basic matters, such as who should be appointed to serve, reflected deep divides on issues. It started with a simple move to wait for Commissioner Seth Warf.

Upon his arrival, Warf confirmed that it only takes one county commissioner to change a light bulb in the traffic signal at the Chapel Hill Post Office, largely because the Duck River Electric Membership Corp. employee had a DREMC lift truck that he drove to Lewisburg for the commission meeting.

Commissioner Billy Spivey called for the recess until Warf arrived. Commissioners Don Ledford, Mary Ann Neill and Rocky Bowden debated the time delay. Monday night's gathering of commissioners was from 6-10 p.m.

"Whatever time it takes," Bowden said for the recess that was approved on a 10-6 vote. "Do you want to set a time on it?"

Without an answer, Commissioner Larry McKnight, whose attendance at committee meetings has been delayed by rush hour traffic from Nashville, said, "I can appreciate the time factor. It may be very fitting. I may need it."

Voting to recess were Commissioners McKnight, Bowden, Spivey, Tony White, Jimmy Stitt, Reynelle Smith, Phil Willis, Dean Delk, E.W. Hill and Scottie Poarch. Voting no were Commissioners Neill, Ledford, Wilford "Spider" Wentzel, Richard Medley, Mickey King and Jimmy Wolaver.

Waiting for Warf was seen by the commission chairwoman, Neill, as important to Poarch who, once Warf was present, called for appointment of a new commissioner. To speak to the issue, Neill relinquished her chairmanship to King and complained about conflict between commissioners.

"Why would the 3rd District commissioner need to be elected now?" Neill asked. Poarch replied: I'd like to know why the chair would not want to vote on this."

"I think," Neill replied quickly, "it's because you've got your votes counted."

She noted whoever was appointed would face controversial issues at their very first meeting.

R.L. Williams touted his experience since he's a former commissioner. He also said commissioners should "Vote your conscience." Tony Williams is the maintenance manager at CKNA, hasn't been a county commissioner and was appointed 11-6.

Rules and procedures have been a recurring issue at commission meetings and several recommended changes were up for a vote Monday. Ultimately, a revised version was approved unanimously, but among the changes was removal of a requirement to record committee meetings.

Cost was one factor. New equipment would have to be purchased and more records would have to be maintained.

The lack of such specific records on what was said during committee meetings has been seen by some as a factor during Ethics Committee deliberations and a search for facts in two complaints brought by an environmental organization formed to resist a new landfill.

"You don't have to audio record for state law," County Attorney Ginger Shofner said. "The primary reason is for legal purposes."

Without audiotape, another government couldn't recreate a set of exact minutes, she said. That was detrimental to another county's legal position, according to her advice during discussion before this month's commission meeting.

Shofner recommended audio recording, but a 12-6 vote removed the recommendation for recording committee meetings from a new set of rules and procedures for the commission.

Voting yes were White, Stitt, Smith, Willis, McKnight, Delk, Hill, Bowden, Tony Williams, King, Wolaver and Ledford. Voting no were Warf, Wentzel, Medley, Neill, Poarch and Spivey.

As for Ethics Committee membership, Warf and Bowden were appointed to succeed Williams-Lee who moved from her district, and County Clerk Daphne Fagan who resigned to avoid any conflict of interest that might arise between her power to vote on an ethics complaint and her responsibility as clerk to maintain Ethics Committee records.

Last month, Wentzel was nominated to succeed Williams-Lee and White was nominated to succeed Fagan. They were selected as the nominees by acclamation during a Nominating Committee meeting and were to be considered when the commission met in July. They weren't because of an oversight adequate public notice wasn't provided for the Nominating Committee meeting.

Warf and Bowden became the new nominees this month and they were accepted Monday for a term to end this month and another one-year term starting Sept. 1.

White and Stitt were appointed to succeed Neill and McKnight.

Wentzel's nomination was not repeated.

The Ethics Committee is to consider a complaint against Schools Director Stan Curtis, Human Resources Director Mitchell Byrd and former Transportation Director Glen Ezell by Larry Barlar who alleges misuse of school bus tires, and garage tools and facilities, as well as questionable personnel practices.

"He may have grounds," Wentzel said of Barlar's complaint. "Wasn't he a police officer for 27 years? You'd think he'd know how to investigate something."

As Williams-Lee's seat on the Ethics Committee was filled, her successor on the commission was filled with Tony Williams.

Voting for Tony Williams were White, Warf, Willis, Delk, Hill, Bowden, Poarch, King, Wolaver, Spivey and Ledford. Voting for R.L. Williams were Stitt, Smith, Wentzel, McKnight, Medley and Neill.

Financial issues were also a consideration at Monday's meeting of the commission. Its Budget Committee met at noon Thursday.