Meeting dominated by heated disputes

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Hale commissioners began 2006 on the same note they ended 2005, with verbal disputes.

Before new agenda items were introduced Tuesday morning, commissioners Joe Lee Hamilton Jr. and Yolanda Watkins were upset by the reading of the minutes from the commission’s last meeting.

Hamilton suggested the meeting was moving too fast when Watkins didn’t get the opportunity to inquire about the minutes before the motion was made.

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“She’s the commissioner and she has the right to know what’s going on and I am not going to vote on that because everything’s not there,” Hamilton said when the motion to accept the minutes was put on the table.

Judge Leland Avery was forced to use his tie-breaking vote when the commission was split 2-2 to pass the minutes from Dec.13.

Round two of the commission bout began when Hamilton said the commission did not have ample time to review the bills.

“The bills have been sitting there since eight this morning,” Avery said.

After a brief silence in the chambers as Hamilton, Watkins and commissioner Elijah Knox reviewed the bills, the issue of paying an attorney who does not attend the meetings was once again brought up. Watkins also noticed unfamiliar funds appropriated for purchasing heaters.

According to Avery, they are for heating the offices.

Since heating is not optional for the courthouse, the commission agreed to approve the bills and move to the next item.

After a peaceful engineer’s report from county engineer Arzo Abrams about resurfacing and widening projects, the battle once again ensued when Jerry Harper from Penn Tank Lines returned to discuss a turn onto Highway 69 in Moundville considered dangerous by traveling truckers.

“When I left last meeting, I thought this was all resolved,” Harper said. “But to me, it was a stab in the back. Some kind of way y’all pulled something over on us.”

At the Dec. 13 meeting, Harper expressed concern for his drivers having to pull out on a dangerous intersection and wanted the commission to grant them temporary use of County Road 46 until construction on the bypass was completed.

A motion was passed last month to research use of the road, although commissioner Walter Allen suggested speaking to the road’s residents. But since that meeting, the signs prohibiting trucks on the road have not been removed.

Harper said he talked with both Hamilton and Knox about the problem and has even driven Knox to the site.

“I didn’t see a problem, but I got so many phone call since then,” Knox said. “But I think we should wait and let the state look at this.”

“Y’all are hollering ‘let the state look at this,’ but if it was a state issue, they never would’ve taken their signs down from there since I’ve talked to the state,” Harper said.

Harper claimed he was told before he got in this “politic thing” there were only two good people on the commission, as he pointed to Watkins and Hamilton.

“That’s a snake in the grass,” he said of Avery, “I may go to jail for saying what I’m saying here, but that’s just what I was told before I ever came to one of these meetings.”

Before being escorted out of commission chambers by law enforcement, Harper told Knox he was “being used,” and accused Allen of using county equipment for work on private lands.

“Don’t make me get some county employees and bring them up here for you,” Harper said. “I think you owe the county some personal money.”

To those remarks, Allen replied, “I don’t know anything about it.”

“Don’t play that fiddlestick with me,” Harper said. “I didn’t figure you’d be a man.”

After no discussion and no motion, talks of bids for a new courthouse boiler were introduced.

According to county administrator Tricia Galbreath, of the three bids that went out, only two came back and one of those was a no bid. Magnolia HVAC in Newbern bid $12,500 on the boiler and Avery believes the commission needs to “get it as soon as possible.”

Some commissioners said they were not informed of bids going out for the boiler, which started round four of the commission fight.

“I think the commission should know when we sending out bids to buy something,” Hamilton said. “I wasn’t aware that we had sent bids out to purchase a boiler and now I am asked to vote on it. Shouldn’t we be notified that we got a problem in the courthouse?”

“In which meeting was this discussed?” Watkins asked. “Any other times bids were sent out, it came from the table.”

“Well, it wasn’t discussed. We are just trying to locate a boiler,” Avery replied. “This is just for regular operation of the courthouse.”

When Avery suggested commissioners come to the courthouse to see what needs to be done, as Allen said he does, Hamilton said there was a lack of communication among the commissioners.

“I call up here and try to keep up on what’s going on here, but we shouldn’t buy anything the commission doesn’t know anything about. You should let us know,” Hamilton told Avery. “We should be closer than that.”

Although commissioners were unaware of the need, Galbreath said the courthouse has been in need of a boiler since May and the funding will come from the capital improvement budget.

After Hamilton made a motion to accept the bid, on the understanding that the commission is informed in the future, the bid was passed, although Watkins voted no.

In the midst of boiler talks, Hamilton and Knox made a request to revisit the road issue, which was ignored by Avery. After the commission agreed to a Community Development Block Grant special resolution, Hamilton requested to talk about the road problems once again.

“I voted for it in the past meeting so that means I can bring it back up,” Hamilton said.

Allen said commissioners don’t have the right to revisit an agenda item once they have voted no in response to it.

“Right,” Avery agreed. And that was the end of the road issue.

Following Watkins’ suggestion to start commission workshops in attempts to end confusion and the lack of communication, the meeting was adjourned.

“We need a workshop two or three days before the meeting,” she said. “I’ve been asking for them ever since I became a commissioner.”

The next commission meeting is Jan. 24 at 9 a.m.