Board of com­mis­sion­ers con­tin­ues di­vi­sive di­a­logue

The Covington News - - Front Page - By Gabriel Khouli gkhouli@cov­news.com

A di­vided Board of Com­mis­sion­ers con­tin­ued to dis­agree Fri­day about whether Thurs­day night’s 3-2 con­sen­sus de­ci­sion in fa­vor of Com­mis­sioner Mort Ewing’s SPLOST pro­posal was the re­sult of back­room pol­i­tics or a show of lead­er­ship.

Com­mis­sion­ers Ewing, Tim Flem­ing and J.C. Hen­der­son pledged sup­port for the $57.6 mil­lion SPLOST pro­posal that Ewing pre­sented for the first time at Thurs­day night’s work ses­sion, lead­ing to al­le­ga­tions of a pre-ar­ranged deal meant to stymie pub­lic dis­course.

“It’s pretty ap­par­ent that three com­mis­sion­ers came to the meet­ing with a pre­ar­ranged plan. Peo­ple need to de­cide if they’re will­ing to put up with back­room pol­i­tics,” Schulz said Fri­day. “If you’ll re­call, they didn’t even want to dis­cuss the list; they just ac­cepted that carte blanche. None of us had seen the list in that con­text be­fore.”

Both Ewing and Schulz pre­sented pro­pos­als Thurs­day night, and Ewing said Fri­day that Schulz and Chair­man Kathy Mor­gan were sim­ply up­set that their list was not cho­sen.

He said he met with Flem­ing, Schulz and Mor­gan prior to the meet­ing, but never met with Hen­der­son or Com­mis­sioner Earnest Sim­mons, and never showed his fi­nal list to any­one.

“I un­der­stand their feel­ings and po­si­tion, but in the ab­sence of lead­er­ship some­body

has to step up to the ta­ble… my notes go back to Aug. 29, when we were first handed a SPLOST time­line. Quite frankly, I had waited for Ms. Mor­gan to put a list to­gether. It be­came ev­i­dent to me, specif­i­cally last Satur­day, that the chair­man was not go­ing to put a list for­ward,” Ewing said. “When I was in­volved in SPLOST five years ago, I fol­lowed the same sys­tem. I met with chair­man and var­i­ous com­mis­sion­ers, then I came up with a pro­posed list.”

District Projects

Schulz and Sim­mons said they op­posed Ewing’s list be­cause it con­tained projects spe­cific to dis­tricts 1 and 4. Schulz said her pro­posal con­tained no district-spe­cific projects and Sim­mons said each district should be treated fairly.

On Ewing’s pro­posal there is a line item for “District 4 Im­prove­ments” at $1.1 mil­lion. Ewing said only Hen­der­son and Sim­mons had district-spe­cific re­quests, though Flem­ing ini­tially listed a fire sta­tion request and Schulz had a cou­ple of district-spe­cific road projects. Be­cause District 2 had just re­ceived a new li­brary and park, Ewing felt District 4 should be given first pri­or­ity this time around.

Ewing said he left the District 4 item vague, be­cause he wanted Hen­der­son to pick the projects he felt were most worth­while. How­ever, Ewing said all projects will have to come back be­fore the board for ap­proval.

The $1.1 mil­lion does ex­actly match the re­vised, trimmed list of projects that Hen­der­son pre­sented Thurs­day, and Mor­gan said that fact made it likely that some form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion had taken place be­tween the two par­ties prior to Thurs­day.

As for the “Agri­cul­tural Fa­cil­ity” listed on his pro­posal at $1.1 mil­lion, Ewing said that project was sup­ported by the lo­cal Cat­tle­man’s As­so­ci­a­tion, Farm Bureau, FFA club and 4-H club. He said it will be an agri­cul­tural youth and meet­ing fa­cil­ity, that will pro­vide FFA and 4-H stu­dents with a place to keep and train their an­i­mals.

Schulz and Sim­mons wanted to go down the lists line-by-line Thurs­day night, but a con­sen­sus had been reached and the other three com­mis­sion­ers expressed a de­sire to not spend time in fur­ther dis­cus­sion.

Bro­ken Com­mit­ment?

Schulz said Fri­day that she felt that Ewing and Flem­ing had not hon­ored prior com­mit­ments, which was the most dis­con­cert­ing out­come of Thurs­day’s meet­ing. She said at the Oct. 13 meet­ing, which nei­ther lo­cal me­dia out­let at­tended, that each com­mis­sioner, ex­cept Sim­mons who was ab­sent, had agreed to pre­pare a fi­nal SPLOST list to give to the chair­man by Tues­day of this week.

How­ever, only Schulz and Hen­der­son pre­sented their lists. Ewing said Fri­day that Schulz made that rec­om­men­da­tion at the end of the meet­ing, but that the com­mis­sion­ers did not for­mally agree. He said he spent much of his free time over the next few days with his brother who had come from out of town.

Schulz and Mor­gan said Ewing’s list also has sev­eral new projects that will lead to in­creased main­te­nance and op­er­a­tions costs for the county. Flem­ing had pre­vi­ously made a point of voic­ing con­cern about in­creas­ing fu­ture main­te­nance costs. Mor­gan said she didn’t op­pose the projects, like the Mir­a­cle League field, His­toric Jail and fire sta­tion, but said they could in­crease costs. Schulz said she felt the county should have had fewer projects on the SPLOST and paid off more debt.

“What hap­pened last night, (the list) was not open for dis­cus­sion. Here’s the deal, this is it, take it or leave it. It crossed the line, and quite frankly it crossed the line when Mr. Flem­ing and Mr. Ewing had not sub­mit­ted lists as we agreed to do,” Schulz said.

Ewing said he re­searched ev­ery project on his list and was sat­is­fied the county could han­dle all costs. He added that ev­ery project pre­sented to the board has been dis­cussed at sev­eral pre­vi­ous meet­ings.

Ev­ery­one spo­ken to Fri­day agreed that no il­le­gal meet­ings had taken place, and ev­ery­one agreed that build­ing con­sen­sus is an im­por­tant part of pol­i­tics. How­ever, there was clearly no con­sen­sus about whether Thurs­day night’s pol­i­tics were the good or bad kind.

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