County spends year ad­dress­ing is­sues

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL - SJ Edi­tor

Polk County’s lo­cal gov­ern­ment can end the year know­ing one thing for sure: 2017 was a year that cov­ered a lot of is­sues, and saw a lot of progress on many fronts.

It also was a year that saw a num­ber of ques­tions unan­swered, such as what is to come of the Grady Road Land­fill, and how does the Po­lice Depart­ment at­tract and fill more va­can­cies?

These aren’t all the sto­ries from 2017, but here’s a brief over­look of some of what was cov­ered dur­ing a year that saw in­cum­bent com­mis­sion­ers re­sign from their seats, new mem­bers join, and much more in be­tween.

Here’s a run­down of what the year looked like:

It took six months for the Polk County Com­mis­sion to come to­gether and vote on a bud­get, and that was only af­ter an in­cum­bent left of­fice and a new mem­ber took over the seat.

In Jan­uary, the Com­mis­sion voted 3-2 to al­low for the bud­get first pro­posed in June 2016 to move for­ward, and also give way for County Man­ager Matt Den­ton to hire a new as­sis­tant county man­ager as well.

He did so af­ter a num­ber of months of search­ing, and Barry Akin­son came on board to serve as Den­ton’s sec­ond-in-com­mand be­fore leav­ing in Novem­ber for fam­ily rea­sons.

The bud­get was later amended to move around funds to cover cer­tain ex­penses and uti­lize sav­ings, and the 2018 fig­ures were ap­proved unan­i­mously in June with­out any is­sues, though some move­ment of the num­bers was re­quired to bal­ance ev­ery­thing out.

Build­ing con­struc­tion was one of the top is­sues for 2016, and those projects that were de­bated over and penny pinched were com­pleted this year.

Com­mis­sion­ers got to cel­e­brate the open­ing of the 911 Op­er­a­tions Cen­ter ad­di­tion at the Polk County EMA of­fice in Fe­bru­ary, when the cen­ter went on­line for the first time. Prob­lems dur­ing the ini­tial switchover prompted the county to fire for­mer 911 Di­rec­tor Beth Byars, who spoke out about her dis­missal at a per­son­nel hear­ing in March, but didn’t get any­where with the com­mis­sion af­ter they asked her why she hadn’t brought prob­lems to Den­ton’s at­ten- tion ear­lier in the switchover, or ask for more time.

Long­time 911 em­ployee and now di­rec­tor Crys­tal Vin­cent took over the depart­ment, and the cen­ter ac­com­mo­dates sev­eral dis­patch­ers work­ing to­gether in a now smoothly op­er­at­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

The Pub­lic Works build­ing was fin­ished in 2017 as well, with the depart­ment mov­ing in the fall, and a few ad­di­tional pur­chases for equip­ment to fix brakes and for an up­grade on com­puter di­ag­nos­tic gear were made as well.

The fa­cil­ity was set to be com­pleted early in 2017 af­ter a 2016 start, but wet weather ham­pered ef­forts to stay on time.

Ad­di­tion­ally, the county ap­proved and had in­stalled a new fuel farm and gas pumps for em­ploy­ees to fuel up in house, with the hopes of gain­ing long term sav­ings by buy­ing gas at whole­sale prices.

Of all the op­po­nents of the Grady Road Land­fill, two re­mained in front of the board month af­ter month dur­ing 2017 and call­ing for the Com­mis­sion to do some­thing about it.

Ed Burn­ley and Glenn Camp­bell brought their com­plaints to the board through­out the year rang­ing from the smells com­ing onto prop­er­ties around the land­fill, to ex­ces­sive truck traf­fic caus­ing prob­lems with the road­way near Grady Road’s in­ter­sec­tion with the land­fill and High­way 278.

The land­fill — now col­lo­qui­ally called “Mt. Trash­more” by many lo­cal res­i­dents — is a top is­sue with the Com­mis­sion for the year, with more spe­cific prob­lems crop­ping up at the end of the year. Af­ter the Stan­dard Jour­nal ran an ad in Oc­to­ber re­port­ing in­creased Molyb­de­num lev­els found in waste­water be­ing pro­cessed from the land­fill, Com­mis­sion­ers called in Waste In­dus­tries’ George Gib­bons to pro­vide an ex­pla­na­tion on why they weren’t in­formed about the prob­lem be­fore see­ing it in the news­pa­per, and then in Novem­ber sought in­for­ma­tion as to why a re- port that was due in July hadn’t been com­pleted.

That re­port was turned in, and Gib­bons said in past state­ments that Waste In­dus­tries is work­ing to fig­ure out the molyb­de­num prob­lem.

County At­tor­ney Brad McFall dur­ing the com­mis­sion’s Novem­ber re­treat did is­sue this state­ment on the land­fill:

“The board met last night (Nov. 27) for 4 hours, and we con­ducted a fairly ex­haus­tive re­view of items and is­sues con­cern­ing the board and the pub­lic, and we’ll nar­row those down to a stream­lined punch list and meet with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the com­pany that runs the land­fill,” McFall said.

Later, Den­ton added dur­ing the De­cem­ber meet­ing in a long state­ment that “From a com­pli­ance stand­point, things that can and must be done. So, we an­tic­i­pate hav­ing di­rect com­mu­ni­ca­tion, be­fore the end of the year, with waste in­dus­tries. We will host them here in Cedar­town with a meet­ing in Jan­uary and go over these items and re­port back to the pub­lic. But it’ll (up­dates) come to you on a monthly ba­sis.”

In May, Polk County Sher­iff Johnny Moats sent a let­ter to com­mis­sion­ers that was later pro­vided to the Stan­dard Jour­nal ask­ing for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­le­ga­tions made by cur­rent and for­mer of­fi­cers de­scrib­ing a num­ber of is­sues within the Polk County Po­lice Depart­ment.

That later prompted an au­dit by McFall af­ter the com­mis­sion voted to move in that di­rec­tion in­stead of call­ing in the Ge­or­gia Bu­reau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion to look into the mat­ter, since no spe­cific criminal al­le­ga­tions had been made.

That was de­spite the ob­jec­tions of Com­mis­sion­ers Jen­nifer Hulsey and Scotty Tillery, who both sought an in­de­pen­dent body to look into the mat­ter in their com­ments. The Com­mis­sion also sent a re­sponse back to Moats at the time, call­ing on him to en­gage the GBI into the mat­ter if he could pro­vide spe­cific ev­i­dence of criminal ac­tiv­ity in the depart­ment.

McFall in­ter­view cur­rent and for­mer of­fi­cers in the depart­ment, and told county of­fi­cials in that he found no ev­i­dence of wrong­do­ing, but one com­plaint cropped up over and over again: of­fi­cers need better pay, and more man­power.

( Note: The Stan­dard Jour­nal’s in­de­pen­dent look into the mat­ter has not been com­pleted yet.)

Com­mis­sion­ers have dis­cussed the need for in­creased salary lev­els for of­fi­cers, in­clud­ing at the start­ing level, but haven’t come to an agree­ment about how to fund the is­sue. It has been an is­sue that newly ap­pointed District 3 Com­mis­sioner Hal Floyd has brought up sev­eral times since he took of­fice in late Oc­to­ber.

Early in the year, Polk County Pub­lic Safety Di­rec­tor Randy Lacey and Den­ton had a plan all lined up to tran­si­tion from an all-vol­un­teer fire depart­ment to a mix of paid and vol­un­teer force, which was to al­low for around the clock cov­er­age in the county and a re­struc­tur­ing of where fire de­part­ments are lo­cated.

That plan, af­ter nu­mer­ous meet­ings and ses­sions hear­ing from vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers them­selves, didn’t get across the fin­ish line in 2017 af­ter con­cerns were raised over the Fed­eral grant that was ap­plied for on how the funds were to be used, and what con­di­tions the county would be li­able for pay­ing them back if ever they couldn’t sus­tain the depart­ment’s cost.

Ini­tially the idea was to have a mix of full time and part time fire­fight­ers in the sta­tions, but when look­ing at the fine print in the con­di­tions of the grant and how the cost­shar­ing struc­ture had changed in 2017 ver­sus pre­vi­ous years, com­mis­sion­ers sud­denly re­al­ized fund­ing would be the main strug­gle in the years to come.

So the county with­drew it­self from con­sid­er­a­tion for the grant, and shelved a plan to ask for a spe­cific mill­age rate for the fire depart­ment.

Polk com­mis­sion­ers sought an­swers on a num­ber of projects dur­ing a Nov. 28 re­treat.

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