County Commission meeting raises questions over funding

Published 7:30 am Thursday, January 11, 2024

The Lowndes County Commission met on Jan. 8 at the Charles Smith Annex to discuss topics which included concerns raised by Commissioner Robert Harris regarding $30,000 in funding allocated to the Industrial Development (ID) board. 

The funding had been approved by the commission on Oct. 10, but as of the Jan. 8, meeting, no check had been issued.

When questioned by the commission regarding why the check had not been issued, County Administrator Jackie Thomas explained that Commission Chairman Charlie King, Jr. had advised her against writing the check. 

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King expressed his concerns, explaining he felt misled in October about the purpose of the funds. The chairman stated his desire to rescind his vote, emphasizing the need for transparency and accountability.

“I think that we need to be transparent with each other,” King said. “We need to make sure that if we say something, that we do what we say we’re going to do.”

Commissioner Harris countered, affirming that the funding was always intended for the ongoing operations of the ID board. He added that once a decision had been made, it couldn’t be reversed.

“The minutes will state that it was for the ID board’s use,” Harris said. “That’s what the minutes will state, and that’s what it was approved for.”

Harris criticized King’s actions, alleging they were unethical and seeking legal counsel from the county attorney, Prince Chestnutt, who clarified that while all official actions were taken by majority vote, the administrator had discretion in funding decisions. 

Chestnutt explained that to rescind the allocation, a commissioner who had previously voted in favor would need to propose a motion, which would then require a majority vote for approval.

Commissioner W. Dickson Farrior raised the motion to rescind the $30,000 granted to the Industrial Development board, which was seconded by Commissioner Joseph Barganier. The motion passed, effectively reversing the previous funding decision.

In other business, the commission heard from

– Ursula Crittendon with Alabama Department of Public Health, who delivered an update on the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) permit survey to be mailed to all Lowndes County residents upon completion;

– Dr. Ozelle Hubert, president of the Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce, who solicited support for a medical complex with urgent care, dialysis center, and ambulance service. Hubert also requested support for a 1% sales tax increase to fund a Lowndes County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) unit;.

– William Scott with Tristatz Government and Building Consulting who offered support and proposed a summer job program for students to gain work experience;

– Cliff Burkett with Priester’s Pecans, who requested funding for three electric vehicle charging stations, pending contract negotiations;

– Lowndes County Sheriff Chris West who requested $35,000 for three new police package, crew cab trucks. The commission granted West’s request; and

The commission also voted to appoint James Walton as a member of the Sewage Board.