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County looks to change building codes
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The Liberty County Commission took little action Thursday, but members discussed proposed revisions to county building and zoning codes, a contractor preference policy and a personnel policy revision.

Jeff Ricketson, director of the Fort Stewart Growth Management Partnership, presented an overview of suggested code revisions that he has created in conjunction with the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission.

Based on the comprehensive county plan adopted in 2008, the proposed revisions will streamline the developing process with the ultimate goal of enhancing the community’s aesthetics, he said.

“Your plan is really just a statement of how you’d like to see things turn out, but in order to actually give that the power of law, you need to put that into your ordinances,” Ricketson said.

The primary areas of focus are sign, billboard and planned-unit development regulation, and military overlay zones and conservation plats.

During Ricketson’s presentation, commissioners expressed displeasure with a proposal that would require a five-acre minimum plot for a building permit for a house in the county’s rural areas zoned A-1 agricultural.

“You’re not changing any of the uses in A-1, you’re just saying that currently, you have a one-acre lot minimum in A-1, in the future you would require a five-acre lot,” he said.

“What you’re saying is that if I’m in the rural area of the county, and we approve this, then I will have to have a five-acre lot?” Chairman John McIver asked.

Those who wish to build on less than five acres would have to petition for rezoning to a residential-agricultural, Ricketson said. “The intent of this is to direct growth into the areas where you’ve got the infrastructure to accommodate that.”

Though Ricketson continued his presentation, McIver recommended that commissioners have a workshop where they have time dedicated to address their concerns, and the board did not take action on the item.

After updates from internal departments, the DUI court, Liberty Regional Medical Center and the convention and visitors bureau, County Attorney Kelly Davis spoke about two policy requests made earlier.

First, Davis presented a local contractor preference policy draft that would apply to projects subject to state laws, which the board requested on Jan. 3.

Davis defined local contractors as businesses located in the county with a fixed office, businesses outside the county that are majority-owned by county residents, or ones outside of the county with more than 51 percent of their workforces composed of county residents.

The policy has little effect on bid-based projects, where the lowest bid must be accepted according to state law, Davis said. However, in the event of a tying low bid, the policy would give an advantage to a local contractor.

These projects are typically road projects, whereas the county would use the proposal method for most of its larger projects, Davis said.

The policy would have greater effect on the proposal system of procurement, where scorers can assign different values to key aspects, such as price, experience or location, he added. Under this method, scorers could assign a 10-point value for local workers.

Davis identified weakness in the proposal, and suggested that the board cut joint-venture provisions that create a possible loophole.

Davis also addressed a proposed change to the personnel policy that would allow employees to have a non-legal representative with them at appeal hearings.

Liberty County Branch NAACP President Dwight Newbould made the request in September, citing concerns that those who cannot afford legal representation during a personnel appeal are at a disadvantage.

Thursday, Davis told the board that the request for such a policy is noble, but could violate a state statute that prohibits unauthorized practice of law.

“I commend the board for wanting to give as much assistance to employees as you can in personnel hearings …,” he said. “But when we’re reviewing (the policy), the one thing you can’t do, of course, is violate state law.”

Because the hearings are quasi-judicial in nature, someone making arguments on behalf of another person runs the risk of unintentional unauthorized legal practice.

Davis suggested a policy that would give a non-lawyer companion boundaries to work within and requiring the companion and employee to sign a document as evidence they understand the limitations of their role.

The board asked Davis to refine both policies and will take action in the future.

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