The Long County Commission meeting attendees on Tuesday drilled commissioners with questions. Patricia Smith-Johnson, Vanessa Cunningham and former Commission Chairman Bobby Walker peppered the panel with inquiries ranging from cellphone usage to recent hirings.
Johnson questioned the necessity of hiring John Bradley as the chief code-enforcement officer since the code office already has Code Enforcement Officer Steve Atkins. Chairman Robert Long said Atkins does not have all of the certifications required to be the chief code-enforcement officer, and the workload in the office is too much for one officer.
Cunningham asked why the commissioners didn’t feel that Atkins was capable of obtaining the necessary certifications. She also wondered why the commissioners previously always have referred to Atkins as the chief code-enforcement officer.
Long stressed that the commissioners didn’t say that he isn’t capable of obtaining them, but they felt that there was a need to fill the position immediately.
Johnson also said that a recent newspaper article reported a $600,000 county deficit, and he questioned the accuracy of that claim. The story appeared in the Long County Press.
Commission Vice Chairman Kent Hall said the story was misleading because it focused on a total estimate that included an E-911 past deficit of $243,000, last year’s shortage of approximately $160,000 and an anticipated shortage of $160,000 for the upcoming year. He said that the recent cost increase to provide EMS services to the county also was figured in, and all those sums totaled approximately $600,000. Hall said that the shortages in the E-911 figures are a result of monthly service charges on residents’ phone bills not covering the actual cost to provide service.
Walker also said that several people in the community have told him that the previous commission, which he chaired, left the county broke. He asked know how this information is being spread. Regarding the E-911 deficit, Walker said, it was a problem his commissioners inherited when they took office. The increased cost to provide EMS services was not approved by his board. He said they did not approve that EMS contract because they felt it would be better to wait until after the election, and then let the sitting board make that decision. Walker is of the belief that the contract needed to go to the lowest bidder.
Walker also questioned recent reports that the previous commission allegedly allowed family members to use county cellphones. Long said many of the reports published in the paper are not accurate.
Commissioner Dwight Gordon told Walker that as an elected official, he ought to know how reports can be misleading.
“Do you believe everything you read in the paper?” Gordon asked Walker.
However, Gordon did say that when the previous commissioners left office, the county’s monthly cell-phone bill was approximately $50,000 a month. It’s now around $20,000 a month.
Johnson asked the board why the public isn’t allowed to fish in the recreation department pond. She also asked why county charges 25 cents per copy for information requested at the commissioner’s office. She claimed that Hinesville and Jesup charge only 10 cents per copy. County Attorney Jay Swindell said that the cost is based, to a certain degree, on the hourly rage of employees in the office. Long said they’ll investigate the cost, and if it isn’t correct according to state guidelines, it will be changed.
Hall told Johnson that safety concerns might be why public fishing isn’t allowed in the pond, but he wasn’t certain. He said that he would meet with the county’s recreation board and get a definitive answer.
Editor’s note: A story on other items of business covered at the meeting, including the Townsend Bombing Range expansion project and a proposed ordinance governing the discharging of firearms in residential areas, will be in Sunday’s Courier.