Road projects, hiring frozen

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 15, 2012

The first major vote of the newly installed county commission Wednesday resulted in a tie that had to be broken by the chairman.

The day’s meeting began as District Judge Trippy McGuire swore in Chairman Bill Godwin and commissioners Kenneth Northey, Joe Barton, Harold Elmore and Carl Turman.

Godwin recommended that the commission temporarily suspend hiring, the purchasing of non-expendable assets and the selling of county assets. He also recommended stopping work on all ongoing construction projects.

The reason, he said, was so new commissioners could get a better understanding of the county’s financial situation before spending public money; however, it was a proposal not all commissioners agreed with.

When making his recommendation, Godwin said, “There was no transition period between the old administration and the new. We need to get firm with the budget and what we’ve committed to do, and see where we stand at this point. We have a financial responsibility to the public.

“It’s essential that we have a good grasp of the county’s financial situation,” he said.

Barton followed Godwin’s request, making the motion, which was seconded by Northey.

“I think we need to take a temporary break and see where we are,” Barton said. “We need to see how much has been spent, what it’s going to take to finish it. There are a whole lot of questions we don’t have the answer to.”

Elmore asked Godwin if he believed the previous commission “abused the money.”

“No,” Godwin said. “What I’m saying is I’d like the opportunity to see what priorities are in place.”

Barton and Northey voted in favor of the motion, with Turman and Elmore voting against. With a 2-2 tie, Godwin had to cast the deciding vote for his proposal.

Larry Turman, son of Commissioner Carl Turman, asked the commission what county employees will do if all construction projects are halted.

“That money (for road projects) is tied to state funds and grants, and that money has already been allocated and already voted on by the commission, so I don’t see a problem here when it’s already been voted on,” Larry Turman said. “I don’t remember Chairman (Greg) White or Chairman (Lynn) Sasser getting a transition period. All things were public record and accessible. When you suspend money, you’re stopping employees from working, from doing their job. So are they going to sit beside the road?”

When it came time to vote, Godwin was required to break a tied-vote when Commissioners Elmore and Turman voted “no.”

Godwin told The Star-News after the meeting that all paving projects would be stopped.

“We didn’t vote to cancel FEMA projects,” he said. “We’ve still got maintenance issues to contend with. County road employees will continue to do their job as they have been doing, except that they won’t be in ‘construction mode.’ They’ve got plenty to do. It just won’t be paving projects. We’re just suspending them for the time being. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to do it.”