Commission axes local governance attempt

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 26, 2014

County voters may have the opportunity during November’s elections to grant the Covington County Commission more ability to govern, but in order to get the choice onto ballots, they will first need a petition.

The commission voted down a resolution Wednesday during a special called meeting that would have given voters the choice to grant the panel more power under the Alabama Limited Self Governance Act of 2005. The legislation gives rural residents the right to vote in favor of local governance of things like junkyards, noise, litter, unsanitary sewerage, weeds, pollution and animal control. Currently, the commission cannot govern those areas and must rely upon the state legislature to make rules on its behalf.

District 2 Commissioner Joe Barton made the motion to not approve the resolution Wednesday, citing as a reason too many areas the commission would oversee should the vote give them more governing power.

“We can’t police everything,” Barton said. “We would be asked to handle every barking dog; to determine how high weeds can be. This would just open up a lot of loopholes.”

Barton also said the move would give local areas less incentive to become incorporated parts of the county, places where municipal officials would govern.

For the time being, however, the unincorporated areas of Covington County, which accounts for approximately 11,000 voters, will have to form a petition and obtain signatures from 10 percent of the population in order to vote on the issue in November. According to information from the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 16,400 people reside in the county’s unincorporated areas.

Barton said the commission not passing the resolution still ultimately leaves the decision up to the people.

“If the people want it, let them ask for it,” Barton said. “Most people like things the way they are.”

Barton also expressed concerns that allowing the commission to control issues such as weeds, pollution and junkyards would lead to residents unjustly attempting to label neighbors’ yards or lands as hazards.

“We just want people to be good neighbors,” he said.

Tuesday, Commission Chairman Bill Godwin said he felt the change would be one for the better.

“It would be worth getting this passed just so we could address unsightly junkyards,” Godwin said. “Noise, animal control and junkyards have all come up.”

A prominent example of a recent complaint logged by county residents is a noise problem reported to the commission last week by residents living near a restaurant on Gantt Lake. Locals presented commissioners with a petition to have the establishment’s liquor license “red flagged,” and while commissioners sided with the residents, the panel had no authority to impose any sanctions.