Commissioners back away

Published 12:51 am Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Residents still want to be heard on mental health facility

Two weeks after hosting a groundbreaking for a forensic mental health facility at the Covington County administrative complex, members of the county commission officially reversed its offer of property to  South Central Alabama Mental Health.

“A lot of discussion started taking place across our community, just prior to our announcement,” Covington County Commission Chairman Greg White said. “Some of our local leadership raised concerns about the threat by the proposed facility and citizens around the community joined in that conversation voicing their concerns. On Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, it became apparent that the community’s concerns would make it impossible for the project to move forward as proposed, so individual commissioners expressed our intent to withdraw our support of the facility for Covington County and that we would not offer the property for the project.”

Eight people had asked to be placed on the agenda to make comments about the mental health facility.

After the commission’s vote,  four still wished to speak.

Phil Tisdale expressed his appreciation for the commission’s decision.

“First of all, thank you for allowing us to express our opinions on this matter,” Tisdale said. “I know that when all of you ran for office, you ran so you could provide the best for this county and that is what we are asking, is that you do your job. That is what you are doing it looks like. The next time that I see you all I hope that I get to shake your hands and thank you and not have to look at you in disgust.”

Tisdale said that for the past three years he has worked with architects and engineers and that he doesn’t care how “safe and secure” a building is.

“I know how safe and secure it can be,” Tisdale said. “But human error is what causes problems. Someone who forgets to lock something that should be locked or they forget to check on somebody who should be there.”

Pat Strength also was appreciative the facility will not bei built in Covington County.

“I upfront, want to thank you for the recommendation and the motion that you made and for all of you that voted yes, so that we would not have such a facility of this type in our community,” Strength said. “But this commission and South Central Mental Health went forward with this project without notifying the citizens of this county or the residents of Andalusia. The residents and most elected officials had no idea that a facility was being put on this site for the use and purpose of what I stated earlier. The commission, for whatever reason, decided to not have a public or open meeting to discuss this project so questions in the community could be answered by the commission or SCAMH. I don’t believe personally, that any economic development project that could possibly endanger residents of this county and city could be an asset to this community no matter what amount of potential revenue or jobs it might bring.”

Strength lives less than two miles from the proposed facility, and she said that she did not want her back yard to be close to something so dangerous.

“When I started seeking information about this facility, and as information starting coming out about this facility, I realized that this was not something that our county or our city needed,” Strength said.

Anthony King said he believes that the way the project was handled was the problem.

“First, I’d like to point out that the first time any resident in Covington County knew about this facility was during the groundbreaking ceremony,” King said. “In the Star-News we were told that the commission only discussed the topic in a closed session. I believe that for myself and others, the way this project was rolled out was done in the wrong tone.”

King said that he started researching these types of facilities and he found that every concern was proved to be correct.

“It took me less than 30 minutes of searching the Internet about Taylor Hardin to find that every concern that Judge McGuire and Short brought up was correct,” King said. “An article in the Tuscaloosa News said that a man who was charged with murdering his father and spreading his dismembered body all across Madison County was released by a federal Judge. Madison County officials did not learn of this release until five days later. I am all for economic development, but here in Covington County, we are gun shy when it comes to this topic. Largely because of bad decisions made in the past and we are still working to pay off that debt.”

The two main aspects of an economic development project were left out of this project, King said.

“Two of the key components of economic development were missed in this project,” King said. “The public relations or public information part of it and a properly vet opportunity. Not all economic development projects are suitable for our community. For instance, a maximum security prison or a mental facility may not be accepted by your locals. I think we all agree that we could have done a better job releasing this information for public consumption. We want our commissioners to conduct their business as transparently as possible and to take the time to do the research necessary to make money well spent. Everybody in Covington County wants to feel like they have a voice.”

King said he believes that the commission did not intentionally keep the public in the dark.

“I believe the commissioners had good intentions,” King said. “But we can’t have 10 different people, pulling 10 different parts in 10 different directions.”

Andalusia Mayor Earl Johnson said that this is a time put the past behind them and to move forward as a county and as a city.

“I think what you did here today demonstrates the good faith that has been shown here by this group of people and understanding and reacting in an appropriate manner,” Johnson said. “What I will say today is, let’s put this behind us and work together. We have got the rest of our future in front of us. This was not a good time, but it was handle properly and I think this commission has done a good job in handling it the way that you handled it today. Let’s work together and develop our community.”