Supes again squabble over policy
by Chance Wright
Nov 09, 2012 | 1733 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Discussions turned from the issue at hand into a disagreement on policies during Lee Chatman's report to the Bolivar County Supervisors on roads.

Chatman presented the board with a detailed list of ongoing projects, progress made and other problem areas when Supervisor Preston Billings interrupted to the county for help in Shelby.

"The city of Shelby has written for assistance with their houses that are dilapidated," said Billings. "Their attorney has prepared a draft and the (county) administrator will bring it out during his report."

"I'd like to just take it right now," said Will Hooker, county administrator. "We do have three items. We got the board minutes from the city of Shelby's meeting."

Hooker said the first request was for the county to come in and cut and spray grass in certain specified areas around the city.

The second request was to help with patching potholes on specified city streets and in the library's parking lot.

The third request was for the county to come in and help clean up some burned debris on residential lots and to clean up the dilapidated properties around the city.

Hooker mentioned multiple addresses as examples that need attention and a resolution that was prepared by Shelby after a public hearing was held on Sept. 4.

According to Hooker that resolution declared these properties as "public menaces to the health and safety of the community."

Board Attorney Linda F. Coleman advised that if a public hearing had indeed been held then any decision or action was at the discretion of the board.

Billings attempted to make a motion allowing the county to help when Supervisor James McBride began a discussion on the matter.

"Hold up," said McBride. "Now you know we can't remove burned debris."

McBride explained that the county could not help with the burned properties because the county's dumpsite is not approved by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality to accept burned materials.

"We would like to but we can't be in violation of MDEQ," McBride added.

"It would have to be loaded in dumpsters and then carried off by BFI or Waste Management," said Supervisor Donny Whitten. "The city of Shelby would have to be responsible for that."

"So is this the property owner's responsibility," Billings asked.

"I would think so," said Whitten.

Supervisor Andrew Williams made a comment that if the homeowners were living in the house when it burned then their homeowners insurance should cover any cleanup costs.

Accepting the fact that the county could not help with the burned properties, Billings made a motion to allow the county to assist with the clean up of the other dilapidated properties.

Supervisor Larry King seconded.

However, before a vote was made, Billings attempted to clarify in his motion that if the owners of the burned properties got their own dumpsters and assumed the responsibility of having them hauled off then the county would assist with the cleanup.

"That's the dilapidated properties now," said McBride. "You can't just go out there and take that equipment onto private property."

Williams commented that as long as it was declared a public nuisance after a public hearing then the county could.

"The department of health has to declare," said Whitten. "Until we have that we cannot go onto public property. Just because the city of Shelby declares it a public nuisance it does not make it legal for us to go onto private property."

"Mr. Billings, I am not trying to through a kink in it and I'm not trying to start anything," McBride said. "I am just trying to stay legal."

"That's right," Whitten agreed.

"People have a propensity when they see something happening in one particular location then everybody figures that they can get in on it. And they will take advantage of it," McBride continued. "But if we keep it legal then we don't have to worry about that."

When asked about the legality of the county going on private property deemed by the municipality as a nuisance, attorney Coleman advised that as long as the its deemed a public nuisance, or safety hazard, it was legal but that the decision was still left up to the discretion of the board.

After those comments Coleman made another point.

"What you have to understand is that you are going to over obligate your resources," said Coleman. "So this board has to balance that."

"I think that, number one, our county policy requires that the state health department has to declare a nuisance and health hazard," Whitten said. "It would be attached to what the city had done and recorded in its minutes and I think that is also a part of the policy which allows us to go onto private property."

"That's not exactly it," said Coleman.

"Well, that's our board policy," said Whitten. "And, that's what we've always done in the past."

Whitten added that there was a property on Morrison Chapel Road that was waiting on a public hearing and that the board followed that same procedure.

"The county has a policy in addition to what the statute allows us to do," Coleman explained. "And the reason that policy was adopted was so that this board could put into place safeguards in terms of how to prioritize cleaning private property.

"In a lot of instances, from what I can read from the policy, the board was concerned about being reimbursed for the cleaning," she continued. "Because, you can charge these back to the private property owners through their taxes and in order to get around that our policy requires that we make a finding about their financial status."

"I can remember the policy being, if the person is financially unable and they present documentation to this board showing their income, we could go in there and do the work," McBride agreed. "But for people that are financially able and have a house that is burned down and insurance has done some stuff and compensated them, we can't do anything."

"Let me just say this about the health department," Coleman chimed in. "I have met with Mr. Grace regarding the health department's involvement and so, the health department is really getting some kickback with some of the people saying 'why did you come and single out my property rather than getting everybody.' So now the health department is having reservation about going out if it is just for a junky yard."

"If we get a complaint from the citizens whose property adjoins it then we got to," McBride replied.

"The board can do that on its own motion," Coleman answered.

"First, I want to say this," said Whitten. "I don't have a problem at all going up there to help clean the properties. I am in favor of it in fact. But I'm more in favor of following the board policy and accept the guidelines that we have been abiding by on every piece of property that we have ever cleaned up since we adopted this policy.

"In fact, the only time that we have gotten involved with cleaning property is by request," he continued. "The only reason that the health department gets involved is to protect this board."

"Well, Mr. Whitten and president of the board, I don't want to do anything that will get this board into a legal situation," said Billings. "You all are saying in this that the city of Shelby should be in here pleading its case for this work to be done? In so many words, am picking up what you all are saying?

"In Shelby, we are poor," he continued. "I had been on their board for 16 years and we cannot find some of these property owners. We need some help."

Whitten said that the only thing he was saying was that the board has a policy in place and it should be abided by.

"What needs to be done, in my own opinion, is the city of Shelby should contact the health department and ask the health department to come out and deem these a nuisance or health hazard and then attach that letter with the determination of the health department and then we will be in compliance with the Bolivar County board policy. Then we could move along and get it done."

"When you are dealing with private property, I think that the board should always go into it with premise that it cannot go onto the property," added Coleman. "When the legislature added the statute that the county could decide, it was never meant for the county to go onto private property because that is the land owner's responsibility."

"Mr. president, I am going to say something," said Billings. "Every time I bring something from my area we look at a precedence being set. It bothers me a little bit because we have taxpayers, and I am one and I pay some heavy taxes."

"I said that what you are asking is fine the way it is," Coleman replied. "But, I am telling you all what the law is. You all don't want to hear it, but I told you all the requirements (statute) have been met. But, as far as private property, it is not the government's job to clean private property."

"I think that where we're at is, that it is fine, with the dilapidated properties but the city needs to get with those two property owners of the burned homes," said Williams.

Billings then clarified that there were more than two burned properties.

"Its more than two, it's about 38," said Billings.

"Supervisor, we can't start that," said Whitten.

"It seems that every time we start something that we are starting a precedence," Billings said again. "We need help from the county because we are trying to stay afloat to be a town to help central (Cleveland). We buy every thing from central. So, we need a little help from county and central to stay afloat."

Coleman said that she was going to go to her office and bring a copy of the policy to the board. However, before she got up to leave, it was confirmed that a copy of the policy could be found in the county administrator's office.

"We seem to be showing a propensity of overlooking board policies," added Whitten. "It's happened before and now it's happening again. Now, I am not arguing about whether or not we should go up there and do it or not. I'm just saying that if you have a policy in place, and if I am in fact correct and I maybe wrong, where the board has to have a decision from the health department period.

"That's what we have done in the past," Whitten continued. "I don't know why we are having amnesia on the board, but that is a fact on what we have always done in the past. For me to vote for it, I want clarification on whether or not I am right on the policy."

Williams said that Shelby should indeed call the health department in for determination before the board should move forward with the matter.

The motion was then tabled until a copy of the policy could be attained and the board voted unanimously to approve Chatman's report.