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June 19, 2003 Issue

A show of respect...
Jefferson County celebrated Flag Day with a couple of special ceremonies Saturday. See more on Page 12A of this weeks issue.

Marshal tells commission he feels defamed

Claims he has tape-recorded proof he was told not to go back to the old Forstmann property

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Items presented at meetings of the Jefferson County Commission are often low-key.

That was not the case June 10, as county Marshal Alan Wasden read a prepared statement citing concerns that he had been defamed by county officials and questioning both the commission's alleged failure to adhere to environmental requirements and the board structure of the county's development authority.

During a portion of his statement to commissioners, Wasden referenced recent newspaper articles concerning several incidents in early 2002 that occurred at the old Forstmann site near Louisville and a Feb. 27, 2002, meeting attended by former county administrator James Rogers, county commission Chairman Gardner Hobbs, county economic developer Brad Day, Development Authority of Jefferson County (DAJC) Chairman Bill Easterlin and Mickey Moses, attorney for the commission and DAJC.

Documentation of the Feb. 27 meeting and other officer's reports written by Wasden were obtained by The News and Farmer/The Jefferson Reporter from Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) under the Georgia Open Records Law as a part of larger, ongoing request of environmental concerns at the old Forstmann site, now owned by Flint Logistics Management, LLC.

Contrary claims

In his June 10 statement to commissioners, Wasden referenced his earlier claim that he had been told by his superiors to cease any inspections at the Flint property unless accompanied by a member of the development authority and a prior appointment was made.

He said the responses provided by Rogers, Hobbs, Day and Easterlin concerning his instructions at the Feb. 27 meeting were contrary to the facts and reflected untruthfully on himself and his office.

He maintained that he had served responsibly and professionally as a county employee since 1990 and that all his reports referenced in the media in past months are factual.

"All of the officer's reports concerning these incidents are true and official but my reports and actions have been criticized by my previous supervisor and other county officials," said Wasden. "In my opinion, it is a defamation of my character and instills public mistrust in the marshal's office. The meeting, which occurred on Feb. 27, 2002, between myself, James Rogers, Gardner Hobbs, Brad Day and Bill Easterlin should have never occurred.

"I work for the commission and if there were a problem with any of my actions it should have been resolved as stated in the county personnel policy and procedures manual. The bottom line is that a couple of good ol' boys who purchased the Forstmann facility had a problem with me doing my job. Four of the officials at this meeting have made statements directly and indirectly criticizing my integrity. I refuse to continue to allow the people I work for to defame me for simply doing the job I was employed to do."

Wasden also told commissioners June 10 he was in possession of an audio recording of the Feb. 27 meeting.

Wasden said in May he was told at the Feb. 27 meeting that his actions were hurting economic development and was "advised by my superiors to cease any inspections at the (old) Forstmann facility unless I was accompanied by a member of the development authority and a prior appointment was made."

Responding to Wasden's claim, Rogers said he did not remember the statement being made or being a part of the conversation, adding that he believed that Wasden had had a problem with the facility for years.

Hobbs said he did not specifically remember anyone making such a statement, adding, "I didn't tell (Wasden) not to go back and James didn't tell him that. I think this is an Alan and Brad thing."

When asked about the statement in Wasden's documentation of the Feb. 27 meeting where he said he was told his actions were hurting economic development and not to return to the Flint site, Day said the statement was not made by him or anyone at the meeting. Easterlin said the general thrust of the meeting was to allow the state to handle the issue since EPD was already involved. Easterlin added that Wasden might have misunderstood the intent of the meeting.

Moses said he could not comment on the meeting, as he is legal counsel for the commission and the development authority.

Other portions of Wasden's statement to commissioners at the June 10 meeting included references to a known environmental problem on county property that has gone unresolved since April 2000, the make up of the DAJC board and the waiver of building permits and fees.

Environmental problem

Wasden asked that commissioners live by the same environmental regulations required of residents throughout the county. He referenced a large number of rusted and leaking containers located adjacent to the old prison on US Highway 1 in Louisville.

He referred to two proposals to clean up the site he had provided to commissioners in April 2000.

Wasden said the commission voted to forego the bids and do the work themselves. He said communications in the past three years with former county administrator James Rogers occurred but did not result in any action taken to remedy the situation.

"To this date the material is still at the same location leaking chemicals on to the ground," he said. "If this same situation had occurred with an individual, felony charges under Title 16 of the Waste Control laws of Georgia would have been filed. If Jefferson County wants to continue to have a proactive environmental enforcement program we should lead by setting the example for others to follow."

Meeting minutes at the commission office verify that the board voted in April 2000 to have the county perform the work rather than hiring an environmental company.

An inspection of the old prison showed the presence of several hundred rusted containers, ranging in size from one-pint cans to 55-gallon drums.

Many of the canisters appear to contain some type of chemical though their rusted condition largely prohibited identification of the contents.

Accountability questioned

Also questioned in Wasden's statement to commissioners was the make up of the development authority board, citing four of the seven members as having ties to First National Bank & Trust, headquartered in Louisville.

"Currently, the development authority consists of seven appointed members," he said. "Bill Easterlin and three of his associates have a controlling interest in any actions taken by the authority. If the zoning board, board of assessors, board of equalization or any other appointed authority was all controlled by a certain organization or clique, it would be considered unethical. I believe the same theory applies here."

Referencing public statements made to commissioners in August 2002 by county building inspector Paul Ledger about problems he encountered with a building permit at Flint with co-owner Jimmy Williams, Wasden requested that the waiver of building permits, fees and inspections be voted on in public meetings.

County budget should total around $9,233,690

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Though the numbers in Jefferson County's recommended budget are still being scrutinized, county administrator Paul Bryan told commissioners at the June 12 work session that the budget for the 2003-2004 fiscal year beginning July 1 should total approximately $9,233,690.

"It's lean, it's tight, it's Slim-Fast tight," said Hobbs. "So we can't get happy and want something midstream because the money isn't going to be there."

The figure is nearly $144,000 less than the $9.378 million budget amended in May due to unanticipated revenue and represents an increase of $38,000 over the $9.195 million budget adopted in June 2002. Commissioners will adopt the new budget at a June 26 meeting. The county's fiscal year begins July 1.

Bryan explained that the budget must be pliable enough to meet the county's allocated needs while being continuously reviewed to ensure efficiency.

"A budget is an ongoing, living document," he said. "All the facets, even the smallest will be continuously evaluated and re-evaluated in order to provide the most effective and efficient services for the least cost."

If approved by commissioners later this month, a number of departments are expected to see changes from last year. The budget for the new landfill will decrease to $667,000 from $755,000 last year. The decrease is due to one-time equipment purchases last fiscal year. Public Works is set to receive $981,000 rather than the $1,249,000 in 2002-2003. The difference is due to salaries being figured incorrectly, reductions in anticipated site improvements and equipment purchased last year that would not show up in the recommended budget.

The prison camp budget is expected to increase by $37,000. Last year's budget was $1,555,000 compared to $1,592,000 this year. The difference is due to an increase in group insurance costs, said Bryan.

The sheriff's budget also shows an increase. Last year's budget of $1,186,000 increased to $1,279,000 due to employee benefits that should have been included last year, Bryan said. He said the cost of operating the jail decreased by $10,000.

Budgets for the firefighters went from $102,500 to $76,300. The decrease reflected the purchase of a fire truck for the Matthews station that would not be included in this year's budget.

The coroner's budget increased from $19,000 to $34,000. The change reflects the addition of a $4,500 salary, training supplies and equipment and money for a vehicle to comply with recent changes in state allocated funds for the state crime lab. The crime lab will no longer be transporting from local hospitals to labs in Atlanta and Augusta, said Bryan. The burden for transporting deceased individuals in approved vehicles has fallen to the county.

An issue cited by Bryan as being controllable was the overall cost of overtime expenses. Though some overtime is unavoidable within an organization, department heads will be required to write a memo of justification for overtime used in their area, he said.

"We need to be on top of overtime and to make sure it is properly used and we are going to take action if it's being abused," Bryan said.

Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the budget June 19 at 9 a.m. at the commission office. The budget is scheduled for adoption June 26 at 9 a.m. at the commission office.

Bids opened for airport expansion project

Work includes expanding the runway in length and width

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

There was a subdued air of excitement at Louisville City Hall Friday as bids for the expansion of Louisville airport were opened. Beech Island bidder Beam's Contracting provided the lowest bid that in coming months will result in a runway long enough for corporate and other jets to take off and land safely.

Beam's bid of $1,404,936.32 was the lowest of five local and regional bidders. Bids included expanding the runway in length and width. The runway length will be increased to 5,000 feet from the current 3,500 feet and runway width will increase from 75 feet currently to 100 feet. Also included in the project is the replacement and relocation of runway lights.

"This project has been a long time in the works," said Mayor Byron Burt. "I'm glad to see it getting near its completion. I think the citizens are going to see some corporate aircraft landing here soon."

Georgia Department of Transportation personnel and engineering staff present at the meeting anticipated that construction might begin within four weeks, once the bid tabulation and pre-construction conference are complete.

The anticipated completion date for the expansion is a maximum of six months.

Contributions for the $2.2 million project included nearly $1.6 million from Georgia Department of Transportation and a 25 percent match from the city.

The runway expansion is the final of several phases involved in the project and was a part of the city's five-year Short-Term Work Plan, said city administrator Donnie Rhodes. Past phases included an environmental assessment, appraisals, plat surveys, property acquisition and fees. Excess funds from the project will be used to purchase items such as navigational aids.

"I know it feels like some projects take a long time and this one took several years," said Rhodes. "But I think having it complete will be good for the whole county. I'm just tickled the bids came in under the proposed construction cost."

Rhodes added that the project had received ongoing assistance from DOT personnel.

The four remaining bids included $1,489,956 from Apac Southeast, $1,520,811 from Hibner Excavating Company, $1,690,415 from Mabus Brothers Construction and $1,735,647 from Everett Dykes Grassing Co., Inc.

Louisville airport is one of 27 regional airports throughout Georgia.

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