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Deakins' authority challenged

The first meeting of the 2013-14 Washington County Public Works Committee was a combination of old issues and new demands.
Commissioner Mark Ferguson was unanimously elected chair during the Sept. 9 meeting, and Commissioner Roger Nave was elected vice chair. Other members are Commissioners Doyle Cloyd, Richard Matherly and Sam Humphreys.
Despite not being publicly elected chair until the meeting, Ferguson came with a prepared agenda.
“Mr. Deakins passed out an agenda, but I have another one we’re going to follow,” he said.
The agenda Highway Superintendent Johnny Deakins emailed to the committee prior to the meeting contained seven items. Ferguson’s agenda included 17.
One of the items was the replacement of the county asphalt plant, which was built in 1974.
“I don’t think there’s anyone here at the table that doesn’t want you to have a new asphalt plant,” Ferguson said to Deakins.
Yet, commissioners again questioned the specifications used in the bid, whether the bid process was conducted legally and why the project couldn’t be done for less money.
“You need to look at this,” Commissioner Sam Humphreys said. “You’re not going to be paving during the next four to five months. It’ll be winter.”
Deakins said winter is the time to take down an asphalt plant. The Highway Department needs to be ready to dismantle the current structure as soon as paving season ends in order for the new asphalt plant to be open by spring, he noted.
Both Commission Chair Greg Matherly and Mayor Dan Eldridge confirmed the project was approved as part of the debt offering passed unanimously by the commission last month, and neither understood why it was discussed again last week.
In addition, Ferguson requested a copy of the paving schedule and made a motion that all paving outside of the Washington County system, with the exception of projects approved by the County-Owned Property Committee, be put on hold until the Public Works Committee grants a release.
Humphreys seconded the motion, which passed unanimously with Matherly abstaining.
“I want to work with you guys, but the Uniform Road Law says I’m the one who decides what roads are paved,” Deakins said. “Is it going to be you telling me what roads to pave? Because I’m telling you right now, that’s not going to happen.”
Humphreys quickly responded, putting the Town of Jonesborough in the crosshairs.
“We’re telling you to exclude Jonesborough, and that is going to happen,” Humphreys said.
Commissioners’ involvement in the priority order for county road paving has come up before in meetings of the full board, and Deakins reminds them each time that the law gives that responsibility to the highway superintendent.
Paving of the Jonesborough Public Library parking lot was another item on Ferguson’s agenda.
Deakins said he has never been asked to look at it, and projects like that are usually saved until the end of the season.
“We get to those projects when we have time,” he said. “County roads come first.”
Ferguson disagreed.
“I think we need to do it, and we can find the money,” he said, requesting a copy of the formula used to determine paving costs.
Deakins said he wants to be involved in the planning of the meeting agenda.
“I sent out an agenda and didn’t hear from anyone but Sam, and then a lot of things were added that I’m not prepared to address,” he said. “If we’re going to do an agenda, I want to be involved so I don’t get sideswiped.”
Humphreys also requested a list of all Highway Department employees by name with information on their hire dates, whether they drive county trucks, and a copy of their job descriptions.
“Can I ask why you want to know when they were first employed?” Deakins said.
“Because I want to know,” Humphreys responded. “I understand you hired four this week, and I want to know why we need so many.”
Deakins said the number of Highway Department employees has been reduced in the last few years, and Washington County is very lean compared to other counties.
Ferguson made a motion to recess the meeting until Tuesday, Sept. 17, at 5:30 p.m. in the Zoning Office to review the paving schedule.