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Verbal fireworks mark commission meeting

Debate on whether the County-Owned Property Committee was invited to attend the Budget Committee’s meeting about the courthouse renovations led to a heated discussion following the adjournment of the January commission meeting.
Commissioners complained to Mayor Dan Eldridge they were misrepresented in local media when they were referred to as no-shows for a meeting they were unaware was being held.
“We weren’t notified,” Commissioner Mark Ferguson said.
Eldridge asked Commissioner Doyle Cloyd about the comment he made to a staff member regarding the Jan. 22 meeting prior to the day it was held, and Cloyd denied making it.
“He lies like a rug,” Commissioner Alpha Bridger said of Eldridge to media members present.
Chair Phyllis Corso emphasized the importance of having Eldridge at the committee meetings to answer questions. “I would appreciate it if you would come, and I will try to keep Mr. Rutherford from baiting you,” she said.
Little progress was made during the previous committee meetings Eldridge did attend due to a string of questions and comments hurled by Zoning Administrator Mike Rutherford.
Eldridge told Corso he would be happy to attend if the meetings could be productive.
“What did I just say?” Corso asked. “I said I would try to keep him (Rutherford) in check.”
Budget Committee members reconvened Jan. 22 to continue discussion on the request for an additional $150,000 to complete the downtown that represents no change in the original scope of work.
Committee members recessed their Jan. 15 meeting and had hoped to receive more information on the breakdown of costs from members of the County-Owned Property Committee members, who submitted the request, and Construction Manager Hiram Rash, of GoinsRashCain, Inc. Construction Services.
Rash was the only one who showed. While he said the budget includes all of the remaining work he has been able to identify, he could not guarantee $150,000 would cover everything.
Commissioner Joe Grandy asked about the $40,000 of casework that was not part of the original plan. “I think the objective of the Budget Committee is to be the watchdog for the taxpayers and the money used,” he said.
Rash said the budget is his perspective on what needs to be done to complete the renovations. “The casework is an element that needs to be purchased, and new doors need to be purchased,” he said, referring to a list of additional items still to buy.
His review of the purchase orders also indicates no contract for painting upon completion of the second-floor renovations, Rash said.
“Who painted the third floor?” Commissioner Mitch Meredith asked.
“Inmates,” answered Commissioner Mike Ford who was in attendance.
Eldridge said the concern he has heard from commissioners is the project was approved using inmate labor, but the request from County-Owned Property is changing that decision mid-stream.
“How do we not use inmate labor and instead spend tens of thousands of dollars to hire outside subcontractors?” Eldridge asked, referring to projects successfully completed by inmates in surrounding counties. “I don’t know why we would say we don’t want Washington County taxpayers to receive the same benefit.”
Commissioner Pete Speropulos agreed. “I hear in the community, ‘we’re keeping these guys up in the jail, why can’t we get something back?’” he said.
According to Speropulos, there are a lot of talented people in the Detention Center who have hit a hard spot in their lives. “It’s a shame not to use them, and it’s not fair to the taxpayers.”
Ford said he hears the same comments every day.
The answer, at least in part, was provided by Rash. “I can’t control and can’t supervise prison labor. My insurance won’t let me do that,” he said.
Rash added he feels there is a difference between licensed contractors and volunteer laborers who are going over to work for a few hours a day. “Contractors have more of a need to get finished,” he said.
Meredith said he was very concerned with the additions made by County-Owned Property members, the removal of inmate labor, and no definite cost being provided to complete the project.
Grandy made a motion, seconded by Speropulos, to refer the request back to the County-Owned Property Committee to address areas of concern. The motion passed with unanimous approval.
Rash said, in the meantime, he would demobilize and pull his trailer off the courthouse site.
“It sounds like you’re in the middle,” Ford said.
“I feel like I’ve been that way for a long time,” Rash responded and left the meeting.
Eldridge shared another concern with Budget Committee members regarding the $150,000 request, which directs the money be taken from the capital projects fund.
According to Eldridge, the funds from the bond offering were designated for exterior improvements to the courthouse. “I absolutely insist that before we reallocate to interior use, we have bond counsel review to ensure there is no IRS violation,” he said. “If the IRS were to come back and invalidate the tax-exempt status of the bond offering, the interest rate would go up.” He requested an opinion from the county’s bond counsel that day.
After the meeting, Grandy said he was sorry not to have input from County-Owned Property Committee members. “I’m disappointed because I respect their views, but we need to complete the project as planned,” he said.
When contacted later that day, County-Owned Property Committee Chair Phyllis Corso said members were not asked to attend. “We received no notification and were not invited to attend the meeting,” she said. “We also received no notification on decisions made at the meeting.”
Eldridge said the time and purpose of the meeting were communicated to the staff person and the architect, and it should not have come as a surprise to anyone that the request for $150,000 additional dollars would raise questions and need extensive explanation.