Tag Archives: county commission

Expansion of Lowndes County Commission?

Since a proposal for nine commissioners was voted down in the 1980s and the Justice Department required a minority-majority district, leading to the current three commissioners plus non-voting chair, there have been various attempts to expand the number of Lowndes County Commissioners. Thomas County has eight commissioners, as do several other nearby counties with less population than Lowndes County. For that matter, the city of Valdosta has I think seven city council members, for less than half the population of Lowndes County.

The previous commission was divided among itself on this issue, and the local state representatives would not bring it up in the legislature without consensus among the commission. The new commission has been trying to move forward on this. The last version I heard involved keeping the same commission districts as now, plus adding two overlapping commissioners for new east and west districts.

Interestingly, there was nothing said about all this at Monday’s work session, yet we discover in the newspaper:

Paige Dukes, Lowndes County information officer, said the commission visited with reapportionment in Atlanta twice during the past few weeks. As a result of those meetings, the reapportionment office forwarded several maps to the commission for its review, Dukes said.

Lowndes County Commission Chairman Ashley Paulk said, “The commission continues to work feverishly on the expansion issue. We are at an 80 percent consensus regarding a plan that will meet local needs and satisfy requirements determined by the Department of Justice. I am working one on one with each commissioner in an effort to get a plan to citizens as soon as possible.”

Paulk was a guest of Scott James on his morning radio on program TALK 92.1 Monday, and in the course of that interview, Paulk said that if all the commissioners agreed on the plan, the expansion could actually be voted on by the board at tonight’s meeting.

It’s not clear from that just what they might vote on, but from context maybe it would be to forward a plan to citizens to vote on.

What Happened to the Canopies

A while back I posted about Partial Win: Canopies May be Saved. Here’s what happened.

entrance before 2007:09:14 11:29:46
entrance after 2008:11:29 12:56:02
Oaks and fence missing at NW canopy
You may recognize that first picture from the Nov 6th post in this blog, Save Our Canopy Road. A copy of that blog post along with a neighorhood meeting notice with the same picture was in the materials staff gave to the Commission, so both staff and Commissioners should have been aware that that entrance was the symbol of the canopy. Despite a Commissioner telling us that the county would start with some noncontentious part of the clearing, the very first thing the county did was to tear all the limbs off those signature oaks at the entrance to the north canopy, and then tear them completely down and grub up the ground like a plowed field. That and tear down the neighboring fence. Here’s another view:


What looks like a plowed field is where those oaks used to be.

Now don’t get me wrong. The entire canopy is on the right of way the county owns, and, as I’ve said numerous times in public County Commission meetings, I do appreciate the county saving at least some part of the canopy, and I especially appreciate the Commissioners literally going out of their way on Nov 9th by piling into a van and driving out there to look at the situation, and then, as Chairman Casey said in the public meeting on Nov 10th, putting his thumb in the chest of the county engineer and telling him to find a way to save the canopies. And indeed, a significant part of the canopy is saved:


County staff showed pictures like that one at the Dec 9th Commission meeting, saying the canopy was saved. Indeed, part of it was saved. But the children crying in the house nearby don’t agree that “the canopy was saved,” nor do the adjoining landowners. Why should county staff, who never paid attention to the canopy until recent months except as an impediment to their highway plan, and who wanted to tear it all down, be the judge of what saving the canopy means?

Suppose the Commissioners had told staff to save your house and they tore down your front porch and flattened your carport and then showed pictures of your house to the Commission saying “we saved the house!” Would you be satisfied?

Speaking of the carport, here’s what the south end of the north canopy now looks like:

Too much grubbing

The pile of trees on the far side used to be canopy, and the bare dirt on the near side used to be canopy.

Why did they tear down the ends of the canopy? For curves. Designed for 45 MPH. After county staff had told me they were probably going to set the speed limit at the canopies lower than that. After the owner of both sides of the road immediately north of this canopy offered them the ability to move the road over enough not to need to tear down the trees or his fence. Instead of getting back to him on that, they just went ahead and tore down the trees the same day. As that landowner, Shawn Vandemark, said:

“We were told one thing and another happened.”

What we have here is a communication problem between the county government and its citizens. It’s not as if concerns about the canopy weren’t known to the county well beforehand. Back in June county government people attended a neighborhood meeting where those concerns were expressed, and options between paving like a highway or leaving it dirt were requested. Hearing no response, I sent a letter to the county on Aug 7th detailing those and other concerns. Still no response. The first notification anyone living on the road got (as far as I know) was when I noticed a truck driving slow around the road and asked them what they were doing. “Looking to see what it will take to tear down all the trees on the right of way!” When I pointed out that we were told back in June that we would be notified 6 to 9 months before anything was done, the two guys in the truck said, laughing:

“That’s the county way!”

The county did also leave a significant part of the south canopy, and we do appreciate the Commissioners making that happen:

A few marked trees

Although once again the county tore down the south end (not shown). Why? For a wide curve. That one I doubt is even for 45 MPH, given that it doesn’t look like they managed to acquire that much land back in the early 1990s. However, why did it even have to be 35MPH? This local rural neighborhood road doesn’t go anywhere!

The point here is that county staff did not do what the county Commission told them to do. The Commissioners left the fox in charge of the hen house, and quite a few chickens got eaten.

This has all been said directly to the county Commissioners and staff in their public meeting of Dec 9th. Some of the Commissioners had some difficulty understanding what we were complaining about. I’m spelling out this part of it here so as to make it more plain. Yes, the commissioners did go out of their way to save the canopies, and we do appreciate that. But what they said to do is not what happened. And it’s not the first time. If county staff had been taking care of business since June by communicating with residents of the road about the canopies, Commissioners wouldn’t have had any need to scurry around at the last minute. And if staff had done what the Commission told them to on Nov 10th, Commissioners wouldn’t have been listening to complaints about the canopy on Dec 9th.

What we have here is a failure to communicate. A small amount of dialog could have prevented this situation. Dialog between June and November. Dialog between county staff and the local landowner after Dec 10th. Staff could have said to him: “here’s what I understand your concerns to be and here’s what we’re going to do; how does that sound?” A few iterations like that between the county and him and other concerned parties and a result could have been arrived at that, while it may not have pleased everybody, wouldn’t have been nearly as much of a problem.

Here’s the newspaper version of that Dec 10th meeting. More on other topics from that meeting in another post.

If saying one thing and doing another is “the county way”, does that seem right to you?

How do we institute effective dialog between the county government and its citizens?