Commissioners hold first work session in place of committee meetings

Much of the time spent in the first Blount County Commission work session Tuesday dealt with items that weren’t passed on for action but they did generate plenty of discussion among commissioners and residents.

This was the first work session to replace such committees as the public service and intergovernmental committees and the beer board. The meeting lasted almost three hours.

Commissioners discussed towing company prices during inclement weather, heard complaints from several Blount County residents regarding a Six Mile Road events center asking for a beer permit, debated the merits of an overall fleet management plan and heard options for funding a project to maintain the county’s rural beauty.

The Beer Board heard from Stephen B. Henry requesting a beer permit for The Tallassee Store and from Mimi Wiese Hiatt requesting a beer permit for Ridge Valley Farms LLC. Neighbors of the facility had complaints and were very vocal against plans for the business to expand from an event center to include a new café that would serve beer.

Owner Mimi Wiese Hiatt assured commissioners that the facility would operate up to the highest standards. “I live across from it, and I want to keep it respectable,” Hiatt said.

Neighbor Frank Romano complained that the facility already has changed the quiet neighborhood. “It was pastoral,” he said. “Mimi Hiatt turned it into a circus.”

Neighbor Wayne Oliver drew a laugh when he complained about the guests at the event facility that often hosts weddings. “They have no respect for their neighbors,” Oliver said. “I ran one off my tractor in a tuxedo.”

The commissioners passed Henry’s request on to the full commission with a recommendation to approve the permit and passed Hiatt’s request on to the full commission with a recommendation to deny.

Commissioners then heard a motion by commissioner David Ballard for a resolution to create a new vehicle fleet management policy that would bring purchasing of vehicles for all branches of county government under the Purchasing Department. After much discussion commissioners voted 11 to nine against passing it on for consideration on the commission’s March 20 agenda.

Johnathan Sitzlar, chair of the Growth Management Advisory Committee, used a Power Point presentation to report on that group’s efforts to find different avenues for funding an effort to transfer or purchase development rights to preserve land in Blount County.

Sitzlar showed commissioners several options for funding the effort.

“These are your opportunities to fund a program of this nature if you choose,” he said. “These are just options and opportunities.”

The committee, composed of citizens and volunteers from throughout the county, was chosen by the Blount County Commission. They have been meeting since June of 2007, Sitzlar said.

The commissioners passed the measure on to the commission for action during their March 20 meeting.

Commissioners then heard from a resident who complained about a towing company who pulled her van out of a ditch during inclement weather on Jan. 22. She said she got home and called another company who gave her an estimate of $75 to do the job. A sheriff’s deputy had called another service to pull and tow the abandoned van and that company charged her $260.

Blount County Assistant Chief Deputy Jimmy Long told commissioners the deputy involved probably was concerned about the safety of the public and had a liability to prevent the van from being a hazard to other motorists. The chief said the sheriff doesn’t control how much the towing companies charge.

When asked why the deputy didn’t try to contact the van owner by phone, Long said the deluge of calls for service at that time made it difficult.

“Normally in a situation without 96 calls backed up, we contact (the owner),” he said.

Commissioner Ron French said he had never seen such a large tow bill. “I’ve had cars towed 30 and 40 miles, and I’ve never had a $265 tow bill,” he said. “That’s over three times a normal tow bill. That’s gouging.”

Commissioner Wendy Pitts Reeves told Long that when a resident she knows complained to a towing company about her high bill, the wrecker company employee told her the high bill was because they had to pay the sheriff’s office a commission. Long denied that accusation and told Pitts Reeves he would want to speak with whomever said that.

Commissioner Mark Hasty questioned Pitts Reeves’ motives for mentioning the accusation. “I think this issue was brought up to take a shot at the sheriff’s office and belittle the integrity of the officers,” he said.

Pitts Reeves was quick to deny it was a personal attack. “I brought this up because of a concern from a citizen,” she said.

No resolution was referred to the commission regarding the situation.

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