Agenda item addition request creates friction at commission meeting

James HowellStaff

October 17, 2012

The Ashe County Board of Commissioners met on Monday and although the meeting was short, there was a disagreement between commissioners Gerald Price and Judy Porter Poe over an agenda addition at the beginning of the meeting.

When chairwoman Poe asked if additions should be made to the meeting’s agenda, commissioner Price said he would like to make a late addition. Price raised questions about how the county distributes funds to volunteer fire departments that provide protection to Ashe residents.

When this addition was requested by Price, Poe questioned why this addition wasn’t suggested during the planning period held at 2 p.m. earlier that day.

The current rules of procedure for the board of commissioners say “before any item can be added and/or deleted to the regular meeting agenda, it must be discussed and agreed upon by consensus at the prior work session and by a vote at the regular session.”

“The (2 p.m.) meeting was set up so one commissioner can’t ambush the others with information they don’t have access to,” said Poe.

Poe also said all sides involved in this issue should be present at the discussion. Commissioner Larry Rhodes agreed, saying “we need information to reach a qualified decision.”

Price made a motion to add the issue to the agenda for discussion, and commissioner Gary Roark seconded the motion. When voting on the addition, the commissioners voted to decline the addition by a 3-2 vote, with Price and Roark voting for the addition.

With the agenda agreed upon, the board of commissioners voted to adopt the High Country Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan in a 3-2 vote. Price and Roark voted against approving the plan.

Patty Gamble, Ashe County’s emergency management coordinator, presented the plan, which says “Ashe County desires to seek ways to mitigate situations that may aggravate such circumstances (an array of natural hazards).”

The High Country Hazard Mitigation Plan is a region plan that includes Ashe County, Alleghany County, Watauga County, Wilkes County and all of the municipalities therein. Without a regional plan, Ashe County wouldn’t remain eligible to receive state and federal assistance in the event of a declared disaster in the area.

Commissioner William Sands “this sounds like a win-win situation. Are there any drawbacks in adopting this plan?”Gambill said the only downside is that the county must adopt it in order to have access to state and federal relief funds.

Another issue was addressed during the meeting. The “Old Fields” property has been a topic of discussion for the last couple meetings.

A driveway belonging to local business owner Steve Halsey crosses property owned by Ashe County. A land swap has been offered to Halsey, which will allow the county to receive property of equal size from Halsey in exchange for the property that Halsey’s driveway crosses.

However, this is only phase one of a complex situation. Part of the land the county currently owns has been leased out to the Fleetwood Volunteer Fire Department. The fire department has underground water tanks buried on property that they thought the county owned, but actually doesn’t.

Members of the Fleetwood Volunteer Fire Department are worried they may not have access to the underground tank to fill their emergency vehicles if the land swap goes through; Price and Roark shared these concerns.

Also, Price wondered if the land swap would void the fire department’s lease on the property that’s being exchanged.

Price also shared other concerns. “Are we sure that Halsey hasn’t been met with coercion of any kind to reach this agreement?”

Poe responded to Price’s concern.

“Are you suggesting that Mr. Halsey has been threatened?” asked Poe.

Price then said “I never said threatened, I said ‘coercion of any kind.’” Price said that he has “heard different stories” about Halsey’s decision to swap land with the county, and these differing accounts should be investigated.

The commissioners said Halsey will be encouraged to join the board’s next planning meeting on Oct. 29 to discuss the matter further.

The meeting adjourned after the board of commissioners appointed Rob Miller and Danny Farmer to the Pond Mountain Volunteer Fire and Rescue Fireman’s Relief Fund at the recommendation of Chief Lee Denny.