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December 5, 2012

NARCOG officials expected to meet with mediator later this week

DECATUR — Cullman County commission chairman Kenneth Walker, along with commission chairmen from Lawrence and Morgan counties, are expected to meet with the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs Director Jim Byard Jr. and a mediator later this week to see if an agreement can be reached to get the North-central Alabama Regional Council of Governments (NARCOG) back to functioning properly.

Currently, the organization is operating with only Cullman and Lawrence counties, after Morgan county made the decision to part ways earlier this year. Morgan County bowed out over its representatives’ dissatisfaction with the county’s limited influence over the decisionmaking process, particularly voting power in appointing personnel in its latest quest for an executive director.

Since then, Morgan County has petitioned the governor to join the Top of Alabama Regional Council of Governments (TARCOG) based in Huntsville. Governor Robert Bentley has yet to approve or deny the move.

"Right now, what we need to do is come together as one and bring back Morgan county into our fold," former NARCOG board chairman Dale Davis told members during a meeting last week.

The state does have a two-county COG in Opelika with Lee and Russell counties, but according to Davis, that's not an option for NARCOG.

"According to the governor's orders which were created by Gov. Wallace years ago, you have to have so many people within the county to have an entity," Davis said. "Lawrence and Cullman do not meet that qualification.”

So what's the next option if an agreement can't be reached? Well, it's a road board members are hoping won't have to be traveled, as there is a possibility NARCOG could dissolve.

"If we can't get Morgan county to come back into our fold as of Sept. 30, 2013, I was told there would probably be a letter sent to Cullman and Lawrence counties saying we're not in compliance with the order that the organization was confirmed to do and will be asked to go to other COGs and become a part of that organization," Davis said.

"I'm hoping and praying that we can get together for the people of these three counties and compromise, because we're here to serve the citizens and needy people of these three counties. What does it mean to have directorship if we don't have an organization? Nothing. And that's what we're trying to change and turn around, because we're not going to be able to operate as a two-county entity."

Cullman mayor Max Townson spoke up in thanks of Davis' leadership during what Townson called "a very stressful time,".

"You've done an outstanding job with everything you've done," Townson said.

Townson added he also agreed with Davis that the organization's main service is to serve senior citizens and not let them fall by the wayside.

"I think that all of us would like to keep this together," Townson said. "The backbiting, we don't need that. I'm more than willing to listen to a mediator and I'm willing now, if we get Morgan county back in, to let them have the majority vote. As long as our seniors are taken care of in each of the three counties, I'm fine with them turning it over to them."

Ashley Graves can be reached by phone at 734-2131, ext. 225, or by email at agraves@cullmantimes.com.

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