By Ashley Graves
The Cullman Times
And so it begins again.
Talks of finding a new executive director surfaced during the North Alabama Regional Council of Governments’ (NARCOG) meeting Wednesday. However, after a lengthy discussion among board members made up of Cullman County and Lawrence County representatives, it was unanimously agreed upon to table the item on the agenda until a negotiation meeting could be held among Cullman, Lawrence, and Morgan County Commission chairmen in the hope that NARCOG could go back to functioning as a three-county COG.
According to NARCOG Chairman Dale Davis, it was a move favored by Jim Byard, Jr., director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) after speaking with him recently.
“He told me Morgan County has requested to go to TARCOG, and that Gov. Robert Bentley has the letter on his desk to sign, but that he would love for us to work together on our issues and solve them ourselves,” Davis said. “I gave him a scenario of what I think might be best for all three counties, and he said if we decided to do that, we could have an attorney that is a mediator present to see what kind of condition can be worked out.”
Issues with the organization began roughly a year ago when Cullman County resident Shane Bailey was selected to replace former director Neal Morrison, who resigned in September 2011 to accept a cabinet seat under Governor Bentley. Since that time, both Decatur and Morgan County have separated from NARCOG, stemming from growing frustration with its limited influence over the decision making process, particularly in appointing personnel. Between the three counties there were 235,000 residents, with Morgan County having around 51 percent of that, while Cullman County made up 34 percent and Lawrence County the other 15 percent.
Because of the uncertainty, Bailey resigned from taking the position, and Lona Johns served as interim director until the board voted to make her director for a six-month period at the end of April. The period ended last month.
“Right now there seems to be a consensus saying, ‘Ok, let’s solve our first priority problem and then move on to the first item on this list,’” Davis said.
Cullman County Commissioner Darrell Hicks agreed.
“If we’re negotiating with Morgan County, and we go hire a director today, what kind of message is that going to send to them?,” Hicks said.
Cullman Mayor Max Townson added, “As long as our seniors are taken care of in each of the three counties, I’m to the point where if we turn it over to them, that’s fine with me,” he said.
The meeting between Cullman County Commission Chairman Kenneth Walker, Bobby Burch of Lawrence County, and Ray Long of Morgan County is scheduled for Monday.
* Ashley Graves can be reached by phone at 734-2131, ext. 225, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org