By Ashley Graves
The Cullman Times
HOLLY POND —
Members of the North-central Alabama Regional Council of Governments (NARCOG) heard the message brought from Montgomery loud and clear at their monthly meeting Wednesday.
The board reached a 7-4-3 compromise that would allow Morgan County to regain 50 percent control of the organization, and reduce the board’s size from 40 to 14 members.
With a critical Sept. 30 deadline looming in the distance, Claudia Smith, assistant to Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, stood before the board and advised the temporary situation needed to end, and “needs to be resolved by this week.”
“This is up to y’all on how you want to proceed,” she said. “We just need to have everybody in compliance, and if Morgan County leaves, and it becomes a firm deal, then Cullman and Lawrence counties will then become out of compliance and something will need to happen rapidly at that point.
“The governor wants what’s best for everybody, as does [ADECA director] Jim (Byard),” she continued. “What they’re saying is we have a temporary situation, but time is running out. Decide if they’re going, or decide if they’re coming back.”
Per the agenda, Morgan County was to have six board members, followed by Cullman County with four members, and Lawrence County with two members. However, three out of four Lawrence County representatives opposed the plan, due to it reducing their voting members from three to two.
“I can not in good faith accept us losing a member just to keep Morgan County happy, when we have satisfied all of these issues which they addressed prior to moving from NARCOG,” Lawrence County representative Dale Davis said. “You can give up some, but you can’t give up everything, and I think Morgan County should compromise with that. I can compromise with 7-4-3, but I can’t live with 6-4-2.”
Cullman County Commission Chairman Kenneth Walker voted against the final proposal.
“It was my understanding when we were at the mediation meeting in Montgomery that it was one vote per 20,000 in population,” he told the board. “It’s the way we came up with a 5-3-2 proposal, and that’s the way Claudia understood it, [Morgan County Commission Chairman] Ray (Long), myself, [Lawrence County Commission Chairman] Bobby (Burch) and others understood it, and I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be done.”
Burch noted the reason commission chairmen had agreed with the 5-3-2 proposal was due to it being a smaller board, and it was proportionate to the demographics in the three member counties.
“With the smaller board, you can obviously be more effective,” he said. “There’s no doubt large numbers lead to more hostile feelings and lead to maybe us not being as efficient as we should be. I don’t think anybody wants to give up votes, but I think we all need to look at what the repercussions will be if we don’t get something worked out.”
Lawrence County commissioner Mose Jones voted in favor of the 7-4-3 proposal, but felt a 6-4-3 proposal would have been best and the most fair.
“You would have had 13 on the board, but now you have a tie vote,” he said. “We were able to keep three for Lawrence County, but who really came out to win in this whole thing? Morgan County. Because guess what we did? We gave Morgan County four more people than they had the first time.”
Cullman County Commissioner and NARCOG board chairman Stanley Yarbrough disagreed with Jones about Morgan County coming out as the winner, saying senior citizens were the real winners.
“The seniors won today because we made an effort to bring Morgan County back to the table with us, and it shows that we’re not the role player in this,” Yarbrough said. “We want to be a team player like Lawrence County, Cullman County, and the City of Cullman. We all want to be team players. We want to be fair, and I think we all won here today. I don’t think any of us will walk out of here saying we lost anything.”
In addition to the approval of changing the organization’s bylaws, the board also accepted the resignation of Lona Johns from the interim executive director’s position. In a letter written to the board, Johns states she will be retiring from NARCOG on Feb. 6. After much bickering, board members voted 6-2 to appoint West Point mayor Kenneth Kilgo to the position on an interim basis. Six board members — Max Townson (Cullman), Jenny Folsom (Cullman), Kenneth Walker (Cullman County), Stanley Yarbrough (Cullman County), Melba Patton (South Vinemont) and Tim Eskew (Garden City) abstained from that vote.
* Ashley Graves can be reached by phone at 734-2131, ext. 225, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org