Discussion of three possible road closures dominates lengthy commissioners meeting
By Jonathan PleasantThe county commission faced three lengthy debates concerning county roads, all of which dealt specifically with issues of closure. Bound over from the County Planning Commission meeting earlier in the week, the first group to speak was made up of concerned residents living on or near Triplett Road adjacent to Red Tail Mountain Golf Course. Led by Red Tail owner Lyle Habermehl and attorney Tyler Moffatt, the majority of property owners along Triplett Road have become interested in the security of the area after repeated instances of theft, vandalism, and trespassing.
Having invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in improving the golf course’s facilities, including the construction of a pool, tennis courts, and gym, Habermehl’s number one concern right now is security. Noting that the majority of new homeowners in similar developments prefer gated communities, Red Tail initially came to the County Planning Commission with a proposal to gate Triplett Road as well as assuming its maintenance and upkeep.
Road Superintendent Tony Jennings has been fully in support of the proposal, noting that it reduces county costs and County Sheriff Mike Reece endorsed the extra security as well because of repeated problems in the area. All residents and property owners joining the road would have full access through the gate and a call system would be set up to allow visitors and emergency personnel. Because of the natural business of the golf course, the gate would be open during daylight hours and would only be down from 9:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. each day. Additionally, Red Tail agreed to provide indemnification for the county should any problems arise following the proposal. Eight individual property owners would be affected by the decision, and seven of those signed letters of support for the gate. However, signatures from Walter and Margaret Adams were not secured leaving debate as to whether or not the county could legally take any action.
Moffatt did provide documentation that the county does have authority, specifically in a state statute that gives the county road superintendent the independent authority to “open, change, close, or construct any public highway… necessary for the public interest.” That said, Jennings was not present at the commission meeting although his proxy Jim Moody did indicate that Jennings was seeking the commission’s blessing before proceeding.
Margaret and Walter Adams, along with members of their family were present at the meeting and did get the chance to address their side of the issue. Apparently, the Adams’ and Habermehl have been in discussion about potentially selling the property to Red Tail outright. Thus far an agreement has not been reached, but Mrs. Adams did have concerns about the presence of a gate, explaining that she has numerous family and friends that regularly visit from all over the county. Continuing, the Adams’ feel that the issue is being pressured on them and would simply like more time to consider what the proposed change would mean for their daily lives.
With that in mind, there were several commissioners in favor of tabling the item, although Habermehl indicated the pressing need to take action before the peak real estate season has passed. Several current property owners both from Triplett Road and the golf course itself spoke to the commission as well, all urging a decision be made to allow the road closure and gate installation. Heated discussion between representatives of both Red Tail and the Adams family led to several different suggestions but it was a long time before the commission finally took action.
A suggestion was eventually made to keep the motion to table the issue but be amended to permit the closure if an agreement between Red Tail and the Adams could be reached earlier. Agreeing that this would likely be the best compromise at the time without Jennings being present, Commissioner Jack Profit went ahead with the modified motion, which was seconded by Lester Dunn and received full support.
The second road closure issue of the night involved a short section of Gentry Cemetery Road, which has been in dispute for several years and has been debated most recently in the Chancery Court. Mary Lee Trentham, one of the main property owners at the end of the county road came before the commission hoping to have the currently recognized end of the road be moved back a few tenths of a mile to align with her property line. The only other property owners to be affected would be the Gentry family and the Fullers who actually live out of state and were represented by their attorney.
As Chairman Freddy Phipps eventually pointed out, for Trentham to have the portion of the road extending beyond her property line closed would require an official petition as well letters of approval from the adjoining land owners and proper posting. None of these items were completed beforehand, and even more importantly it was explicitly stated in Chancellor Rambo’s court order that all property owners would have to be in agreement to even officially begin the petition process.
Trentham, who made the trip from her home in Memphis was understandably upset but also asked the commissioners what should be her next step. A suggestion was made by county attorney Bill Cockett for Trentham to discuss the issue with her own attorney and work her way through the formal process. Representatives for both the Gentrys and the Fullers did acknowledge they didn’t have a problem with closing this portion of the road once everything had been worked out.
Trentham also had an input on the third road closure issue of the night, this time involving Eggers Branch Road, a narrow lane accessing a single house near the Chamber Park in Doe Valley. After flooding destroyed a bridge giving access to his property adjacent to the road, Danny Herman brought the issue to the county Planning Commission, proving ample evidence that the lane was officially adopted by the county sometime prior to the 1960s.
The planning commission considered the evidence, including past county road lists and maps, and affirmed that Eggers Branch is indeed a county roadway. However, Trentham, whose family owns the homestead where the road ends expressed her feelings that the road has been effectively abandoned, noting a lack of any maintenance over the years. Chairman Phipps acknowledged that in the past roads were adopted that probably should not have been, but that this does not change the fact that Eggers Branch is a listed county road and would have to follow procedure to be closed. While Tranthem’s family and Danny Herman are the only two property owners actually effected, Herman explained that the road is the only reliable access he has and does not support any changes. The commission voted to reaffirm Eggers Branch’s status, leaving the bridge replacement issue up to Road Superintendent Tony Jennings.
These three major disputes aside, the rest of the meeting was more normal in nature. Val Herod came before the commission to formally announce and invite everyone to a special fundraising event at the Senior Center on May 2nd. Hoping to help with various expenses including a new van, the Center will be hosting a dinner with entertainment provided by the Full Assurance Gospel Bluegrass band at the adjoining Heritage Hall afterward. The price for the meal and the show together will be $15, with dinner from 5-6 p.m. and the band starting at 7:00.
This month there were also quarterly reports from the various county departments, most of which were blessedly short and uneventful. The two points that did take some discussion and consideration were from the County Airport and the County Accounts and Budgets Director. Airport operator Dave Gariss was present at the meeting, explaining ongoing efforts to try and purchase additional land from Maymead Farms to extend the county’s runway an additional 500 feet. This would allow the facility to reach a standard length and much improve operations. Even with state funding assistance Gariss felt that Maymead’s asking price for the acreage was simply too far from the assessment set by the state. With that in mind Gariss felt the grant monies would be better spent resurfacing the facility’s parking area and approaches.
As for the accounts and budgets issue, Director Russell Robinson gave several updates including information that the county has now collected above its projections on taxes this year. That aside, Robinson also discussed a memorandum of understanding with the state detailing information that will bring the county into compliance with new healthcare reform requirements as well as health information privacy changes.
The big item that Robinson reviewed was a new travel regulations policy for the county. While rules were in place for reimbursing county officials and employees for necessary travel expenses, the new policy will be much more clearly defined and establishes strict guidelines based off of state regulations. Maximum reimbursement rates for meals and mileage are covered in the document as well as a standardized travel form and filing protocol. With the commission’s unanimous approval, the new policy will officially take effect on May1st.
County attorney Bill Cockett brought some additional information concerning the county’s flood plan governed under FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Citing concerns about building requirements in a flood plain, as well as the county’s lack of effective enforcement without zoning in place, Cockett indicated the issue would need to be looked at in more detail. Commissioner Jonathan Pleasant indicated that he had been in contact with Stan Harrison, one of the state’s top officials in dealing with the NFIP, and that hopefully Harrison would actually be able to make an appearance at next month’s meeting.
Cockett also went over state regulations governing lands brought in by the county due to delinquent taxes. Explaining that there are a few parcels that the county could sell outright, Cockett reviewed Tennessee Code Annotated 67-5-2507, which calls for the creation of a four-member committee appointed from the commission to determine a fair price for the land. After some deliberation commissioners Jimmy Lowe, John Brookshire, Chris Pierce, and Lester Dunn all agreed to serve on the committee with the rest of the commission’s approval.
County Mayor Larry Potter presented information concerning an extended agreement with the Mountain Youth Academy currently operating out of the old county hospital in Cold Springs. Having renovated those facilities and now operating at maximum capacity, the Academy would like to expand into the adjacent county owned building, which formerly housed a series of doctors’ offices. Potter indicated that currently the county spends nearly $11,000 each year on maintenance and utilities for the building and that there would need to be considerable work done to bring the facility up to the Academy’s standards.
The expansion would potentially create about 30 jobs and generate about $10,000 extra revenue each year for the county. With that in mind, Potter suggested taking an initial $10,000 to help with some of the major repairs, including to the buildings septic lines. Although the issue had not been voted on by the county budget committee, the commissioners did seem fully in support, with commissioner Huey Long making a motion to suspend the budget committee rules and allow the vote. That motion passed unanimously as well as a second motion by Commissioner Jimmy Lowe to allow the transaction.
Other major decisions of the night included approval of the county’s annual litter grant, the appointment of Doris Rupard, Olan Bentley, Willie C. Hammons, and Mark Wallace as Equalization Board Members, and a decision to write off two of the four outstanding debts at the transfer station. The very last announcement of the night came from Commissioner Mike Taylor who commended and thanked Sheriff Mike Reece and the Boys Actively Moving (BAM) program that has been ongoing at Mountain City Elementary. Officers, Cress, Dunn, Brown, Norris, Stout, Lipford, and Mullins have dedicated some of their time working with disadvantaged or distressed students in character building lessons, playing basketball, and other activities to help build trust and stand as a positive influence that might not have otherwise been present.
With that announcement made, after nearly three hours of deliberation and discussion with a recess in between, what proved to be one of the longest county commission meetings in recent memory finally came to an end.