By Jonathan Pleasant
Thursday night the Johnson County Commission held its first meeting since the passing of long time member Dean Stout a few weeks ago. Both Chairman Freddy Phipps and County Mayor Larry Potter offered their sympathies to Stouts family, noting that he was not only a fellow commissioner but also a friend. As one of the longest serving members of the board and a former Court Clerk before that, Potter pointed out that it certainly wont be the same without Dean.
Yet, with the second vacancy this year, there was also a general consensus that Stout would have wished the board to fulfill their duties and move on. Following requirements for posting such unfortunate openings, no nominations were made at Thursday nights meeting, but a suitable candidate to fill the remainder of the term is expected to be voted on next month. Likely following the procedure set after the appointment of Ms. Evelyn Hill just last month, interested candidates would need to be nominated by a member of the commission and approved by majority vote, with run-off procedures in the event of numerous candidates.
Thursdays meeting proper was relatively short, with only a few pressing issues outside of the typical monthly items such as notary approvals and committee reports. The biggest single issue was the approval of construction and consequent changes to a small portion of Cowan Town Road in the Butler/Dry Run area of the county. Lyle Habermehl, the new owner of Red Tail Mountain Golf Course in Mountain City, was present at the meeting to address the potential project.
Having already met the recommendations of both the County Planning Commission and County Road Superintendent Tony Jennings, the project would essentially call for the construction of a new section of road to eliminate one major curve along Cowan Town Road. Having purchased a section of land at this location with the intent of providing lakeshore access and services to members and guests of the golf course, Habermehl proposed funding the new construction if the existing road in the curve could be abandoned and turned over to Red Tail.
Not only would this benefit the golf course by providing a better access and room for facilities, but it would also greatly benefit the county by shortening the road, making it easier for plowing in the winter, and by increasing sight distance and safety for motorists. Importantly, the project would be completely funded by Red Tail even down to the insurance. For his part, Habermehl explained that this development is a part of a continued push to promote and make Johnson County and Mountain City more attractive to visitors in the hopes of consequently helping the people of the area.
Habermehl reiterated his belief that Red Tail and its developments are just as much for the people of Mountain City and Johnson County as it is for the distant visitors and tourists coming in. As part of that warm welcome and commitment to local residents, Habermehl went on to announce an upcoming Christmas at Red Tail event to be held on December 13th.
Concerning the Cowan Town development, the only issue to come up was to address any potential concerns of adjacent landowners that might be affected. Fortunately, contact had already been made with those involved and written waivers acquired for approval. Showing their support for the development, the commission unanimously approved a motion made by Commissioner Jerry Grindstaff to allow the project to move forward.
Doe Mountain Recreation Authority (DMRA) attorney Mona Alderson was also present at the meeting to address the commission concerning a new memorandum of understanding (MOU). Essentially a document to define the relationship between the DMRA and the county, the new MOU is actually an attempt to consolidate and reemphasize the working agreement between the two boards. Alderson confirmed that the original enabling legislation creating the mountain as an entity was given authority to work with both the surrounding city and county.
While the DMRA was not provided funding by the state, there are no plans for any financial assistance to come from the county either. Most of the arrangements as defined by the MOU involve the limited use of county employees to help with specific DMRA needs, the use of county supplies such as paper and ink, the use of county property, including at the Harbin Hill entrance and eventual Pedro Shouns entrance in Doe Valley, and in the creation of a separate account within the countys budget to keep track of the DMRAs finances.
This separate agency fund, as suggested by the state comptrollers office, is maintained by the county but is completely separate from the general budget. A similar fund was already set up for the Johnson County Trail Authority and the DMRAs operates much the same. Because each of these issues had already been addressed and approved separately in the past, the commission voted unanimously to approve the consolidated MOU, following a lengthy update of developments on Doe Mountain from County Mayor Larry Potter.
The only other business of the evening was to retroactively grant support for the countys airport lease with Doe Mountain Aviation Services. Having been originally approved well over a year ago when new owner Dave Garris took over operations of the airport, a formal signed copy of the lease was never officially recorded. Commissioner Bill Adams made the motion to re-approve the document and also give authority to County Mayor Larry Potter to sign it. The motion was seconded by Lester Dunn and approved with full consent.
With nothing else on the agenda, Vice-Chairman John Brookshire made the motion to adjourn, sadly paying homage to the long tradition formerly conducted by Commissioner Dean Stout.
By Jonathan Pleasant