Why has it come to this point?

Published 11:00 am Monday, April 21, 2014

What a sad, sad week for our community. Just when you might think the behavior of the people chosen to lead our city and county could not get any worse, we witnessed them sinking to depths that most folks have never seen.

While I sat at the Bainbridge City Council meeting Tuesday night and then during the day Wednesday, the thought occurred to me. When is enough, enough? Well, in my view, that time has come. Both groups need to quit the bickering, finger-pointing, childish antics and get to work for this city and this county. Both share blame for this unfortunate situation in which we find ourselves.

While watching the debate unfold on where the city would dispose of city residents’ trash, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for our community. This latest episode discussing garbage is very symbolic– a culmination of mistrust, personal dislikes and the general bickering over the past couple of years.

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It’s symbolic because garbage is a great way to describe the relationship between the city council and board of commissioners. The relationship is broken and has no way of being repaired any time soon if something substantial does not change.

The losers in this entire situation are the roughly 28,000 residents of Decatur County.  We’re losers because the people that we elected to lead, and the folks that work for those whom we elected, are too busy trying to find ways to “get” the folks down the street.

I firmly believe that if the relationship between the two governing bodies wasn’t so fractured, then the request for proposals for the landfill service would have never been made. There would have been no question that the city would continue to use the county landfill.

But, that’s not the case and the city decided to explore other options for taking solid waste. The county was not the low bidder and the city voted to use the services of Waste Management in Campbellton, Fla. And, in a strictly punitive move the next morning, the county suspended the city from using the county landfill effective immediately.

While I sat at that meeting last Tuesday night, I really could not remember seeing anyone in any leadership position act as unprofessionally and disrespectfully as county administrator Gary Breedlove acted that night.

There is a certain amount of decorum that a public meeting deserves. Speaking out of turn from the audience and mumbling “bullcrap” at various times during the council discussion is not what any reasonable person would describe as appropriate behavior.

But, if the county and the city were friendly, even civil, then I believe that discussion item would have never taken place. They’re not and it did.

Chris Hobby, Bainbridge’s city manager, grossly mismanaged his personal water and natural gas bill. No question about that. Letting a bill accrue, a bill from his employer, for 12 months without paying is unacceptable and should not be tolerated.

The fact that Hobby handled his personal business in such a poor way was brought to light via a public records request made by Brown Moseley, Decatur County’s attorney, on behalf of the county.

Again, let me be clear, Hobby was absolutely wrong to run up such a large water bill. His service should have been interrupted, just as it would have been for anyone else.

Everything relating to that situation is dead wrong. But this is the level that we have sunk to—personal attacks.
I don’t know what needs to happen to repair this relationship to at least a working, civil one. But, here is where both the city council and the county commission should start. Have a discussion without city or county staff.

A joint called meeting needs to be held and only elected officials should participate. No city manager, no county administrator, no county attorney. Only city council members and county commissioners should plan to participate.

That meeting should be mediated. Hire a professional mediator, hire someone from the Carl Vinson Institute, hire someone who will make the seven people from the city council and the six people from the county commission work out their differences. One hour, two hours, three hours, whatever it takes.

If that meeting does not solve the problem, then the next logical step is to begin working on consolidation of the municipal and county governments. In fact, this solution most likely is in the best interest of the taxpayers and residents of this county, even though it most likely would not be in the best interest of those elected in the county.

The community should demand this meeting.  Remember, the residents of the City of Bainbridge and the residents of Decatur County hire these 13 people and if they can’t work together, we need to find 13 who will.