Decatur County Commissioners hear legal update on Safer Human Medicine litigation, vote on county retirement amendment

Published 9:09 am Wednesday, April 10, 2024

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The Decatur County Commissioners met for their first meeting of the month on Tuesday morning. Following the invocation and Pledge of Allegiance, the commissioners made two changes to the agenda before approving it: first, the consideration of a maintenance easement involving the airport runway clear zone was removed from the agenda, and an executive session concerning litigation was added for the end of the meeting.

Following the approval of the agenda and the minutes from the previous meeting, the commissioners heard from Ansley Johnson about a request from Decatur County Environmental Health. Specifically, Johnson was proposing an increase in environmental health fees. The last increase, he said, was in 2015, with a review for increases usually taking place every five to seven years.

“That fell right in the middle of COVID, and after of COVID,” he said. “It was a hardship for everybody, it wasn’t really a good time for fee increases at that time.”

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Johnson went on to state that the district fee committee compared the fees of Decatur County to similar counties in size and population, and found that the county’s fees were lower. The proposed increase was described as “not a huge increase” by one of the commissioners, with Johnson adding that the fees are mainly be used to offset the costs of fuel and services provided.

The commissioners voted to approve the request.

Next, the commissioners heard a brief update from Tre McClendon of the Public Defenders Office, who briefly gave a presentation of the basics about the Public Defenders.

Following this, the commissioners heard consideration for an amendment to the county retirement plan from Ron Rowe. According to Rowe, there was an amendment to the retirement plan in 2016 that aimed at allowing a benefit to be accrued, but the actual wording prevented it from being accrued. The amendment was reworded to clarify and correct this. The commissioners approved the amendment.

Next on the agenda, the commissioners considered an engineering proposal for generators. According to County Administrator Alan Thomas, the commissioners previously approved a grant for the generators. To be in compliance with the grant requirements, the commissioners requested an engineering proposal from Watkins & Associates, which in turn requested a $39,000 fee. The commissioners approved the proposal.

Mrs. June Faircloth spoke to the commissioners next, about a proclamation regarding National Donate Life Month. Commissioner Chair Pete Stephens signed off on the proclamation.

After this, the commissioners entered into executive session, during which they discussed the various legal cases involving Safer Human Medicine the county has been involved in. County Attorney Bruce Kirbo briefly summarized the session, first discussing the appeal of the bond validation order that was filed by District Attorney Joe Mulholland. Kirbo stated that the initial brief from Mulholland was recently filed, and that now the Development Authority and Safer Human Medicine will have an opportunity to file their reply brief. Kirbo estimated it may take between three to six months before a ruling was delivered.

Next, Kirbo discussed a lawsuit against the Development Authority filed by Safer Human Medicine. An agreement was reached between SHM and the Authority, that no answer would need to be filed until the previous bond validation case was decided. Kirbo stated that the court gave a limited time for which no answer need be filed, and that a hearing on this is scheduled for the coming months, should the bond validation case still be ongoing.

Lastly, Kirbo discussed the lawsuit filed by local citizens against the local government bodies involved in the SHM deal, which alleges that the government bodies violated open meeting laws. Kirbo stated that all bodies involved have since filed their answer to the suit, with the county reaching an agreement acknowledging their violations of open meeting laws; in return, the citizens have agreed to not make any claims for attorney’s fees against the commissioners. This agreement has been submitted, but has not yet been approved by the court. Safer Human Medicine has also applied to intervene in the case, arguing they have an interest in the case, while the citizens have since responded that SHM should not be allowed to intervene.

Following this, the commissioners gave their closing remarks, and the meeting was adjourned.