Commission, municipality settle confusion

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By Fred Woods
Opelika Observer

Smiths Station, incorporated in 2001 and currently boasting a population of about 5,300, is Lee County’s newest municipality. Since the new city did not, and still doesn’t, have sufficient tax base to provide the usual public services to its residents, Lee County has continued to provide police protection and road/street maintenance. In fact, police protection was specifically authorized under special local legislation in the Alabama legislature around the time Smiths Station was incorporated.
Recently, questions have arisen over the way liability for actual and/or alleged misdeeds by Lee County Sheriff’s Office personnel is assigned under the contract between Lee County and Smiths Station. The current contract provides that Smiths Station carry separate law enforcement liability insurance with Lee County and LCSO as insured parties which would cover LCSO activities in Smiths Station. Smiths Station’s insurance company says it will not honor that contract provision, eliminating Smiths Station’s ability to indemnify the sheriff or the county in the event of a lawsuit.
Smiths Station Mayor Fred (Bubba) Copeland and City Attorney Rick Chancey appeared before the commission in an attempt to resolve this issue. Lee County Administrator Roger Rendleman revealed that he has contacted Lee County’s insurer and it says as long as LCSO is carrying out its legally assigned duties (as given in the special local legislation) it (the insurer) has no problem in providing the liability insurance.
Upon that finding, and with a grudging assent from Lee County Attorney Stan Martin, Commissioner Gary Long moved that two sections, 14 and 15, governing liability and indemnification, be removed from the agreement between the municipality and the county and that Smiths Station be provided with a written copy of the Lee County insurer’s decision.
Smiths Station will still be responsible for its own actions regarding law enforcement (including enforcement of basic city ordinances). As Mayor Copeland put it, they (LCSO) will cover their faults; we’ll cover ours.”
New County Environmental Services Director John McDonald discussed highlights of his department’s FY 2017 annual report. The Solid Waste Department hauled 5,327 loads of solid waste weighing 29,905 tons of waste material. Litter Control, aided by 98 community service workers and jail inmates, picked up 9,209 bags of trash for county road rights of way (ROWs) and the Recycling Department reported processing nearly 2,800 tons of material representing a savings of $205,660.
The unit’s Animal Control Department responded to 1,514 calls and picked up 1,587 animals/ The new Spay-Neuter program has performed operations on 211 animals in its first partial year of operation at a cost of $22,145.
Talitha Norris, member of the Lee County Cemetery Preservation Commission, presented a letter on behalf of her commission seeking guidance on several issues regarding cemetery ownership. First was the issue of restitution for vandalism in county cemeteries, primarily small rural cemeteries. Should the District Attorney automatically ask for it when vandals are caught and tried? Should the District Judges automatically include it when sentences are announced? The commission’s advice was to have these discussions with the D.A. and the judges. It was suggested that, in the past, restitution was not mentioned because of the vandals’ presumed low economic status, but this is not a barrier in most other criminal cases.
Some cemeteries are privately owned and the owners are willing to donate them to the LCCPC. The LCCPC has the legal authority to accept gifts such as these but it has no funds to maintain the cemeteries. It is highly unlikely that the Lee County Commission will ever be in a position to provide funding to the LCCPC for either of these purposes. No likely solutions were discussed.
In other actions the commission
– Formally withdrew their previous directive concerning building cul-de-sacs on Lee Road 425,
– Granted permission for the Lee County Kiwanis Club to use the Lee County Meeting Center to assemble its annual Christmas Food Donation packages.

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