Sarah Brown fills Johnny Lawrence’s seat on the Lee County Commission

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By Hannah Lester
hlester@opelikaobserver.com

Sarah Griffin Brown joined the Lee County Commissioners Tuesday night as the District 2 Commissioner.

Brown is filling the term of Johnny Lawrence, who passed away from the coronavirus on July 31.

Gov. Kay Ivey appointed Brown before the Tuesday commission meeting.

“As one of my appointees, you will be making important decisions that directly affect the citizens of Alabama,” Ivey said in an appointment letter. “I have made honesty and integrity a priority within my Administration, and I know that you will embody these two virtues while serving the people of Alabama.”

Brown said that she did not seek the job out but was asked to fill the roll.

“I was asked to do this job because of the unfortunate vacancy in this position,” Brown said.  “Johnny Lawrence was a friend, he was an encourager and he was a great person and I’m honored to fulfill his term.”

The new commissioner said she hopes she can have the same passion that Lawrence did and remarked that she had big shoes to fill.

“I’m here and I’m willing to work so I appreciate all your support,” Brown said.

Brown was sworn in during the budget work session that took place before the commission meeting. 

“Please plan to attend all meetings within reason, be a good steward of the taxpayer’s money, and work in your position to instill trust in state government,” Ivey said. “The responsibility that comes with this appointment is not to be taken lightly. I trust that you will rise to the occasion and set a standard for others to follow.”

Fiscal Year 2021

Budget:

The Commission voted to approve the Fiscal Year 2021 Budget Tuesday night after holding a work session before the meeting.

Overall, the budget has an increased revenue of 5.69%, meaning the budgeted revenues equal over $48,414,000 for 2021.

However, the expenditures also increased for the county by 1.94% to over $48,767,000.

“Only $352,562 in projected fund balance is needed to cover projected ongoing annual operational costs for the 2021 Fiscal Year,” the budget plan said, which is available on the county’s website.

Other actions taken when approving the budget included raising the County’s Pay Plan by 2%, adjusting pay by 2.5%, approving funding agreements for different agencies and approving the merit raises.

Employees qualified for different merit raises based on their employee annual evaluations.

Employees with ‘meets expectations’ qualified for a 0.5% increase, employees with ‘exceeds expectations’ qualified for 1% increase and employees with ‘consistently exceeds expectations’ qualified for a 1.5% increase.

Service Contracts and Appropriations included agencies such as East Alabama Medical Center, the Auburn University Airport, Alabama Cooperative Extension System, The Lee-Russell Area Council of Governments and more.

Safe Room

Certification:

EMA Director Rita Smith presented the commissioners with an update for the safe rooms/storm shelters being installed for Lee County residents.

The storm shelters were first introduced after the Lee County tornadoes in 2011 and the county applied for a grant. The shelters were approved the following year.

“After the Beauregard and Smiths Station tornadoes in 2019, the previous director applied for mitigation funds for individual safe rooms and storm shelters,” Smith said.

There are 115 applicants for storm shelters.

Smith said that she recently learned a ‘special inspection’ would be required by the Alabama Board of Architects and Engineers after or during the installation of these shelters that the county was not made aware of prior to approval, nor which has been required before.

She asked the commission to waive the special inspection, which it has the authority to do, she said.

“The county can waive that special inspection based on the vendor and the installer certification on this document that I’ve given you,” Smiths said. “They are solely liable when they install it.”

The commissioners were concerned that this could place liability on the county, however, based on a section that Probate Judge Bill English pointed out.

“For residential shelters, where the authority having jurisdiction verifies that the anchorage and, where required, the foundation complies with the requirements of the shelter design in documentation required by Section 107, special inspection is permitted to be waived by the authority having jurisdiction.”

This section, Section 106.3.1 does give the county authority to waive the inspection, but it also specifies that the ‘authority having jurisdiction verifies the anchorage.’

The commission agreed that this means that if the county does not inspect the shelters itself, through County Engineer Justin Hardee and his team, or does not pay someone to do so, then the county would be liable.

Ultimately the inspection was not waived.

English told Smith to meet with Hardee to determine if it’s easier to complete the special inspection or pay another individual to do so.

Other Business:

The commission authorized a memorandum of agreement with the State of Alabama so that Lee County can receive $400,000 annually in state allocation.

The commission approved the annual maintenance bids for the highway department.

The commission revised its coronavirus policies for employees that were first set in place in March.

The commission approve several retail beer and retail table wine licenses.

The commission approved the court system to use the Lee County Meeting Center.

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