By RICK HAYES email@example.com
---- — MT. VERNON — Jefferson County Board member Jeremy Hall has withdrawn from an assignment to serve on the board's special committee for courthouse renovations.
Hall sent an e-mail to Committee Chair Randy Edwards, and also informed the board chairman of his intentions.
“Communicating with residents and listening to their concerns and ideas is something I have made a sincere effort to do since joining the board,” Hall said. “However, direction given by the county board chairman to this particular committee leads me to believe we on the committee are not charged with obtaining ideas from taxpayers so much as we are to convince them to support a sales tax increase. I cast the lone vote against implementing Phase I (at a cost of $4.6 million) so it should be obvious I am not interested in persuading taxpayers to support a tax increase of any kind.”
The committee has not formally met since it was named. Other committee members, in addition to Edwards and Hall, are James Malone and Tommy Hayes. The committee has a meeting scheduled at 6 p.m. Monday, according to Edwards, who declined comment on Hall's action.
Chairman Robert White said he did not give “direction” to the committee, rather he made suggestions.
“If he (Hall) feels like he's in opposition with the direction the committee takes it is important for him to serve on the committee and to make sure his points are heard,” White said.
Hall said he agreed the courthouse property is in dire need of repair in some areas. However, he agreed with fellow board member Jim Laird, who said the board should operate under a “pay as you go” plan rather than spending more than $7 million at once. Hall also noted a report at this week's full board meeting that painted a grim financial picture for the county. Additionally, he said, the county is in “budget season” and it, too, is a daunting task.
“If residents choose the sales tax option highlighted as the most likely to succeed by the board chairman, I will sleep well at night knowing the people spoke on this issue,” Hall said. “If I am part of a group trying to sell this tax increase, I would not be following my heart or my gut instinct, and would have tremendous guilt over my action. Therefore, I wish the committee well and I urge residents to attend this series of meetings and make yourself heard. Those on the committee are respectable gentlemen with clear hearts. They will listen to you. With a county of nearly 40,000 people, certainly there are some who may have ideas we as a board have not considered. For the sake of our county's future, share those ideas with the Board.”
White said the committee's function is to act on the people's wishes.
“He's not interested in educating the public as the condition of the courthouse or solutions and seeing what our options are,” White said.
Hall responded, “"I am 100 percent for involving the public in this conversation to the best of this board's ability. To say that we are 'educating' the public is somewhat condescending. Our residents are not ignorant. They know the courthouse needs work. Rather than 'educate' those interested in participating in this process, we should merely converse with them and allow them to speak more than they are forced to listen.Who knows? Maybe there are ideas out there that could end up a viable solution.”
Hall had originally requested to be on the committee following public hearings held at the Rolland Lewis Building at Veterans Park. He said he feels the December deadline set by the board chairman for a recommendation by the committee — whether intentional or not — is in line with timing for the full board to place the sales tax issue on the ballot for March 2014.
“It is nothing personal,” Hall said. “It is just my belief that serving on this committee may contradict my stance on this issue and I do not want to create tension or adversity during meetings held to educate the public.”