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February 18, 2007

SURPRISE! SURPRISE! BOC faced with full room at meeting

The Commissioners were quite surprised Wednesday morning (2/14/07) when they faced a room full of citizens, mostly those that owned cattle. Even though the meeting wasn’t posted until the last possible minute and wasn’t publicized in the paper, citizens got “the word” and let the Commissioners know that they were concerned and willing to take time out of their day and even miss a few hours work to make sure the Commissioners got the message—cows are still a big part of Jasper County and no one needs to be “messing” with them.

All Commissioners, except Comm. Yarbrough, were present. The County Attorney attended also. It was really interesting to see what the BOC thought would be some policy setting meeting turn into an eye-opening event for them and their staff—the County Manager, Code Enforcement officer, and the County Attorney.

During the Agenda Comments, former commissioner and farmer, Tate Turner was the first to speak. He said he was there to ask questions, especially about Section 10.4-Animals Running at Large. “I have cows and horses. I don’t intentionally let mine get out. I don’t want them out. Today we are having 30mph winds. If a tree falls on my fence I have 30-60 foot of fence to fix.”

Comm. Johnson spoke up, “I agree 100%. Accidents happen with fences. The County should not be business to haul cows around county and charge some ungodly amount of money.” Mr. Turner continued, “I’m concerned about Blackleg—who is going to be responsible for paying me if my cows get this?” Comm. Johnson, “We are all here to help each other.” Mr. Turner, “We are an agriculture county. Don’t make it so hard on people that have animals that they have to get rid of their animals.”

Next to speak was Charles Forsythe. He commented that he wished we had this turn out every meeting, but this turn out was impressive since Management met the bare 24-hour minimum for posting the meeting. He continued, “ Jasper is a rural county—why are we all bent out of shape about cows getting out? Animals have minds of their own.” He also commented on changing the price after the cows were picked up. “How do you charge?” he asked. He said there needed to be formal arrangements for picking up animals and where to put them and it was the Commissioners job to come up the solutions. Comm. Johnson replied, “We should have already had something in place.” Mr. Forsythe said, “The buck stops with the County Manager as supervisor.”

Mr. Francis Cason was next and commented on how the ordinance was probably written for a City or it was copied from somewhere else. Mr. Cason talked about what the law/ordinance said. It speaks of animals that are “unattended” and that are “allowed” to roam. He didn’t think this pertained to cows but more to dogs and cats. He mentioned that the ordinance talked about a “Director.” “Who is director?” he asked. Mr. Cason has stated at many meetings previously and stated again, “The County needs people with public relation skills.” He also said, “Someone needs to clamp down on someone.”

Next Mary Patrick spoke. She said she had lived in Jasper County 30 years and never had heard of cows being picked up. She was concerned about disease being spread –either from the borrowed trailer or mixing the cows with other animals. She asked “Why can’t the cows be put into the closest pasture until the owner is found? That’s how it’s been done for the last 30 years at least.” She also urged the Commissioners to use some Common Sense and said she felt the biggest problem was the lack of supervision. “No one seems to supervise anyone,” she said.

Oren Moore told the BOC it was a simple matter. He asked, “Why don’t you pick up deer? They cause more problems than cows.”

Ken McMichael informed the BOC that Cattlemen are faced with razor thin profits. He said, “The County must assist livestock producers to stay on the farm. We need to keep farms to keep from selling out to developers.” He continued, “Most all cattle producers work together. The Main Priority is to get the cows off road. If cows are in the wrong pasture, citizens can sort that out.”

Then the Commissioners began their discussion, with the “help” of the County Manager, about “Animals Running at Large—10.4 Jasper County Ordinance.”

Comm. Johnson said they needed to implement policy or procedure for taking care of cows when they get out and presented the following steps of his plan:

1. Try to locate owner and issue citation and assist in returning to pen. (Note: issuing a citation seems most important to the BOC.)
2. If livestock owner cannot be located, livestock can be taken to Public Works at a holding area. There is a Site there that is feasible for pen.
3. Continue effort to locate owner. One advertisement in local paper. $10 per day for cost of feed will be assessed per animal. Citation cost would be $10/day+fee for advertisement.
4. Livestock to be held for 30 days.
5. The county would have to pay for upkeep, holding area, cattle trailer, feed. Can build livestock area for $700 and get cattle trailer for $3500.
6. Have area now of 1 acre available at Public Works.

Comm. Bernard said, “Those are some interesting recommendations—we all support agriculture here. Frankly agriculture is backbone of this county. I intend to maintain an agricultural county.” He then said it was a Public Safety issue. He said it was not a simple problem and told a story about his Uncle Lee. He then said, “Rather than the BOC coming up with ideas, let the Animal Control committee come up with ideas. We need to take a long hard look. I don’t know enough about this issue.” (Note: Those were some interesting comments, too, as Comm. Bernard seemed to pass the buck to the citizens. However, TWG agrees that the citizens seem to have more solutions and more common sense than the BOC and the County Manager.)

Comm. Pennamon commented next. “This issue is different than dogs and cats. We need a separate committee of people that have horses and cows. You can see that the general public is concerned. Let them formulate policy and procedures.”

Mary Patrick asked, “What happens between now and then?”
Comm. Johnson, “We need to pick up animals and have a holding pen.” (Note: Still interested in picking up animals as first priority.)
Comm. Pennamon, “A cow may roam, but will go back to the pen. We need to be lax.”
Comm. Johnson, “The Code Enforcement officer needs to be more helpful to helping get cows back in the pen rather than picking them up and taking somewhere. We need to be more cooperative and instruct staff to be that way too.”

(Note: You can now see the attitude changing. By the way, when does the Code Enforcement officer do his job rather than the Animal Control officer’s job???)

Comm. Johnson, “Instruct Raymond Rogers (Code Enforcement) to spend more time helping public getting cows back in their pastures.”
Comm. Hill, “There needs to be more communication with public.” (Note: Yes, like letting them know in advance when special meetings like this one will be held. Thank goodness people attended or things would have turned out very differently.)

Comm. Bernard, “We need more in the ordinance about cows, etc. “
County Manager, “It’s the Sheriff’s responsibility to enforce under State law.”
(Note: Right! The Sheriff—not the Code Enforcement officer’s job! Let the Sheriff do his job. )
County Manager, “ In January 911 received 32 calls about cows out. Only 2 times did cows have to be impounded.”
Comm. Pennamon, “ I think we are intruding on private owners rights.”

County Manager, “What is the board’s direction now?”
Comm. Pennamon, “Get the cows off of the Right of Way, and do everything possible to get cows in pasture that is nearby. Let landowners to get together and decide.”
County Attorney spoke up, “The law is clear as to what we have to do. We can’t push cows on someone else’s property. Must determine who the owner is. Is this Running at Large or Straying? There can be a “Reasonable” time period. Give Raymond Rogers discretion.” (Note: That’s been the problem. Code Enforcement has used his own discretion and had no supervision. That’s what has caused this problem.)
Comm. Bernard, “We need to follow the law.”
Comm. Hill (still concerned about the citations and fees), “The fee schedule concerns domestic animals. We need a fee for livestock.”
Comm. Pennamon, “Let the Committee come up with fees.”
Comm. Bernard, “Let Farm Bureau give us recommendations as to who should be on committee.” He then made motion to set up a committee with 7 individuals on the committee.
Comm. Pennamon said he would 2nd but without Farm Bureau making the recommendations.
The Vote was 4-0, all in favor of establishing a committee.

Comm. Pennamon then made a motion, “We authorize the staff to follow the law but to be more considerate of farmers and citizens. To make EVERY effort to find owners and there should be at least 48 hours before impoundment. Before impoundment the Code Enforcement should contact the County Manager who in turn will notify the Chairman before animals are impounded.”
Comm. Hill motion 2nd --then asked, “If impoundment occurs what fees will be considered?”
County Atty said BOC can set fees today if you want; they’d be effective until amended. However, he didn’t want to hold Code Enforcement back.
Comm. Pennamon then turned and informed the County Attorney that he can not set policy and said, “You can’t tell us what the Resolution is.”

County Manager—“There is one other issue. The Sheriff is ultimately responsible. What if he gives directive?” (Note: It is interesting that the County Manager is concerned about the Sheriff now that the Code Enforcement officer has gotten things way out of hand. Now the County Manager wants everyone to know that the Sheriff is responsible.)
Comm. Pennamon—“The Sheriff is back there. He will do everything he can to keep cows from endangering general public.”
County Manager—“Do we issue citations during this time?” (Note: Again, the County Manager just doesn’t get it. It’s not supposed to be about issuing citations. It’s about getting cows off the road and helping people. Isn’t that what has been said all along?)

Comm. Pennamon—“I said follow law. Consider property owners for 48 hours
before impounding.”

Comm. Bernard—“What are we to do with cows during 48 hours?”
County Manager—“We must try to find place to put them in the vicinity.”
Comm. Pennamon—“Why should we spend $3500 for cattle trailer and $700 for fencing?”
The motion was read again and the Vote was 4-0.

Sheriff Roper then asked if he could comment and stated, “This issue rarely happens. The law says Permitting or Allowing, which indicates Negligence. Therefore, due regard will be taken before taking any measures.” (Note: Ah, yes, finally some common sense! Thank you, Sheriff Roper! He and his deputies have been handling all this for years. The Code Enforcement needs to let them continue and he needs to start worrying about trash, junk vehicles, logging violations, etc.)

TWG comment: Does the Code Enforcement officer have any law enforcement training or is he just out there with his Marshal’s badge doing as he pleases? Who gave him this authority anyway?

After the vote, the citizens attending left the meeting. Sources have told us that the following 9 people signed up for the committee: Bud Cronan, Tommy Jordan, Paul Kelly, Ken Tillman, Joe McMichael, Phil Harvey, Bill Whitten, Oren Moore, and Ken McMichael. All of these men raise cattle and several do it as their full time occupation.

TWG
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