Lee County leaders in turmoil

LEESBURG, Ga. -- While campaigning for a second term as Lee County's District 1 representative on its Board of Commissioners, Dennis Roland has ruffled some of his colleagues' feathers.

In fact, the other four Lee commissioners responded this week to comments Roland made in a story that appeared in The Albany Herald and to a campaign letter that was published in the weekly Lee County Ledger.

"It bothers me big-time that Dennis would imply that we are weak as a commission," Leesburg District Commissioner Betty Johnson said. "I'm not a weak person. When I make a decision on this board, I make the decision from my heart based on what I feel is best for the overall county, not just my district."

Redbone Commissioner Bill Williams took exception to what he said was Roland's implication that the commission was not making public safety a priority.

"It bothers me that anyone would imply that we've neglected public safety," Williams said. "We've actually increased the public safety budget by $1,080,000 over the last two years. Public safety is this commission's primary concern."

And Century Commissioner Rick Muggridge said the picture Roland painted of an us-vs.-him battle on the commission is inaccurate.

"I'm disappointed that (Roland's) perception of the way things are on this board are very different from mine," Muggridge said. "I think this board works together well, including Dennis. About 95 percent of the time we all agree, and when we don't agree it's not usually an issue of whether we should move north, but whether the move should be north-by-northeast as opposed to north-by-northwest ... only slight differences."

Roland, who is being challenged by independent candidate Mary Egler, said there may have been a misunderstanding among board members of his intent in making the comments.

"I'm not trying to make anyone look bad," he said. "I'm just saying there are ways we can save money for the things we need that can benefit the entire county. The weakness we've shown that I've referred to doesn't have anything to do with public safety. It has to do with the way we don't enforce our ordinances that are on the books.

"But I've said what I want to say about this. I stand by what I've said based on my first-hand involvement with the board."

In both The Herald article and the Ledger advertisement, Roland chastised his fellow commissioners for their support of a controversial library/conference center and for their refusal to support his efforts to implement cross-training requirements for emergency personnel and to outsource projects such as right-of-way maintenance.

He also said in the Ledger ad that "some commissioners have continued to spend your tax dollars to help certain developers," mentioning the Oakland Meadows development in the southwest corner of the county.

Commission Chairman Ed Duffy, who easily won re-election by outpolling challenger Lester Leggette in the Republican primary on July 20, said Oakland Partners developers have done nothing to come under the scrutiny of the commission.

"I am unaware of any commissioner spending tax dollars to help certain developers," Duffy said. "If (Roland's statement) is in reference to the Oakland development where the library/conference center will be located, before this site was picked there were eight possible sites that were looked at. The Board of Commissioners did not choose this location, the library board did.

"As for the Oakland developers, it is worth mentioning that they donated 2 1/2 acres of land to build the new library, and this donation was worth $112,500. They also constructed 850 feet of new road for the entrance to the library complex at their expense of $217,000.

They've also offered to donate land to build a new elementary school and a new fire/EMS station."

Williams pointed to the recent completion of a fire/EMS station just outside Smithville, the resurfacing of three roads in the northern part of the county and a summer recreation program brought to Roland's district as evidence that the commission is not neglecting that region, as both Roland and Egler have implied.

"This commission has gone to great efforts to do stuff for the Smithville/Chokee District," Williams said. "In fact, I believe if you checked you'd find that we've done more for that district than we have the other four the last two years."

Duffy, whose re-election campaign centered on public safety, reiterated a statement he made at the dedication ceremony for the Smithville fire/EMS station last week: "We will spend $9,735,071 from our 2010-11 budget on public safety; that's 46 percent of our total budget," he said.

"We all agree that the sheriff's department is vital for the safety and welfare of all Lee County citizens. That is the reason we allocated funds for 11 new public safety employees, and did so without raising taxes."

Muggridge hinted at what may have motivated Roland's claims.

"I think there's a group of folks behind him who are very involved in Lee County politics who are not happy with the current direction of the commission," Muggridge said. "I don't understand their unhappiness; I could make all kinds of guesses as to what their motivations are, but they would be just that, guesses.

"I know one had a political issue not go his way, and he now has a vendetta against the board. But I'm one of those people who believes that all of the decisions that are made by this board are made with the intention of doing what's best for the entire county."