Garbage ordinance repeal is considered

LEESBURG — Lee County Commissioners Dennis Roland and Bill Williams denied Thursday a claim by one of the leaders of a group seeking to stop the implementation of a garbage fee ordinance that they planned to call for a vote to repeal the ordinance Tuesday.

Mike Sabot, an official with the Lee Republican Party and the local tea party movement, sent out an update Wednesday on efforts he and Lee Tax Assessor Board Chairman W.F. Griffin are spearheading to collect signatures in an effort to force a countywide vote to repeal an ordinance passed by the commission on May 12, 2009 that would place solid waste collection fees on ad valorem tax bills. Sabot said Roland planned to call for a motion to repeal the ordinance at the next commission meeting (Tuesday).

“Out of (a conversation with Roland) came the following: 1. County Commissioners had the county attorney (Jimmy Skipper) write a five-page paper to try to convince the (Probate Court) judge (John Wheaton) that the petition was illegal. 2. Failing, at the next commission meeting there will be a motion made by Commissioner Dennis Roland to repeal the ordinance. Supporting the motion will be Commissioner Bill Williams,” Sabot wrote in the email update.

He added, “Commissioner Betty Johnson will be the swing vote; haven’t spoken to her yet so I don’t know where she stands, but the more people who call her the better.”

Roland acknowledged Thursday that he had spoken with Sabot about the issue, but he denied saying he planned to offer a motion to rescind the garbage ordinance at Tuesday’s meeting.

“In my conversation with Mr. Sabot, I told him that Mr. Skipper would present a letter to Judge Wheaton on the legality of the petition and that the commission would then wait for the judge’s decision,” Roland said. “I also said that while I think the ordinance is still in the best way to collect garbage fees, Bill and I had discussed the possibility of calling to repeal the ordinance if those folks get the signatures they’re trying to get.

“Bill and I both want to do what’s best for the county, but we were elected to represent the wishes of our citizens. And if as many as 20 percent of them are willing to sign a petition saying they are against this ordinance, then, yes, I’d consider calling to repeal it.”

Williams, too, said Thursday he’d talked about the possibility of repealing the ordinance.

“It’s something Dennis and I have kicked around, just talked about between us,” the CPA said. “I haven’t even discussed it with the other three commissioners, but if these folks get that many signatures from people opposed to the ordinance, then as an elected official I’d have to consider looking at their wishes.”

Johnson, meanwhile, left no room for discussion Thursday about where she stands.

“I will say, for the record, that I have no intention of changing my mind,” the former tax commissioner said. “And while some people have insinuated that I’m told how to vote by others, let me say that every vote I have made since I’ve been a commissioner has come directly from my heart. I’m not persuaded by anyone else.

“And I’d like to add that I’ve had only four people contact me about this issue saying they were against the ordinance.”

Johnson also said citizens were wrong to attack county Utilities Services Director LeClaire Bryan’s attempts to collect back garbage fees owed the county.

“Yes, LeClaire is my friend, but she is also doing her job,” the commissioner said. “I think if more people knew what that job involved, they wouldn’t be so negative toward her.

“I think we’re in a position now where the only way we’re going to get the majority of the money for garbage bills is to put the fees on tax bills. After studying this, I know that if I hadn’t retired as tax commissioner, it’s something I would have had to do because it’s the law.”

When informed of Roland’s comments, Sabot said the commissioner was “backtracking” on what they’d discussed.

“He definitively discussed making the motion at the next meeting, so it sounds like he’s backtracking,” Sabot said. “We’ll see what happens at Tuesday’s meeting.

“We plan to go ahead with the petition as if nothing has happened. We’ll start canvassing the voting list and contacting individual voters. We’re going to get the required number of signatures (3,377). People haven’t changed their intensity or their dislike for this ordinance.”

Sabot said the grassroots group working to collect signatures was at the “halfway point” in getting the number required. He noted that copies of the petition have been placed in the EZ Mart on U.S. Highway 82, Mike’s Country Store and Daniel’s Aluminum on Philema Road, Katz Floor Covering on Cedric Street, Heldenburg Auto Service on U.S. 19 South, Sonya’s and the Smithville 66 service station in Smithville, in the tax commissioners office and in the Lee County Ledger’s office.

Sabot, Griffin and “a group of about 200” are seeking signatures to repeal the ordinance passed by the commission in an effort to cut into delinquent payment of garbage fees in the county. They point to the Georgia Constitution as a basis for the petition drive, noting that it allows for “amendments and repeals” of certain local laws and ordinances.

Skipper has said he does not think the Constitution applies to the garbage ordinance, noting, “If that were the case, we’d continuously have recall petitions and votes over pretty much any law passed that someone didn’t like.”