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Landfill tabled, chair powers to be restored

The Newton County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to table a vote on a controversial landfill settlement for at least 60 days in order to allow an independent review with input from a citizen committee.

Commissioner Levie Maddox made the initial motion to table, with Commissioner John Douglas amending the motion to include the committee.

"After reflecting on comments over the last week, from citizens and business owners, it is important to say clearly that this Board has listened to their concerns and will apply those concerns as we move forward," Maddox said. "I believe the citizens and the overall community recognize that there are significant financial challenges within our solid waste management model."

"But, most importantly, the citizens do not believe the current proposal will dramatically improve our situation and want other options explored."

The settlement proposes leasing the county's landfill to Green Hill P3, a private operator, and using the payments to buy back 424 acres from the East Georgia Land & Development Company, which recently won the right to apply to build a private landfill. Citizens have expressed concerns over Green Hill's intention to create a regional landfill, increasing the daily disposal rates dramatically.

The citizen committee will include one citizens appointee from each commissioner and the chairman and their meetings will be facilitated by the University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Institute of Government. County Manager Tom Garrett will oversee the independent review.

The motion passed 4-1, with Commissioner J.C. Henderson dissenting in favor of an immediate 'no' vote. The decision to table was met with cheers from the audience, although many of those present appeared to favor an immediate rejection of the proposal. 

"They should have closed [the landfill] 18 years ago," said Polly Johnson, a resident of Lower River Road.

Tee Stribling, representing Green Hill P3, said his team was "disappointed" in the outcome, but added, "We understand the process."

The board also narrowly approved a motion to restore the chair with the full powers invested in the position by the charter, effective January 1, 2017, and to set up another citizens committee to review and update the language of the charter to tighten checks and balances.

"It’s important to clarify to the Citizens that the role of the Chairman is the same today as it was when the last election was held and when all of us arrived in office," said Maddox, who made the motion. "Although tonight should bring closure and a final decision to this matter, the mechanics of implementing these options still need work and a review by a small citizens’ committee under a specific timeline."

The citizen committee is to report to the board no later than August 1, 2015, so that the board can deliver the changes to the state legislature. Any changes to a county charter must be approved by the General Assembly. 

Separately, Sheriff Ezell Brown warned that his department would not longer honor comp time after warning the board that his funding was insufficient to attract and retain officers. Confusion over whether the Sheriff's budget was on the agenda sparked tension, with the commissioners eventually agreeing to make a decision at a later date.

"I hope this is not a tactic to kick the can down the road," Brown warned Chairman Keith Ellis and the board.

See more in this Sunday's edition of The News.