KEVIN COLLINS with Martin Contractors of Darien is working on the new county commission board room at the former senior citizens center on 17th Avenue N.W.
Renovations are well underway at what was formerly the Grady County Senior Center, which come January will be the headquarters for the Grady County Commission.
A crew from Martin Contractors of Darien, Georgia has been working on the project since early October, according to county officials, however, at least one commissioner said she was in the dark that the project had begun.
Grady County Commissioner LaFaye Copeland raised questions concerning the relocating of the commission’s office and administrative personnel to the former Senior Citizens Center during Tuesday morning’s regular commission meeting.
Commissioner Copeland said when the matter was first discussed publicly earlier this year in an open meeting she had requested the county attorney, Gabe Ridley, to research the matter to insure the county would not be in violation of any rules or regulations since the building had been built specifically for a senior center and with grant funds awarded to the county specifically for that purpose.
“It is my understanding that the Department of Community Affairs directly told us there would be no violation of any agreement concerning the grant,” Ridley said. He added, “There are no deed restrictions and in checking the meeting minutes I can find no restrictions that would prevent the board from locating its offices there.”
Commission Chairman Keith Moye said that a similar situation had recently occurred in Leesburg, Georgia and D.C.A. had referred local officials to Lee County officials. “It’s the same thing there,” Moye said.
Commissioner Copeland said she was satisfied with Ridley’s report, but that she wanted it in the public record. “The issue was left hanging since he had never given a report in public. I’m striving for transparency. That is all,” she said.
The District 4 commissioner also had questions about how the renovations were being funded. Previously, Grady County administrator J.C. (Buddy) Johnson III, had told the board that federal dollars the county had received through the CARES Act would be used to pay for the renovations and relocating the commission offices to the senior center.
However, since that time the project has been rolled into the county’s contract with ABM, which is in the process of a major program to replace old heating and air conditioning systems in county facilities, as well as installing more energy efficient lighting, temperature controls, water conserving toilets and sinks as well as making county buildings more energy efficient.
The ABM Building Solutions, LLC project is funded through savings in energy costs guaranteed by the firm through a contractual agreement and lease program.
Johnson says that he has recommended “protecting” the CARES Act funding and not spending the money “wildly” like some governments.
The county administrator also noted that renovations and expansion of the Clerk of Courts office on the first floor of the courthouse is also being funded through the $5,652,240 ABM contract.
Johnson said a breakdown of the budget for each of the renovation projects is not available and that the costs are rolled into the overall scope of work being done by ABM.
Commissioner Copeland also had questions about how the former senior center building is being reconfigured on the interior to house the commission meeting room as well as administrative offices.
“That’s Buddy’s job. I don’t want to micromanage him,” Vice Chairman Phillip Drew said.
Commissioner Ray Prince said that if the board begins to micromanage the administrator the county could face “liability issues.”
“As long as Buddy is doing what is in the best interest of the county I leave it up to him,” Vice Chairman Drew added.
Commissioner Copeland said that her intention was not to micromanage but to be kept informed so that when constituents asked her questions regarding county projects she would be knowledgeable and able to share accurate information.
She suggested that the Cairo City Council and the Grady County Board of Education would have been informed if those two bodies were contemplating moving into new facilities.
“Not with the board of education, no ma’am,” said county clerk John White, who serves on the board of education.
Commissioner Copeland said the first she knew that the renovation work had begun was after a constituent contacted her and asked her questions about it. “I just think I, as a commissioner, should have been informed in some way,” she said.
The county administrator, who was not present Tuesday and did not participate in the meeting via conference call, is out on medical leave. On Tuesday, Johnson told The Messenger he planned to return to work from home beginning next week, but that his recovery from a surgery could prevent him from driving for up to four weeks.
Johnson had placed county finance director Holly Murkerson and county clerk John White as the on site “go-to people” in his absence, but he noted he was available by phone or email if needed.
Commissioner Copeland, who has participated through many meetings remotely via conference call, acknowledged that she may have not heard all of the discussions the board members had had regarding the senior center building and the remodeling plans.
According to county officials, the commission offices will be located at the former senior center on 17th Avenue N.W. effective the first of the new year and on Tuesday the board unanimously approved a proposed revision to the county’s meeting ordinance.
The revised ordinance stipulates regular meetings of the commission will be held at the new administrative building on 17th Avenue N.W. beginning Jan. 1, 2021 unless otherwise stipulated by the board.
The new ordinance also would permit the first meeting of each month to be a workshop session, and not a regular business meeting. The second meeting of the month would be reserved as the monthly business meeting. County officials note that business could be conducted at the first meeting of the month if necessary providing proper notice to the public is given.