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Commission addresses ongoing litter problem

By Christa Jennings
Senior Staff Writer

The Coosa County Commission is working with the Sheriff’s Office to help address the county’s ongoing problem with litter and excessive trash dumping.

During Tuesday’s commission meeting, Capt. Mike Mull with the Sheriff’s Office presented a plan to the commissioners. The plan would be to start a litter abatement program and utilize a litter abatement officer.

Mull said that he has been here for 14 years serving the county. He stated that repeatedly throughout those 14 years the same issue has always come up – “the conditions of the county roads and, more importantly, trash being left on the sides of the roads.”

He mentioned that several years ago the county had a short-term solution in place, but that it was “kind of a Band-Aid that peeled off after a certain amount of time,” adding that the program was “not very effective.”

However, Mull said that many weeks ago Sheriff Michael Howell came up with a “brilliant idea” and put the plan into place.

As part of that plan, Mull said they were requesting the county to convert the part-time transport officer position to a full-time jail transport/litter abatement officer position. He explained that this would allow the officer to spend a minimum of eight hours each week with county inmates to go around picking up trash from county roadways.

He added that this will be a coordinated effort among the commissioners and sheriff. Mull said the officer will not only be supervising those picking up trash, but will also be examining for evidence and assisting in the prosecution of people for criminal littering.

“Alabama law is very clear,” Mull said. “All you need is a name on a piece of trash, and that person is prosecuted.”

He explained that all fines associated with those crimes are to immediately revert back to the county’s general fund. He said the plan in place will provide direct leadership from the Sheriff’s Office and that the litter abatement officer will “be out there working and supervising.”

Mull further stated that District Judge Carlton Teel and Circuit Judge David Law are both in support of sentencing people who fall under the criteria to community service to report to this officer to go out and pick up trash.

He said that he believes it is “an extremely worthy cause” and that he thinks they can make it work.

Mull added that he did a survey over the last 10 years and found that they had 32 official incident reports filed for criminal littering where people came in with names on trash. However, he said many of those were handed over during the previous litter program attempt, and the individual did not have the time or resources to investigate those cases.

Out of those 32 reports, Mull said that over the past two years five of those have been prosecuted by the sheriff and his administration.

Also in mentioning the initial cost to start the program for its first year, Mull said that he thinks it could become a self-sufficient program.

“Judge Law has also made an announcement that he would be extremely interested in cosponsoring a bill that would increase court costs for all criminal cases in Coosa County by $2 or $3, and that money would be diverted back into this litter abatement program,” Mull said. “We have strong support from every elected official in this county.”

During discussion, Commission Chair Todd Adams stated, “Well I think it’s just a shame that the citizens of this beautiful county don’t have more pride in what they have. I’ve picked up and had some neighbors pick up on the end of Jennings Road and Houston Road, just tons of garbage, and within two weeks it’s right back. It just amazes me that when they see it looking that good that they would go back [and litter] again.”

Adams added that as long as the county had the funds for the litter abatement program, then he was “all for it.” He and Commissioner Randall Dunham further said that they would like to at least try it this year and see how it goes.

During ongoing discussion, it was also mentioned that spring would be the perfect time of year to start the litter abatement program.

Sheriff Howell said that he thinks “it’s a positive either way we look at it.” During the Tuesday morning meeting he said that he had already received “four or five phone calls” this week about trash.

“Commissioner [Unzell] Kelley had expressed a very deep interest in trying to help resolve the issue we’ve got in the county,” Howell said. “I feel like this could be a resolution that could help fix the problem. It’s not going to eliminate what issues we’ve got, but we can concentrate on some of these areas where we know people are dumping an excess amount of trash, like Carlton Road and those areas, close to Five Star.”

Howell said that Kellyton Mayor Johnny Sharpe has called him numerous times regarding illegal dumping and that they had caught five individuals under his administration.

“If we’ve found names in trash, we’ve given those people an opportunity to go clean it up, so hopefully that deters them from dumping again,” Howell said.

After discussion, the commission unanimously approved the Sheriff’s Office proposal regarding the creation of a joint jail transport/litter abatement officer position and to begin operation of the program in the county.

Further, the commission also unanimously approved increasing the sheriff’s budget in the applicable line items by a total of $18,265.42 with funds to come from surplus in the general fund reserve in order to move the present part-time jail transport position to a fulltime position as jail transport/litter abatement officer with an annual evaluation of whether to continue based upon funds available.

It was further decided that the fulltime position would become effective with the start of the next pay period, which will be Saturday, March 20.

For additional information on the litter abatement program and the litter abatement officer, see the article submitted by the Sheriff’s Office.

In other business, the commission unanimously approved advertising for one part-time position and one fulltime position.

The part-time position is to replace Fred Smoot as the part-time van driver and assistant to the coordinator at the Community Life Center of Coosa County, located in the Cottage Grove community.

The commission also approved advertising the county administrator position for three weeks and to set interviews for a date to be determined during the last week of March.

During later discussion, County Administrator Bridget Graham told the commission, “It has been a pleasure working here, but I’m looking forward to retirement.”

While the commission did not approve a letter of resignation or letter of intent to retire for Graham, a letter she provided to the commission states that she will be retiring effective April 30 and that she was giving her 60 days’ notice to the commission as required by her contract.

In the letter, Graham states, “I have truly enjoyed working for the Coosa County Commission and appreciate the opportunity to have returned back home to complete my career. Life is fleeting, and in leaving at this time, my time can be spent taking care of others that I love during their final days. While I look forward to also enjoying my retirement, I will miss being part of the Coosa County team. I trust the friendships developed here will last well into the future.”

Graham further states in the letter that “a smooth transition to [her] successor would be [her] ultimate goal” and offers her assistance before and after her departure.

Applications for both positions will be accepted until 4 p.m. Thursday, March 26. Once all resumes and applications for both positions have been collected, the date for interviews will be set, with interviews likely occurring the following week.

For coverage of the remainder of the County Commission meeting, see next week’s edition.

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