ELIZABETHTON — Although Monday night’s meeting of the Carter County Commission had its share of dissension and discord, complete with five commissioners walking out of a portion of the meeting, the commissioners managed to come together toward the end of the meeting to unanimously pass (with two absences) an important agreement that brings the occupation of the new jail a lot closer.
After an executive session with Carter County Attorney Keith Bowers, the commission gave its approval to a future agreement with general contractor Blaine Construction that includes three major points: first, that Blaine will pay $175,000 to end the dispute over divots and gouges made in the jail’s concrete floors during construction; second, that the warranty on all systems installed in the jail will be extended to Dec. 1, 2012; third, Chief Deputy Ron Street will continue to work with Blaine on making corrections according to Street’s punch list.
Bowers said the agreement is not yet final.
“It is not a signed deal,” Bowers said on Tuesday. “What is left are a few minor points.” Bowers said he and the attorneys for Blaine are continuing to work on a contract and he hopes to have it completed in January. He said the commission’s vote on Monday was an agreement on the major points and an authorization for Mayor Leon Humphrey to sign the contract when it is completed.
The agreement approved by the commission on Monday was worked out after a seven-hour negotiation session between county leaders and Blaine officials and followed by several more conversations between lawyers for the two sides.
The county’s negotiation team consisted of Humphrey, Bowers, County Commission Chairman Thomas “Yogi” Bowers, Sheriff Chris Mathes, Street and Finance Director Ingrid Deloach.
Keith Bowers said some of the county’s negotiators are often on opposing sides on controversial matters, but he said they worked well as a team in promoting the county’s best interests in the negotiations with Blaine.
“We have some very smart people in this county and when we got them working together in the same room, they performed very well,” Bowers said.
Humphrey said the county’s team was effective because it received expert advice.
One of the key points in the agreement is that Blaine will continue to work with Street on correcting other deficiencies as they are found.
“Chief Street is an invaluable asset for the county,” Bowers said. “He is a detail man and he knows that jail.”
With such difficult negotiations by the county’s united leadership behind the agreement, Keith Bowers was dismayed Monday night when he saw the divisions in the County Commission open to its widest extent before a vote on the agreement could be held.
Early in the meeting, five commissioners: Nancy Brown, Robert Gobble, Scott Sams, Ronnie Trivette and Charlie Von Cannon walked out and took seats with the audience.
“This is one of the most important things this commission will decide this year,” the attorney said. “I didn’t want it to pass by just 16 or so votes, I wanted everyone to vote for it. With the walkout, it appeared at least five commissioners would not even cast a vote.
Keith Bowers talked with the five who had walked out and pleaded with them to come back for the vote. Finally, he got all but Trivette to return to the floor. The agreement passed with all 22 commissioners voting in favor. Trivette and Charlie Bayless, who was absent, were the only commissioners who didn’t vote.
The attorney also briefed the commissioners on a memorandum of understanding that is being worked out with officials in the city of Elizabethton in order to receive a certificate of occupancy. The agreement covers the removal of the temporary jail pods, additional parking spaces and other matters.