Every now and then it becomes necessary to remind the public that the function of government is to provide those services the citizens cannot provide for themselves. Public Safety is one of those functions that is the responsibility of government to provide. I have tried to get this point across to several county commissioners during committee meetings, individually face to face and to the entire commission at least once. I finally reached the conclusion several county commissioners just don’t get it!
Elected officials should be leaders, not followers, voters expect nothing less from individuals elected to public office. There has been a distinct lack of leadership on the Hawkins County Commission for years. Some commissioners TALKED BIG at the EMS and Communications Task Force committee meetings but so far have been missing in action.
Not one commissioner or citizen responded to the editorial “Hawkins Commissioners: Put safety first” which in my estimation was a slap in the face allegation that Hawkins County Commissioners ignore a critical need in the county’s most pressing responsibility – public safety. People wake up! It is not an allegation; it is a fact! The Hawkins County Commission doesn’t have a clue what their responsibility is when it comes to public safety, if they did have a clue I wouldn’t be writing this letter to the editor.
A second editorial read: “It’s a mystery how many shoes Hawkins County commissioners have worn out kicking the can down the road over underfunded emergency services, much less shoe leather lost by an exploratory committee that twice has offered solutions, only to see them largely ignored.” The editorial was drawing attention to the fact that over the past three years two EMS Committees advised the County Commission that Emergency Medical Services in Hawkins County was inadequate and in dire need of financial support. Last October, Dr. Blaine Jones gave a detailed report to the commission and the commission referred it to the Public Safety Committee. A few commissioners asked about the proposed joint venture aspect of the report. Eight months later and nothing has been done. Not one county commissioner has raised this issue at a commission meeting since October. Hawkins County citizens lives are at risk because there is no leadership on the COUNTY COMMISSION when it comes to public safety!
A January 15, 2020 letter to every County Commissioner read: “The purpose of this letter is to inform you about the Committee for Improving Life Safety in Hawkins County. A group of concerned citizens formed this ad hoc committee after hearing the report of the EMS Committee appointed by the Hawkins County Commission. It was determined strategic placement of automated external defibrillators was a reasonable alternative solution to improve life safety where EMS response is not readily available.” The letter closed with If you would like to know more about this program feel free to contact me.” Seventeen Commissioners didn’t respond to the letter at all. One commissioner emailed the writer, two commissioners joined the committee and one commissioner offered information and support.
In January, Commissioners Herrell and Alvis found time to present and support a useless resolution declaring support of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution but neither one could find the time to address a serious public safety issue affecting the entire county. A real leader would have opened the meeting by informing the public that every commissioner took an oath of office that included their pledge to support and defend the constitutions of the state of Tennessee and the United States and that the commission business was more important than a “do nothing resolution”. Didn’t happen because there was no leader present.
Earlier this year, Commissioner Jeff Barrett presented a resolution to review and check receipts for expenditures of the $800,000-plus dollars donated to various non-profit organizations every year. As I sat in the courtroom I couldn’t believe my ears! Commissioner Barker complained she didn’t have time to review receipts for expenditures from donated funds. Didn’t have the time or didn’t want to review and check receipts against expenditures of non-profits? Reviewing expenditures of donated TAX DOLLARS makes sense, the public deserves to know how their tax dollars are spent. County Commissioners blew that opportunity.
Last month prior to voting to approve a water line extension, Commissioner Danny Alvis stated: “These people are dying up there. We finally have an opportunity to get a clean source of drinking water in there and I would hate to prolong it for another month on a technicality.” It is obvious Alvis didn’t hate to prolong the recommendations of the two EMS Committees for the past three years. Last October Alvis didn’t ask Dr. Jones a single question regarding the 2019 EMS Committee report. The Hawkins County Commission has met eight times since October 2019, and Alvis has not expressed concern about prolonging life safety at those meetings. Neither have any of the other commissioners for that matter.
If Commissioner Alvis is so concerned about people dying, why didn’t he support increased funding for Hawkins County EMS to replace an ambulance chassis with over 350,000 miles on it?
The vote to approve the Board of Education’s spending $1.25 million for artificial turf when facilities need repairs isn’t very smart. Commissioner Keith Gibson said: “It’s the school board’s money.” No Commissioner Gibson, it is not the School Board’s money! It is the taxpayers’ money and the turf deal doesn’t make good sense. There wasn’t anything wrong with the Cherokee football field according to the football coach’s comments at the meeting, yet the commission approved fixing something that wasn’t broke. Another instance of “if we do something for one end of the county we have to do it for the other end of the county too”. Good government at work!
To the parent who asked commissioners, “Is it fair for them not to have senior night on their home field?” I would ask a different question. Is it fair not to have adequate EMS service to respond to that field when there is a serious injury to a player, or a sick child at a middle or elementary school?
Commissioner Rick Brewer said a no vote by the commission was telling football players they didn’t matter anymore. Chairman Brewer’s failure to act on the EMS proposal for eight months shows a lack of leadership and tells the public they don’t matter anymore. Brewer among other commissioners attended several EMS Committee meetings and indicated his support for the need to improve EMS during those meetings. His support of public safety has been zilch, just like his leadership as Commission Chairman.
It appears the Hawkins County Commission doesn’t have a clue about the status of public safety throughout the county. Two thirds of the fire apparatus operated by the volunteer fire departments are eligible for registration as antique vehicles. Many of the vehicles do not meet minimum National Fire Protection Association standards. Fire departments have been unable to conduct their normal fund raising activities due to the pandemic and come budget time their requests are likely to be higher than last year. The men and women who staff and manage the volunteer fire departments are REAL HEROES who give their time and resources to ensure fire protection is available throughout the county. They are performing the vital public safety firefighting function the county government should be providing!
Hawkins County EMS operates six ambulances in service for the entire county. The minimum number of ambulances needed is nine and the Commission won’t even consider replacing one of the four worn out ambulance chassis. There are areas in the county where an ambulance response is longer than 10-12 minutes which endangers life safety. As of this week the future of Hawkins County hospital is in doubt and Hawkins County EMS ambulances have sat with patients on board waiting for admission at Holston Valley.
There have been periods of time this month where there was only one ambulance available for response. WAKE UP COUNTY COMMISSIONERS! IT IS PAST TIME TO FIX THE EMS SYSTEM.
The communications system needs to be upgraded in order to have a viable emergency communications system for fire, police, and ambulance services. The Public Safety committee recently voted to recommend another kick the can down the road solution. Did anyone think about a municipal bond to fund the communications system?
Local governments may also issue bonds to fund projects such as infrastructure, libraries, or parks and PUBLIC SAFETY!! These are known as municipal bonds, and often carry certain tax advantages for investors.
It is long past time for Hawkins County voters woke up to the fact that PUBLIC SAFETY is not on the county commission’s agenda and when it is they usually kick the can down the road. We can do better when it comes to electing people to the county commission.
(Bill Killen is a resident of Church Hill.)