Jensen renounces emergency powers; commissioners approve land purchase for Riverbend Park

Charles Oliver, The Daily Citizen, Dalton, Ga.
·3 min read

Apr. 18—Whitfield County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jevin Jensen on Monday renounced sweeping powers granted to the chairman by an emergency proclamation issued in March 2020 near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and still in effect.

"Some of the largest (powers) are the ability to evacuate and set up transportation; close roads; suspend alcohol and firearms," Jensen said at the commissioners' April meeting. "One I find interesting is that you can suspend the sale of gasoline, which seems odd. Also, any county law or ordinance can be suspended if it gets in the way of fighting the emergency or solving the emergency."

Jensen noted none of those powers have been used since the pandemic began, and he's not certain any are needed to fight the pandemic.

By a 3-0 vote, commissioners accepted Jensen's renunciation of those powers but also affirmed that the county's state of emergency will continue as long as the Georgia state of emergency remains in place.

Jensen, who typically votes only if there is a tie, said the county state of emergency needs to stay in place for the county to remain eligible for state and federal COVID-19 funds.

Commissioners also voted 3-0 to buy 20 acres of land at Sage Way adjacent to Riverbend Park, which is under construction, from AQM Farm of Birmingham, Alabama. The final price hasn't been determined as the property is awaiting appraisal, but the agreement said it will not be more than $4,200 an acre.

"I've talked to a couple of realtors, and they say that's a more than fair price," said Commissioner Greg Jones.

Mark Mitchell, one of the owners of AQM Farm, said the 20 acres was his family's farm where cattle were raised.

Commissioner Barry Robbins said if Riverbend Park ever needs to be expanded, even if just to add more parking, having this property will help. At 55 acres, Riverbend Park is only about half the size of Edwards Park and Westside Park.

Riverbend Park will include one soccer/football field, four baseball fields, a walking trail and two gyms inside a community center. The main entrance to the park will be near the traffic signal at the south bypass and Hill Road, but a secondary entrance to handle overflow traffic is planned off Collins Drive.

The park, including the 20 acres commissioners voted to buy Monday, is being funded by a four-year, $66 million Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) approved by county voters in 2020. A SPLOST is a 1% sales tax on most goods sold in the county.

Board members also voted 3-0 to name David Metcalf, the deputy director of the Whitfield County 911 Center, Whitfield County Emergency Management Agency director. Commissioners had named Metcalf as the sole finalist at their March meeting. Claude Craig, the previous director, retired on Jan. 22.

Metcalf will be paid $80,000 a year. The EMA director oversees both the EMA and the 911 Center.