By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
Budget cuts and drug testing contracts made for some intense public input at the March 2 meeting of the Madison Board of County Commissioners. First up to speak was Marianne Green addressing the need of the entire country, particularly Madison County, to do more than just talk about budget cuts at a time when state and local funding sources that have helped Madison in the past are now drying up. Green herself, having received notice that her late husband’s Survivor Benefit Plan was cutting her monthly benefits by $30 a month, told commissioners that she had asked Congressman Ander Crenshaw to work on a “share-the-pain” plan to cut $30 from the monthly income of everyone else who has retired from government (Green’s late husband retired after 30 years in the U.S. Navy).
Budget cuts were also the initial reason the Commission had taken bids from several drug testing companies months earlier, to see if there was a less expensive, local alternative to the one currently being used, Airport Medical in Valdosta. In its January meeting, the Commission had awarded the contract to Tax Doctor and More, MD, owned by Meshalene Love-Taylor. However, at its February meeting, after reviewing the proposed contract and seeing no significant cost savings, the Commission voted 3-2 to rescind their earlier action and remain with Airport Medical.
“What in the world happened?” asked Rev. Albert Lee Barfield. “In this time of tightening belts…this is a slap in the face of every Madisonian tax-payer, when someone in the county can do it, work still goes outside the county.” Barfield went on to say that “we need a partnership between county and black-owned businesses…she (Taylor) is local, and I think we ought to take a lot of stock in our local businesses. It’s what made Madison.”
Barfield then questioned each commissioner about why he or she had voted for or against the contract at the last meeting. Those who had voted for it cited cost savings and “shopping locally,” while those who had opposed it said they had not seen any significant savings after reviewing the contract. Commissioner Justin Hamrick declined to answer.
Sheriff Ben Stewart took the floor to respond that some services needed to go out of the county, to companies that had no ties whatsoever with the community. “I’m not against her (Taylor), I’m against anyone local drug-testing.”
It would be a conflict of interest for anyone local, he added, because “we (in the Sheriff’s Office) have to deal with people in a negative fashion. We write them citations, we put them in jail, we hurt their feelings…if that place in Valdosta burned down tomorrow, I’d ask that we use a drug-testing service in Tallahassee or Perry or Lake City.”
The discussion ended with Barfield asking about the county’s minority advancement policy and Commissioner Renetta Parrish referring him to Oliver Bradley of the EEOC. Stewart assured everyone that he had an open-door policy and that anyone who had any concerns with the Sheriff’s Office to come by and he would be glad to discuss them.