County dealing with storm cleanup

MOORE HAVEN – The Glades County Board of Commissioners resolved several post-Hurricane Irma issues at its regular meeting Tuesday, authorizing burning of some collected storm debris and joining an agreement to help clean up Port Labelle area roads. But the board also had a windy discussion about a failure in its own storm housekeeping, moving to clarify a motion commissioners had passed just before Hurricane Irma struck on compensating county employees during Glades

County’s state of emergency, which stretched to a full workweek.

The board had to specify that it didn’t mean for any workers to have received what amounted for some to a triple-time windfall, including double-time pay for hours spent in the Emergency Operations Center or working on storm response during those five workdays, Thursday, Sept. 7, through Wednesday, Sept. 13, plus administrative time off for days they couldn’t work because county facilities other than the EOC were closed. Commissioners meant only for them to get double-time pay for actual hours worked, and administrative time off only for days they did not. A recording of the pre-Irma meeting that staff could not decipher, however, led to confusion and to roughly $12,000 in extra personnel costs that it turns out the board did not mean to authorize. Once it had voted to rectify the error, though, the board declined to take back any of the extra pay, deciding only to purchase better recording equipment and to come up with a future policy or guideline on pay rates during storm-related emergencies.

Before that nearly hourlong back-and-forth, though, the commissioners authorized an addendum to their debris removal agreement with CrowderGulf. County Manager Paul Carlisle said: “This is to allow for burning of storm-related debris. We will have a significant reduction in our overall costs since we’ve moved the material out of Buckhead Ridge to a pasture and some other areas where burning is now advantageous, rather than grinding it and hauling it away. This will be an easier way to get rid of the material and at a better cost.”

Commissioner Donna Storter Long asked where the debris was. Mr. Carlisle answered that some was at the landfill, some on pasture land behind a school in Muse and still more on private pasture land near Buckhead Ridge, which the owner has been using for debris and burning. “We’ve got it approved by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to utilize that site; the Division of Forestry will have to approve it for burning,” he said. “The landfill, we’re anticipating burning there. We do not anticipate burning behind the school at Muse because of the proximity of the school and the smoke. That pile will probably have to be ground up.”

Commissioner Long moved to OK the addendum, with Commissioner Weston Pryor seconding. Commissioner Tim Stanley, who represents the Buckhead Ridge area, quipped that the burning might “smoke out the mosquitoes” that have been plaguing residents since Irma, and the board had a good laugh before approving it 4-0. (Commissioner Donald Strenth was absent).

On another storm-related matter, the board directed the county manager and attorney to come to an agreement with the Port Labelle Community Development District (PLCDD) and the local soil and water conservation district, which control some roads in the area, on collecting storm debris along those roads. Said Mr. Carlisle: “This is a unique situation where you have a community development district and a soil and water control district which have authority over these roadways. They’re working on an agreement with Hendry County to pick up debris on their roadways within Hendry. They sent me the agreement this morning but I have not had a chance to … discuss it with (the attorney), but as we know time is of the essence so we’d ask the board to direct the county attorney, myself and the chair to negotiate an agreement with the Port Labelle CDD for debris pickup on roadways that are managed by the CDD.”

Judy Kinnington-Korf, general manager of the PLCDD, thanked the board.

The agenda item that led to the discussion of compensation was the purchase of new recording equipment for the commission chambers, Commissioner Long started by complimenting staff on the detailed minutes of meetings they provide despite the fact that “we have antiquated equipment.” She said part of the Sept. 6 recording was inaudible and that the original motion and commissioners’ intent on the employees’ compensation during the state of emergency couldn’t be determined.

“I think it’s time that we actually replace the equipment,” she said. And regarding the mistake in paying some employees, Commissioner Long said it was not staff’s fault, adding: “I think we just need to move on and work on it, don’t take it back, eat it (the cost), whatever, and go forward. And next time, be better prepared, and I do think that if some guidelines (can be written, even if there’s a possibility they would be suspended, we need to get that clarified.”

The Glades County Democrat is published every Thursday.

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