DOBSON — A project that split the Surry County Board of Commissioners seems to be continuing to do so.
Monday evening a one-page ordinance contained in the board’s consent agenda appointed Commissioner Larry Phillips, who holds no leadership role on the board, as the official to execute all interstates sewer project documents. That role is usually filled by the board’s chairman.
Chairman R.F. “Buck” Golding was joined by Vice Chairman Eddie Harris in his votes against moving the interstates sewer project, an effort which will extend sanitary sewer services along N.C. 89 to the I-77 and I-74 interchanges, forward.
Commissioners Paul Johnson, Jimmy Miller and Larry Phillips voted in favor of the project and awarded the $4.9 million contract to locally owned Smith-Rowe Construction in June.
Despite the board’s vote to move the project along, Golding and Harris continue to cast opposition votes to the project. In a recent instance, Golding and Harris voted against an ordinance setting up a project fund. The ordinance eventually passed.
However, if it had failed the project would not have stopped. The board’s failure to create the fund would have simply put the county in violation of state law.
Phillips said his being appointed to sign interstate sewer documents in Golding’s stead isn’t normal procedure for the board.
“One duty of the chairman, and in his absence the vice chairman, is to sign legal documents on the behalf of the Board of Commissioners once the board has made a decision. We vote as individual elected officials but once the votes are tallied, the end result is the Board of County Commissioners has decided, whether the vote was 3-2, 4-1 or 5-0,” wrote Phillips in a statement.
According to County Attorney Ed Woltz, the chairman’s signature on a document isn’t an individual statement of agreement. It is, instead, simply affixed to attest to the fact that the action has been authorized by the board of commissioners.
“We publicly debated the Interstate Sewer Project. We voted individually. And the Board of County Commissioners decided by majority vote to move it forward,” stated Phillips, prior to adding he had no issue with accepting his new signature role.
“If a board member accepts the leadership position of Chairman or Vice Chairman and refuses to fulfill their responsibilities, thereby potentially putting the county at legal risk, then legally the Board of County Commissioners must delegate that specific responsibility to another board member or a member of the county staff,” added Phillips.
Miller said he has been chairman a few times throughout his career on the board, which spans nearly three decades. He put the issue into simpler words.
“I’d say this is a matter of Buck (Golding) not doing his job as a chairman,” remarked Miller. “It’s pretty plain and simple.”
Golding said Phillips, in his former capacity as vice chairman, was signing all documents regarding the sewer project prior to the new year. He said continuity played a role in the decision to appoint Phillips to the task. However, he said the move was mostly the result of his concerns regarding the project.
“Signing the documents would be in conflict with my beliefs about the whole project,” explained Golding. “It would be sort of hypocritical to voice my concerns then sign off on it (the project).”
Golding said passing the signature authority off to another commissioner is legal, and Woltz confirmed that.
“If I’m accused of being derelict, I’d say what we did was within the legal spectrum of the office,” said Golding.
Golding said he, as chairman, has signed many documents against which he voted. However, he said he draws the line on the interstates sewer project.
Golding has been steadfast in his opposition to the project, and has said concerns regarding finances are the cause for his actions.
“Recently, we learned we didn’t have the finances arranged entirely correctly for this project,” said Golding. “We flat did not have our finances for this project in order.”
Golding admitted there was nearly no way to actually stop the sewer project’s completion at this point. However, he said he’ll continue to oppose what he views as a risky and expensive project which he believes the county should not be undertaking right now.
“I will continue to keep my eye on the expenditures,” concluded Golding.
Andy is a staff writer for The News and can be reached at (336) 415-4698.