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Commissioners, Whitehead discuss bills, county's needs

Only three weeks into his Wednesday meeting schedule, first-term State Senator Jim Whitehead has stumbled onto something big.

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Sen. Jim Whitehead talks to McDuffie County leaders.

Wednesdays with Whitehead is a six-week rotation where the senator spends each Wednesday in a counties that he represents in Atlanta. April 20 was his day to spend in McDuffie, and county commissioners were glad to have the chance to chat with him.

"We haven't had these in the past. It's a good thing we're doing," said Commission Chairman Charlie Newton about the 11 a.m. meeting with Sen. Whitehead at the courthouse.

"It's wonderful to know that ... he's willing to meet with us every sixth Wednesday," said Commissioner Sammie Wilson. "That's saying a lot for a first-year senator because a lot of people forget their campaign speeches."

And Sen. Whitehead has found that giving the opportunity for officials on the county level to speak with a state legislator -- something he promised during the campaign -- is something that will be beneficial for all involved.

"I think it's very important because of the fact that it keeps me involved in what's going on in these counties," Sen. Whitehead said. "I've met with actually three of the counties already, and I have found things that hopefully I can help with that I would have never been able to just sit and wait for somebody to call me on."

Several of those things were on Chairman Newton's list for discussion during the meeting. The main topic centered around a bill proposed during this year's legislative session that would limit the number of reasons for which governments could take over land from private citizens.

Commissioners were concerned that several projects currently in the works for McDuffie County would have to be put on hold if the bill had passed. Questions prompted legislators to hold on it.

"The process worked because we listened," Sen. Whitehead told commissioners after hearing their concerns. "If we need to change it, we'll go back and address it in January."

Chairman Newton also spoke about the indigent care special purpose local option sales tax bill he proposed to legislators early in the session. He said McDuffie Regional Medical Center could use some help with the $800,000 it will spend on care for the uninsured this year.

"Our revenues are up in the state," Sen. Whitehead said. "Hopefully we can put some money in (the budget) for indigent care in McDuffie."

Discussions also went to the recent uproar surrounding McDuffie County's Fire Station One. The Department of Transportation plans to build a new bypass through its current location.

Chairman Newton said the county is one and a half years away and $200,000 short of starting to build the kind of fire station that is needed. He said current reports are conflicting on when Station One needs to be moved to make room for the road.

Sen. Whitehead -- who serves on the Senate's transportation committee -- said he would help set up a meeting between county officials and the DOT.

He also shared with commissioners that he was one of seven senators who voted against the state-wide smoking ban in the senate, citing his support for veterans who he said fought to protect the rights of the people he serves.

That bill still sits on Governor Sonny Purdue's desk. He has until May 10 to sign it before it goes into law without his signature.

"I thought they (business owners) need to make their own decisions for themselves," Sen. Whitehead said. "Where does it stop?"

That stance got the attention of one commissioner.

"I'd like to thank you for being a personal freedom advocate," Darrell Wester said. "It scares me that only seven lawmakers would vote like that."



Web posted on Thursday, April 28, 2005











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