by Mel Griffith
It appears that the future of the Bradley County Fire Department, which was supposed to have been finally decided over a year ago, is going to be decided all over again, continuing years of confusion and indecision fueled by Cleveland's desire to have its fire department supported by rural taxpayers. In July of 2009 the County Commission finally decided, years after it should have, that it would soon be time for a permanent end to a fire contract with the city and that the county fire department should assume responsibility for all the county outside the city. Several commissioners thought that this could be ready by July 1, 2010 when the existing contract with the city expired. This would have required a lot of work in a year in order to expand the department enough to be ready, but it appeared to be possible. If a couple of vocal supporters of the fire department hadn't jumped ship and voted for a different option, the county fire department would already be covering the entire county and we would not have the present problem.
Some commissioners felt that one year was not adequate (or perhaps simply wanted to stall the progress) and thought that a longer preparation period was needed. They voted to accept another contract with the city which would continue in full for two years, reduce to half in the third year and go away entirely after that. Unfortunately, although this was clearly intended to be the final contract, as evidenced by the fact that it tapered off to half in the last year before going away completely, the motion did not spell out the full intent, which has led to some creative reinterpretations of the motion's intent recently. It is clear that some commissioners, particularly new ones, have been subject to some intense lobbying by the city, because the new commission was hardly seated before there was a concerted effort to start redeciding this matter about which the final decision was supposed to have been made over a year ago.
It is unfortunate that some people who get elected to the county commission appear much more interested in promoting the interests of the city, to the disadvantage of county taxpayers, than in looking out for the county. If they want to work for the city's advantage, instead of the county's interests, they ought to run for the city council instead of the county commission. The Bradley County Fire Department is recognized as one of the best in the state, so there is no question of adequate protcction. Contracting with the city for fire protection when we have a perfectlv adequate fire department is like a farmer buying the best hay equipment, hiring skilled labor and then having them watch while his hay is custom harvested. Only in government do we do things that stupid.
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