CULLMAN, Ala. – Cullman County Commission Chairman-elect Jeff “Clem” Clemons will take his oath of office today, Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 4 p.m. at the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office Training Center. He sat down with The Cullman Tribune Monday to discuss changes, road plans, COVID-19 and other issues.
What have you been doing since July to prepare for taking office?
Clemons: Since the July 14 runoff, I took a few days off and got started back, I think about the first week, the 16th or 17th I went back to the sheriff’s office. On Oct. 20, I retired from the sheriff’s office after a little over 33 years. In the meantime, I’ve been working with our associate commissioners and our county engineer and I’ve been working with our county attorney on some things. We’ve got some really good plans for our roads in the near future. (Cullman County Engineer) Bryan (Cheatwood) is working on a five-year plan, and he should have that on my desk within the first month that I take office where I can view that. I think that’s going to be very important.
I’ve been dealing with the county attorney on a lot of legal situations. We’ve got some things coming down and a lot to deal with in the next year. The OHV park (Stony Lonesome), we’ve got some lawsuits, and we are going to be dealing with it so I’ve been getting updated on those so that I can be familiar with everything. I truly believe I am ready for this job and I am ready for this challenge. We’ve got to hit the ground running and get to work for the people of Cullman County.
Would you say roads are your no. 1 focus?
Clemons: That will be our biggest task because we have the second most roads in the state of Alabama. If you drive our secondary roads, they are in pretty bad shape all across Cullman County. That’s going to be our biggest issue so that’s why we have got to all sit down to come up with a good solution for a plan for the long term. We need to fix our roads right the first time, so we don’t have to go back.
How are you and the county engineer determining or scheduling which roads will get paved and when?
Clemons: What we are actually going to do, Bryan has a computer that he can pull up the most traveled secondary roads in the county- he most used roads or the heavy trucks like poultry trucks on those roads- that’s what he is determining that by, he population that lives on those roads, and that will be in the plan when we get it down where we can see what roads we need to target first. We’ve already got several roads on that list that we are already looking into.
What I really like about Bryan, he’s hands-on. He’s not taking somebody’s words. He’s going out and inspects those roads himself so he can know. That’s better because when you look at something, you know yourself, ‘Does that road need attention right now?’ I think that’s very important. We’ve got several roads right now that we have dug up and hopefully when paving season starts in April, we can get to work on these roads.
Our engineer is solely in charge of all roads in Cullman County. He reports all his activity to the chairman and then I give all that information out to our commissioners.
What are your thoughts on the five-person commission (which will begin in November 2022)?
Clemons: I’ve been looking at that a little bit and the situation; it’s passed. Our Legislature thought there was a need for a five-party commission. I am all for better representation across the county because that’s what the people wanted and what they deserve. By looking into it, I don’t know how that’s going to work because you have four commissioners who will be part-time and a full-time chairman. I don’t know how the communication is going to be. If I need those guys, they may be off that day. It’s something we are going to have to sit down and have a plan in place.
Within the next year, those guys, whoever decides to run, will have to start campaigning because it’s a countywide vote. They will be working a district, but they will have to run countywide.
When will the commission meetings be?
Clemons: It will be Tuesday nights. Starting Nov. 19, all our meetings will be at night starting at 6 p.m. and the work session starting at 5 p.m. For the next year, we already have the schedule made for those meetings.
Will that be twice a month?
Clemons: Right now, that will be once a month. Once a month.
Could that change?
Clemons: If we have a huge case load, we can go back and amend that.
Besides roads, what are other things you hope to accomplish in the first year?
Clemons: Our economic development is very important to Cullman County for job growth and community grants. Right now, we’ve got one person. Ashley Graves is working on grants for all our fire departments, all our small municipalities across Cullman County. She always does grants for our legislators and our Senate and works with the City of Cullman. I think they have five in their economic development and we’ve got one. The first thing I am going to do when I take office is I am going to appoint a director for that. Matt Kinsland will start today in Economic Development as a grant writer.
Speaking with her, over the last several years, Cullman County, we’ve lost thousands of dollars by not having the people in place to go after these grants. That’s very important. We don’t need to lose any money. We need to go after every dime we can get and bring it back to Cullman County.
What is your biggest challenge with the budget?
Clemons: Roads! Roads are always a challenge, but payroll is also a big challenge with over 500 employees across Cullman County. That’s always a challenge. We just want to work together with our fellow commissioners and do what all we can do for the citizens of Cullman County.
During your campaign, wasteful spending is an issue you often spoke about. Have you identified any specific areas that need to be addressed?
Clemons: I think I have already identified some in the road department. I’ve been sitting down with the engineer and talked about coal mix. We’ve got to figure out a way to get away from coal mix. It’s not the solution to patching a 2-3-mile road like I am seeing now. It’s very expensive. I think for the last four years, we’ve spent a little over $1 million in coal mix. That’s wasteful spending because how long does it last?
You can apply it today to a hole and in a week, it’s probably going to be a big hole there again. We’ve got to figure out ways to cut that and use our Durapatchers more on these short roads. It’s a spray and it’s very effective. You can fix a road that will last for several years and you aren’t going to have to spend lots of money on that road. That’s some things I am identifying.
I will have all the budgets on my desk Wednesday morning where I can look over it. I want to know what money is in every account. Cullman County has several accounts and I want to look over all that. I want to be transparent to the citizens of Cullman County and I want to be accessible to them and I want to go to as many meetings as I can and speak on behalf of the commission on what we are trying to do to serve them. I think that is very important-to be accessible and be transparent. With all our directors across the county, they have to be strong leaders and they have to get the ball rolling in the right direction. We are all in this together to serve the people of Cullman County.
We are seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases. What are your thoughts on the virus, and would you consider a mask mandate?
Clemons: We know COVID is real. My son had it and he was off work for three months with it. It’s a serious issue that we are facing, and this virus is very dangerous. We’ve got to take all the precautionary measures we can not to contract this. I would encourage everyone, if you are in a public place, social event or restaurant, I would seriously consider wearing a mask if you don’t wear one. It’s going to protect you, but we need to make sure we are protecting our citizens, especially our elderly and those who have underlying conditions; they are more prone to catch this. We’ve got to take this seriously and we’ve got to follow the CDC guidelines and the governor’s Safer at Home Orders. So, that’s something we got to look at down the road to make sure everybody is safe.
Would you consider requiring masks at the courthouse if these trends continue?
Clemons: I would consider that, but what I would want to do before making that decision is sit down with all the elected officials and work it out with them. Put our heads together. I wouldn’t want to make a decision on me because I want to make sure it’s the right decision for all the people of Cullman County. I think that is important.
What impact is the pandemic having on our area seniors and the Commission on Aging?
Clemons: Those folks have a tough job, and we have great people there at the Commission on Aging. I have been talking to the director, Dusty Baker, and we are speaking almost every day trying to find a way to get our seniors out of the house and getting them involved in something. We talked about the (annual) Christmas party, but we just don’t know the danger of that facing this COVID. Hopefully, we can do the drive-in Christmas show where they can get a pass to see the lights at Sportsmans Lake.
You know, it’s devastating on them. The senior centers, that’s their family and many of them don’t have any other family. There have been several of them who have passed away and it’s just devastating. I want to be thinking every day with Dusty and the Commission on Aging to figure out ways we can get them out of the house and get them more involved.
Are there any other projects you would like to tell people about?
Clemons: I think it’s very important with our economic development and going after these grants to bring money back to Cullman County; our first responders and volunteer fire departments are very crucial in keeping us safe. I would like to work on grants for all the communities that don’t have storm shelters. There are communities that are yet to have a storm shelter. We can go after grants to utilize that money for communities that don’t have them.
If tornado sirens aren’t working, somebody is going to have to take the initiative to get them fixed. These are our citizens, and they are the most important and we have to do everything we can to keep them safe.
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