Sullivan County Commission rejects giving trucks to Hondurans

J. H. Osborne • May 19, 2008 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — The Sullivan County Commission rejected a plan Monday that would have given some old county highway equipment to a city in Honduras.

The proposal needed 13 votes for approval. It got 10.

Sullivan County Highway Commissioner Allan Pope said the equipment in question — four trucks and a piece of paving equipment — are surplus.

The county typically sells property declared surplus at public auction. The next such sale is scheduled next month.

On Monday, Sam Jones and some other county commissioners suggested offering the five pieces of equipment for sale at that public auction — then consider giving any items that don’t get a bid to the foreign city.

Commissioner Joe Herron pushed for a vote on the issue, however, saying Honduran officials were expecting the commission to act on the matter — and he feared inaction or postponement would leave the impression that Sullivan County was “reneging” on something.

“They are expecting us to vote on it today,” Herron said. “I don’t want to lose face not only with Honduras but with any foreign government.”

Herron was primary sponsor of the resolution to give the equipment to the city of Siguatepeque.

As debate of the issue began Monday, County Mayor Steve Godsey voiced support for the plan and urged commissioners to look deep in their hearts before casting their votes.

“I’m a firm believer in helping those who need help,” Godsey said, reminding the commission of its vote last year to accept Siguatepeque as a “sister community.”

That “goodwill agreement” is not affiliated with the “Sister Cities International” organization.

“We have their flag flying in here,” Godsey said.

“They rolled out the red carpet for us,” Herron said, adding that Sullivan County has had two “delegations” go visit the Central American nation.

In earlier discussions of the proposal, Herron had said potential year-round importation of Honduran fruit is one of the possible future benefits Sullivan County might see from its “sisterhood” with Siguatepeque.

On Monday, Herron touted what he said was another potential benefit for Sullivan County’s economy: Honduran tourists visiting the area.

Herron said he and Pope visited Honduras earlier this year, and among those they met with was one of the nation’s two vice presidents — a man Herron said could very well become president of Honduras.

And, Herron said, the mayor of Siguatepeque is scheduled to visit Sullivan County within the next few weeks.

The resolution up for a vote Monday stipulated Honduran officials had agreed to take possession of the equipment within 14 days of commission approval to give Siguatepeque the items.

Jones and other commissioners balked at Herron’s stated fear of how the Hondurans might interpret postponing commission action on the matter.

“We can’t renege on something we never had an agreement on,” Jones said.

Commissioner Wayne McConnell asked if Herron and Pope had made some sort of commitment when they last visited Honduras.

Herron said absolutely not — but that there are cultural differences and it’s his understanding now that some of the foreign officials believe the county already committed to giving the equipment.

“They think we made a commitment to give them the equipment,” Herron said. “They think the equipment is coming their way. But I have made no commitment.”

McConnell also asked how what has been described as a third-world community could afford to have what has been described as “worthless” “junk” — and quite heavy at that — shipped such a distance.

Godsey said the company that hauls Honduran produce to the United States offered to haul the equipment back at no charge.

Godsey said Food City is in discussions with Hondurans, who enjoy a year-round growing season, regarding possible produce imports.

Pope said his department originally identified 16 pieces of property as “surplus” to be sold at auction — then pulled out the five items proposed for transfer to Siguatepeque.

Pope said he figures with scrap metal bringing $8 per 100 pounds, it would cost his department more to prep the equipment for scrapping than the metal would bring in.

A few months ago, Pope said, the highway department probably racked up $3,000 or more in payroll to get 36,000 pounds for scrap from some old equipment — which brought about $2,882.

Herron also said he wanted to make clear that the county would not make any improvements or repairs — no new tires, for example — to the equipment, before ownership was transferred.

Herron and other supporters of the proposal have repeatedly said those opposed to it — public and elected officials, alike — just don’t understand the issue. On Monday, Herron said he’d been able to explain “the truth” of the matter to everyone who’d called him to ask about the proposal — and they’d all become agreeable to the county giving the equipment to Siguatepeque.

Other commissioners, however, said the topic was one of the hottest they’ve ever encountered when it came to public feedback.

Commissioner Eddie Williams said he’d had many questions about the proposal from people in his district, adding the topic had drawn comment even from people who don’t normally share their thoughts. Williams said unlike Herron, his conversations didn’t seem to ease anyone’s concerns or opposition to the proposal — and that would be the driving factor is his vote on the issue.

Those voting in favor of giving the equipment to Siguatepeque were Cathy Armstrong, Linda Brittenham, Moe Brotherton, O.W. Ferguson, Terry Harkleroad, Herron, Elliott Kilgore, Bill Kilgore, Buddy King and Pat Patrick.

Those voting against the plan were Garth Blackburn, Darlene Calton, Jon Harr, Dennis Houser, Jones, Dwight King, Jim King, McConnell, John McKamey, Randy Morrell, Mark Vance and Williams.

Michael Surgenor passed on the vote.

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