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Originally published: 2013-08-23 10:51:16
Last modified: 2013-08-23 10:52:00

Commissioners form DSS advisory board

Watauga County commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday to establish a Department of Social Services advisory board, a pared-down version of the former DSS board abolished in May.

Commissioners Chairman Nathan Miller proposed the abolishment of the former DSS board in February, saying the county and elected commissioners needed more oversight of the hiring or firing of the social services director and the department's budget.

DSS Director Jim Atkinson and others said at the time the change was unnecessary and could subject a future director to political pressure.

Those concerns re-emerged Tuesday as the board of commissioners considered a resolution to create a board whose powers will be limited to advising the director of issues of importance.

"I'm still concerned with that element of this board, especially with what we saw last week with a couple of politically appointed boards in this county," said Commissioner John Welch, referencing a heated meeting of the Watauga County Board of Elections.

Welch moved to deny the resolution creating the advisory board, with hopes of reinstating the previous board. The motion failed 2-3, with Commissioner Billy Kennedy the only other supporter.

"The partisan politics going on in our nonpartisan agencies is a great worry to me," Kennedy said. "Partisan politics is alive and well in Watauga County, and I worry greatly about those innocent people who are going to be hurt and caught in the crossfire."

Miller and commissioners Vice Chairman David Blust fired back that politics were an inevitable part of all lives.

"There's been partisan politics going on long before this in the board of elections and what you're referring to," Blust said. "It always will. We hope it won't with this, and we'll have to see."

The board voted 3-2 to approve the resolution establishing the advisory board, with Commissioner Perry Yates joining Miller and Blust in favor. The initial membership will include members of the former DSS board, with future members to be appointed by commissioners.


Mast bridge naming

The county will move forward with a proposal to name the U.S. 421 bridge over the New River in memory of Deputy William Mast Jr. after no one spoke at a public hearing on the matter Tuesday.

"I think this is a very fitting honor," Miller said. "I hate that we have to do this honor, but this is, in my estimation, the most prominent bridge in Watauga County. He gave the ultimate sacrifice."

Mast's widow, Paige, was in attendance with other supporters and family members.

"I'd also just like to tell everyone 'thank you,'" she said from the audience Tuesday. "I'm very appreciative, and I know the rest of the family is, too."

The proposal was considered simultaneously Tuesday at the Boone Town Council meeting, where it also passed unanimously.

"This is a way we can honor someone who served our community," said council member Lynne Mason.


Other business

The board set a public hearing for 6 p.m. Sept. 17 to accept comments on a proposal to name the Watauga County Public Library meeting room in honor of Evelyn Johnson, a longtime librarian who died in January.

A second public hearing also will be held Sept. 17 to accept comments on changes to several county ordinances due to state statute requirements and proposed changes to the sign ordinance governing billboards and other signs.

The Sept. 3 commissioners' meeting has been cancelled due to the Labor Day holiday.


-- Jesse Campbell contributed to this article.