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Prayer still debated by county

At the Tuesday, May 28 meeting, county commissioners received a draft of the fiscal year 2013-14 budget plan. A first reading was rescheduled for Tuesday, June 4 at 1 p.m. Commissioners again debated how to set a policy for prayer at meetings. They heard from Ben Maxedon of Prayer Power of Georgia during the public forum and he was asked to stay for the meeting. Commissioner Carol Bass asked him to say the prayer for commission meetings on a temporary basis. ’I’d like to ask you to help us with this,’ she said. ‘Would you give our prayer until we can come to a better solution?’ Maxedon indicated he would be honored to pray at meetings but he will not always be available and does not believe he should always say the prayer. ’I’m concerned if you limit it to one person, one clergy, one faith or denomination, then you’re going to run into a problem in the future,’ Maxedon said. ‘My recommendation is to allow only recognized, established clergy members to pray. I’m not aware of a mosque in Pike County but if there were, we’d have to allow them to come and pray. It’s freedom of religion. It doesn’t mean we have to agree with it but I’d show respect to them and I’d expect them to show respect to others.’ Commissioner Tamra Jarrett noted the court case Lemon vs. Kurtzman. ’I’m not opposed to prayer, I pray very often myself. However, there are issues we have to consider as a government agency,’ she said. Jarrett noted the case resulted in the Lemon Test or criteria governments must meet. The policy or law must have a valid secular purpose. Its primary effect must be neither to advance nor inhibit religion and it must not lead to ‘˜excessive governmental entanglement’ with religion. Commissioner Tommy Powers asked if someone from a nondenominational church could perform the prayers. ’I’m nondenominational but I’m a Christian,’ he said. ‘The Supreme Court says [in Greer vs. New York] that you can’t just have Christians but also Muslims, Jewish, Buddhists and others.’ Maxedon suggested someone not affiliated with Pike set up a voluntary, rotating schedule of clergy in the area so the county could not be accused of showing any partiality. ’I think we need to be careful on how we establish a policy because we have to be sure it’s fair,’ said Jarrett. Bass moved to allow Maxedon to give prayer at meetings for now and that he work with the interim county manager to establish a policy and provide a list of people who can offer prayer at the meetings. Johnson said he is a Christian and believes the Lord hears people whether it is one person praying out loud or 40 people praying a silent prayer. Powers seconded the motion and it passed 3-2 with Jarrett and Johnson opposing. Morton said the sheriff’s office roof is still leaking after $5,500 was paid for roof repair in March 2010. He suggested getting three written estimates for replacing the roof. Commissioners asked that he get the estimates for redesigning it from a flat to a sloped roof to prevent future problems. Bass asked if funding for the roof could come from the jail construction fee. Morton indicated it could but it is appropriate to come out of the impact fee which must be used within six years of collecting them. Otherwise they must be refunded. The county also: ’¢ Heard Old Lifsey Springs Road will be repaired using around $36,000 from the Georgia Department of Transportation. ’¢ Heard Cook and Strickland roads were repaired with Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant funding, contracted and supervised by the DOT. Morton said Pike was not involved in inspecting the roads after completion. Since there appears to be some defective workmanship, he plans to write to the DOT asking it to correct the issues. ’¢ Voted to remove the sign on the courthouse grounds regarding renovations which have been completed. ’¢ Heard insurance open enrollment will be held through June 7. ’¢ Heard they are invited to a joint meeting with the board of education set for June 6 at 12 noon. ’¢ Designated county clerk Jo Ann Wrye as the liaison for the summer internship program and heard she will attend a training and interview session. ’¢ Approved moving $39,458 from the contingency fund to the magistrate court. This is the amount issued for back salary plus FICA for Loretta Rakestraw. Funds were taken from the court’s budget without notification and magistrate judge Marcia Callaway-Ingram asked that they be replaced under the Supreme Court of Georgia decision which prevents Pike from interfering with the court’s operation. ’¢ Held several public hearings and approved rezoning properties from commercial to agricultural residential on Kings Road, Highway 19 and at the intersection of Highway 41 and Fire Tower Road. ’¢ Held public hearings and voted to allow special exceptions for Jason and Rochelle Smith to expand their taxidermy business on Bates Road and allow Peach State Airport to host special events, provided it be reviewed by planning and development and reported to the commission. ’¢ Called a closed session to discuss pending or potential litigation, settlements, claims, administrative proceedings or other actions related to the magistrate court and applicants for county manager. Commissioners reconvened and voted to adjourn without taking further action.

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