VERNON — The city of Vernon will celebrate Labor Day this Saturday with food, music, fireworks and fun, in spite of recent flooding, said Mayor Michelle Cook.
In fact, the flooding, which began on July 2, was the reason the Fourth of July celebration was postponed until Labor Day. Now, just a few days before the official end of summer and the beginning of September, Vernon and Washington County are still dealing with flooded roads, businesses and homes.
“The activities will begin at 5 p.m., and the fireworks will be at 9 p.m.,” Cook told the Vernon City Council on Monday night. “Gilley’s is providing the entertainment, and there will be bounce houses and games for the kids.” The city will also be providing the food for the event, she said.
The only thing that is missing from the July 4 celebration will be the parade.
Volunteers will be in Vernon helping families repair their flood-damaged homes, the mayor said. Ben Tarpley of Live Oaks, Fla., founder of the volunteer group Hammers and Hearts, reported at the Aug. 19 council workshop that his group, along with Catholic Charities and the Northwest Florida Baptist Association and the Methodist churches were beginning to organize work parties to help repair people’s homes.
Cook said it has been brought to her attention, by the volunteer groups, that there is a need for food donations. The volunteer groups are working to set up a food pantry at city hall.
The volunteers work on private properties, but will not work to rebuild rental properties, Tarpley said.
People interested in volunteering to help Hammers and Hearts with cleaning and construction should call Tarpley at 478-258-7585.
Residents wanting to be added to the list for assistance should call the county Emergency Management Office at 638-6203.
Vernon City Hall will be closed on Sept. 2 for the holiday, City Clerk Dian Hendrix said.
The council also voted to hire a temporary employee to help in public works while Public Works Director Gerald Ward is out of the office on leave. The council also approved a pay increase for the city’s public works director during Monday’s meeting.
The council also discussed former city attorney Kerry Adkison’s final bill, which the council has challenged.
Hendrix said the city has received an itemized bill and an affidavit, as well as an email from Adkison.
Adkison is refusing to let the city have the files pertaining to ongoing litigation until the bill is paid. City Attorney Michelle Tagert said Adkison is holding the files as a lien until the payment is made, but she needs the files to assess the accuracy of the itemized bill the former attorney has submitted.
“I see a few charges on here that I think are probably reasonable,” Tagert said of the bill.
The city has been in ongoing litigation with a property owner, and Tagert said she is concerned with the amount of work the city is being billed for that case.
Councilman Tray Hawkins asked Tagert what would be a reasonable bill for that case.
“Without the files, I cannot tell you what would be reasonable,” she said.
The city also contests the bill for the lawsuit that Adkison lost to Florida Freedom News, the former parent company of the Washington County News. The lawsuit was the result of the city council, under Adkison’s counsel, violating the Florida Sunshine Law in April 2012. The matter went to court, and ultimately the newspaper was awarded the sum of $3,900.
“I don’t mind paying Mr. Adkison,” said Councilman Joey Brock. “My concern is some of the statements he has made to the council, and that is why I think we should turn this over to our new attorney. I can’t see us paying him $27,000. I’m not saying we don’t owe him $27,000, but I would like for him to prove it.”
Hawkins asked Tagert if the city could enter into arbitration with Adkison. “I don’t want the city having any more litigation,” he said.
“You can attempt to settle with him,” Tagert said. “My main concern is I don’t want to repeat work that the city has already paid for as our other litigation moves forward.”
“I’d just like you two to get together and work this out,” Hawkins said to Tagert.
Tagert said she had been unsuccessful in getting Adkison to return her calls, but she would continue trying to contact him.
“How about I call him and get him to get in touch with you?” Hawkins asked.
In other business, Fire Chief Tim Barnes reported that both fire trucks are still out of service following an accident on Aug. 18.
The two trucks were on their way down Highway 79 to a car fire in Ebro on a rainy Sunday when the fire engine started to skid in the rain after braking to avoid a vehicle which had suddenly stopped in front of the truck in the roadway.
“They didn’t pull over, they just hit the brakes when they saw us,” Barnes told the council at the Aug. 19 workshop.
The fire engine turned sideways on Highway 79, and the tanker truck was unable to stop and struck the fire engine.
As of Monday, there was no report on the how much the repairs to the fire trucks would cost, or even if the trucks were repairable.
“So basically, we’re out of the fire business,” Hawkins said.