By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
The Etowah County Commission convened Tuesday, February 2 to honor one of its own. During the meeting, former commission president Jeffery Washington received a proclamation and plaque dedicated to his service and commitment to the county.
“The amount of things that we [as a commission], with Mr. Washington as president during the year 2020, accomplished is lengthy,” said Chief Administrative Officer Shane Ellison.
The proclamation reads as follows:
“In appreciation to Jeffery Washington: Whereas, during his term as President of the Etowah County Commission in 2020, the following was accomplished – Balancing the budget without having to dip into reserves and retaining the County’s ‘A-Plus’ credit rating with Standard & Poor’s with zero findings on audit from public examiners; Renewing a General Obligation Warrant which allowed the Engineering Department to purchase needed equipment with the savings; and continuing to support and promote the 2020 Census; and
“Adopting Rebuild Alabama 2021 Transportation Plan; authorizing an Industrial Access Road Project on Burgess Road to benefit a new Koch Foods Plant, resurfacing portions of Sardis and Pilgrim’s Rest Road, approving a project with Reece City for debris clean-up from April storms, and applied for funds to repair a 125 foot mud-slide on Tidmore Bend Road; and
“Approving of the JAG Grant for Gadsden to provide ballistic shields and training, and for the Sheriff a remote-controlled surveillance platform, approving the Domestic Violence Grant, a Fleet Replacement Program for the Sheriffs Office, extending the Gadsden City Jail Contract, and approved replacing the HVAC System at the Jail; and
“Approving applications for 2020 Coronavirus Emergency Funding Programs for purchasing needed items such as equipment to enable the Sheriff and District Attorney the ability to video conference and conduct business, case management software for the District Attorney’s Office, foggers to disinfect offices and the jail, and the hiring of two temporary employees to help with absentee voting in Circuit Clerks Office. Also, approved moving the East Gadsden voting place due to restrictions at the current location; and
“Declaring a ‘State of Health Emergency’ on March 17, 2020, closing the Courthouse to the public on March 30 and reopening on May 4, 2020. The commission waived the mail fee for tag purchases in the Revenue Department, the State extended deadlines, and encouraged the use of face masks, social distancing and ‘safer at home’ guidelines as recommended by Governor Ivey and the Center for Disease Control; and
“Approving a one-time Hazard Pay to all employees, allowing employees to sell 40 hours of time (buy back) and gave employees a 2-Step (or 5% raise) to help cover an increase in the employees’ portion of the insurance premiums. Also, upgrading all employees to the Tier I Benefits/Retirement Plan which increased the employee and county contributions and allows all employees to be on the same plan which will help with recruiting and retaining employees; and
“Approving an agreement which will allow Probate to have public records available electronically, to offer online services and to provide an electronic recording procedure; and
“Accepted ‘Growing Alabama Grant’ for Little Canoe Creek Mega Site which allowed for a mass grading project, purchasing mitigation credits, an easement to relocate Alabama Power transmission lines and for Boaz Gas Board to move gas lines, and to approve a water evaluation for Gadsden Water Works, all of which improve the future options for the Mega Site; and purchasing the building on 401 Broad Street for the Etowah County Board of Education, which will give them an updated building with the space they need with a more convenient location.”
Washington expressed his gratitude for his opportunity to serve his county, thanking everyone for attending the meeting and all voters who supported him throughout his campaign. While he appreciated the honor, he emphasized that the goals accomplished during 2020 were not a result of his efforts alone, but a representation of the commission’s unity and dedication to working together.
“All of this is done because of you guys,” Washington said, addressing his fellow commissioners. “Because we came together and worked together and voted to make this happen. None of this happened because of me. It was just my opportunity at that time to be chairman and sit in the seat. Thank you again; I receive this on behalf of all of us as commissioners.”
Gadsden-Etowah County Emergency Management Agency Director Deborah Gaither addressed the commission at the meeting, briefing officials on the county’s COVID-19 status. She discussed the second-dose COVID-19 vaccine drive-thru clinic on Thursday, Feb. 4 at The Venue at Coosa Landing in Gadsden. The clinic was not a first-shot clinic – it serviced only those 500 individuals who received their first round of vaccinations on January 7.
As of Tuesday, Gaither noted that Etowah County’s positive tests were slightly up at almost 19.5 percent, with the number of COVID-related deaths at 246, with 42 being investigated as probable cases. While the positive test rates were up, Gaither noted that hospitalizations rates were down due to the numbers of recent cases that were less-severe in the past weeks.
Although Gaither planned to develop future drive-thru clinics to vaccinate Etowah County citizens, including a clinic established for educators, she received word on February 1 to cancel all February clinics due to a lack of vaccine availability.
“My theory is multiple jurisdictions that have a large metro area have opened up these mass vaccination drive-thru clinics,” said Gaither. “I believe that public health representatives saw there wasn’t enough vaccine, and they had to pull some vaccine from other locations.”
According to Gaither, Etowah County only has minimal amounts left of vaccine at this time. Those remaining doses will be administered to persons 75 years and older through the Etowah County Public Health Department. At this point and time, no more clinics are scheduled to vaccinate Etowah County citizens.
“I don’t want anyone to think it’s our local public health [who is at fault],” said Gaither. “The people in our Etowah County Department of Public Health have gone far beyond the call of duty to try and make this happen in every way possible. Without the cooperation of the state supporting them, funding them and giving them the resources they need to do this, it’s not going to happen.”
Gaither indicated that she would contact Alabama EMA Director Brian Hastings regarding the shortage, who would in turn address the Alabama Department of Public Health and the governor’s cabinet. She shared contact information with the commission, which will join her in advocating for the county.
District 4 Commissioner Tim Ramsey brought up the topic of online registration for future vaccinations, and Gaither prompted individuals to visit alcovidvaccine.gov, where they can register. Following Feb. 8, individuals below 75 years and younger can register for their vaccinations.
Gaither noted that Etowah County is not the only county facing vaccine shortages, with surrounding areas experiencing the same challenge. Despite the shortage, she believed enough vaccine remain that all individuals who received the first shot would still receive the second shot on Thursday. To Gaither’s knowledge, pharmacies providing first-round doses do not have reserves for the second-round.
Gaither listed Anderson Pharmacy in Altoona, Rick’s Discount Drugs in Attalla, Jerry’s Discount Pharmacy in Gadsden, Super Bee Pharmacy in Rainbow City, Etowah Center for Internal Medicine in Rainbow City, Southside Family Pharmacy in Southside, Hugh’s Pharmacy in Gadsden, Gadsden City Pharmacy in Gadsden and the Etowah County Department of Public Health as locations providing the COVID-19 vaccine, along with Gadsden Regional Medical Center, Riverview Medical Center and Mountain View Hospital. A complete list of pharmacies and hospitals providing the COVID-19 vaccine is available at https://bit.ly/39HuzFW, on the “Alabama vaccine providers” tab.