A speed bump in Harmontown brought proceedings to a halt, so to speak, in the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors meeting on Monday.
In a lively exchange with board members that lasted about 15 or 20 minutes, county residents Belden and Kay Howell, owners of the Holiday Lodge in Harmontown, expressed concern that a 4-inch speed bump and two stop signs installed on County Road 517 are unjustified. They asked the board to provide traffic studies proving a need for the safety measures.
“When we called the planning office, we were told that a study didn’t have to be done and that basically (Supervisor) Chad McLarty could do what he wanted,” Kay Howell said.
The speed bump and stop signs were placed in response to a petition signed by 14 people. “That is not a large enough representation of our area to warrant these signs,” Kay Howell said.
McLarty explained that a concerned citizen told him there was a problem with speeding in that area in July or August of this year.
“We took it under advisement,” McLarty said. “We asked him to get a petition signed. He did that with 14 signatures that he brought back.”
Belden Howell said that he believed increased law enforcement patrols in the Harmontown area would be more beneficial than the speed bump and two stop signs.
“The only problems we’ve had is because we do not have a sheriff over there,” Belden Howell said. “Y’all do not represent us. I’m being honest with you – you do not.”
Kay Howell then asked McLarty if he himself had witnessed the amount of traffic that comes through the area. McLarty said he spent about 30 or 45 minutes watching for speeding at the location.
“You sat there one day?” she asked.
“No, ma’am,” McLarty responded. “I’ve sat there numerous days, and the county road manager has sat there.”
Kay Howell asked for a list of the days on which McLarty visited the area. “Why wasn’t this documented?”
“I have to make a decision based on what I’ve seen with my own eyes and what the petition had asked me to do,” McLarty said.
After further back-and-forth discussion between Kay Howell and McLarty, Board President Jeff Busby stepped in.
“Ma’am, you’re not letting him speak,” Busby said.
Busby told Kay Howell that without radar in Lafayette County, he finds the safety measures in that area justifiable.
“If we don’t have radar, then we don’t have anybody patrolling the county,” Kay Howell said.
“That’s not true,” Busby responded. “We have people patrolling Harmontown.”
Belden Howell then asked Sheriff Buddy East if he would like to speak on behalf of the sheriff’s department.
“Sir, this isn’t your board meeting,” Busby told Belden Howell. “We conduct it the way we conduct it. I guess I have failed to understand why you wouldn’t want safety [measures] in place.”
Kay Howell said she wanted to see documentation of the numbers of tickets, wrecks and deaths that would justify the installation of the speed bump and stop signs.
“I’m sorry to interrupt you, but we heard you say that already,” Supervisor Kevin Frye said. “I hear what you’re saying …”
“No, you don’t,” Kay Howell interrupted.
“Yes, ma’am,” Frye responded. “If you’re going to get in your vehicle from this part of town and drive all the way to Harmontown to come eat at your restaurant, you’re not about to stop and turn around when you get to that speed bump. Anybody that sets out to come to your restaurant is going to finish the last little bit and go over that speed bump.”
Belden Howell said he was also concerned that boats being transported to nearby Sardis Lake would suffer damage as they cross the “extra large” speed bump.
“If you can explain to me how this hurts health, safety and welfare of the community, then I’m happy to listen to you,” Frye said. “But I’m not going to suggest that Mr. McLarty choose a boat motor over the health of somebody that lives there.”
McLarty said there was proper signage warning drivers of the speed bump, including reflectors as well as caution signs before the speed bump.
“It’s even got a center that we left out,” McLarty said. “The center space is left out for [someone] dragging a boat motor that low to the ground. These 4-inch speed bumps are the same ones at Wal-Mart.”
McLarty apologized for the safety precautions being an “inconvenience” for the Howells.
Kay Howell held up multiple sheets of paper and said, “I have a petition of 148 people. Does that matter compared to 14 people?”
Howell said her business brings in about $300,000 in income and sales tax to Lafayette County each year.
“I know it’s not a large amount to you,” she said. “If we shut down, you’re going to lose that income. It may not mean a lot to you, and obviously you don’t care.”
“How does a speed bump or a stop sign put you out of business?” McLarty asked. “I don’t understand your concept.”
All board members agreed there was no reason to remove the speed bump or the stop signs.
“I’ll just file a suit,” Kay Howell said. “Obviously, y’all don’t care about the north side of the lake or any business that we have.”
As Kay Howell continued speaking loudly after stepping away from the podium, Busby said to the sheriff, “Buddy, can you get them out?”
“I’m leaving, don’t worry!” she said.
Randall Haley is HottyToddy’s associate editor. Email her at email@example.com.