For the last couple of years, Road Supervisor Kenny Edge has been written up by state auditors for maintaining roads to private cemeteries and for allowing property owners to have gates across county roads without authorization by the county commission.
On Monday night, Edge came before the county commissioners asking them to give him this authority, and they did on a unanimous vote. Edge said he sees nothing wrong with him working a road to a cemetery, or allowing gated county roads where they currently exist as long as property owners don't try to block others from passage.
State auditors, in the 2011 findings on DeKalb County, recommended that "The Highway Department should not maintain private roads to cemeteries unless authorized by the county commission or a private act approved by the state legislature"
Auditors further recommended that "The road supervisor should ensure the removal of any obstruction from the county's roads unless the DeKalb County Commission approves the gate across a third or fourth class county road as provided by Section 54-10-108,TCA. The road supervisor should determine if maintaining roads on gated property prejudices the rights of other taxpayers by denying them access to assets constructed with public funds"
"The concern was in the state law that says that I am not supposed to work anything but official county roads," said Edge. " They have been writing me up for the last two years and complaining about me working roads going to cemeteries and working any county road that had a gate across it. I told them (state auditors) that it has always been done. They (state auditors) said show me where the county commission has approved it to be done. Nobody could find no record of it so I brought it up to get it approved to where the county commission could okay me to maintain roads through cemeteries and maintain county roads that have gates," he said
In many cases, Edge said the gates are located on county roads that dead end with only a few landowners beyond those gates, and most are unlocked. "We've got gates all over this county and there have been gates all over this county for years and it even shows them on the county map. They're on dead end roads where there may be one or two landowners who just want to protect their property from somebody coming in there stealing everything they've got when they're gone," said Edge. "Some of them (county roads) don't have any homes on them. Its just farm land but the roads are officially county roads. They are named and are on the (county road) map. A few of them (gates) are locked but most are just (unlocked) gates across the road. They (state auditors) just don't want a gate across a road," he said.
Edge said its frustrating how that the state has such a problem with him on these issues, but sees nothing wrong with the state putting down hot mix and installing guardrails to a dead end on private property in the midst of a cedar thicket on the side of a hill along side a state highway (referring to property at the foot of Snow Hill on Highway 70). "The state of Tennessee hot mixed a road at the foot of Snow Hill going to that grave yard and they've got gates across it," he said.
Edge said he has the right to take down a gate across a county road if someone tries to prevent other landowners beyond the gates from passing through. " I've got a right to take the locks off of the gates or take the gates down and I've done it. If one person tries to lock another person out and two people own the property behind the gate, one won't let the other one have access to it, I've got the right to remove it," he said.
In the 2011 report, State auditors found that "a property owner erected a gate on a county road". The finding stated that " During 2006, the Highway Department paved 2.1 miles of a county road serving six property owners; however, .6 miles of the county road serves a single residence that includes a circle drive. The public has no access to this portion of the paved county road because the property owner erected a gate across the roadway. The road supervisor advised us that the Highway Department maintains the portion of the county road beyond the gate. Section 54-10-110, Tennessee Code Annotated (TCA) prohibits any obstruction, such as gates, on public roads, and Section 54-7-201, TCA authorizes the road supervisor to remove any fence, gate, or other obstruction from public roads and rights-of-way. However, Section 54-10-108, TCA empowers county legislative bodies (county commissions) to permit the erection of gates across public roads of the third and fourth class when in their judgment it will be manifestly to the advantage of the applicant and not materially to the prejudice of the public. The county could not provide us a County Commission resolution permitting the erection of a gate across the county road."
Concerning the finding that "The Highway Department performed work and provided materials on roads to private cemeteries without authorization", state auditors found that "The Highway Department maintained private roads to cemeteries using county employees, materials, and equipment. The road supervisor advised that it has always been the Highway Department's practice to maintain private roads to cemeteries as needed. Section 46-2-107, Tennessee Code Annotated, authorizes counties to expend public or private funds to maintain dilapidated or abandoned cemeteries, including the roads, if approved by a majority vote of the county legislative body (county commission). Furthermore, the Tennessee Constitution gives the state legislature permission to pass a private act that would allow a local government to spend public funds on private roads leading to cemeteries, if it determines that convenient public access to such cemeteries serves the public health, safety, or general welfare of the community. Officials could not provide us a private act or County Commission resolution allowing the Highway Department to maintain private roads leading to cemeteries."