Montgomery begins term on BCDA board

At their meeting on Friday, members of the Bear Creek Development Authority (BCDA) board welcomed their newest member, who said she plans to represent the interests of the tourists from across the state that come to enjoy BCDA’s recreational activities.

Thanks to House Bill 528, sponsored by Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow and Sen. Roger Bedford, Franklin County resident Patricia Overton Montgomery will now serve as the governor’s at-large appointment to the BCDA board.

Morrow said previously, the governor had to make an appointment to the BCDA board using a member of his staff or cabinet, but HB528 made it so the governor could make an at-large appointment, which could include a local resident who is more familiar with the needs and issues being addressed by the BCDA board.

“We believe this will be instrumental in the current issue we are facing with the deteriorating condition of Overton Farm,” Morrow said.

“We need to make sure we have people on the BCDA board who are familiar with this issue and who are dedicated to supporting not only Overton Farm, but any other local issue that might come up.

“I think that Patricia will do an excellent job, and I am excited for her to begin her term on the board.”

Montgomery, who is a direct descendant of the Overtons who homesteaded in Franklin County and are the namesake of Overton Farm, said she has two priorities coming into her tenure on the BCDA board – to rectify the ongoing deterioration taking place at Overton Farm and to create an advisory board that will help the current BCDA board address issues and concerns.

“We have obviously been upset by what has taken place at Overton Farm and think that it is unacceptable for the property to still be closed off to the public,” Montgomery said.

“This is a number one priority of mine going forward.

“I also want to set up an advisory board to make sure that we as a board do not miss anything that needs to be addressed.

“Ideally this board will be made up of people who are involved with BCDA activities – people who are local as well as others who come here regularly to use our lakes and other facilities because they will be familiar with any issues, problems, concerns or ideas that we need to be aware of.”

During the meeting, Phil Campbell resident James Taff volunteered to be the first member of this advisory board.

Montgomery said she would be reporting back to the governor after each meeting on the progress the BCDA board makes.

“I look forward to working with each member of the current board,” Montgomery said.

Morrow also expressed concern about the Overton Farm property and why no action had already been taken by the board.

“In January I called a meeting and asked the board to turn over control of the property to the town of Hodges, who said they will take responsibility for the property and make it part of their successful Rock Bridge Canyon Equestrian Park, which runs in close proximity to Overton Farm,” Morrow said.

“It is almost June and there has still been no action taken, and I just want to state for the record that as a state representative, I find that unacceptable.”

BCDA board chairman Ed Crouch, who also serves as the mayor of Hodges, said they ran into several issues that delayed the process of transferring the property.

“One thing that set us back was the equestrian park’s director, Mike Franklin, having a horse riding accident in March,” Crouch said.

“He was an important part of the process and was involved in a good bit of the research. His first day back to work was this week, so we are getting back on track.

“I think everyone is on the same page in wanting to do what’s best for the property. It’s just going to take some time to get the proper documents in order. We want to make sure we do this the right way.”

Morrow said there had been some question as to whether or not Crouch could vote on the issue since he also serves as the mayor of Hodges, but Morrow gave members of the board a copy of a letter from Hugh R. Evans, III, general counsel for the Alabama Ethics Commission, that stated there is no conflict of interest.

“There would be nothing in the Ethics Law that would prohibit Mr. Crouch, Mayor of Hodges, from voting on the lease of property between the Bear Creek Development Authority (on which he serves) and the City of Hodges,” the letter states.

“The only time there would be a problem is if Mayor Crouch stood to personally benefit, for example, he owned the property being leased to the city. As this is not the case, we see no problems with this situation.”

Montgomery said it was her wish that the board move forward as soon as possible to get the property re-opened and in better condition.

“This is a big part of Franklin County history and something that has been special to many people,” she said.

“I know that it could be a great asset to this community once again.”

Crouch said if given control of the property, the town of Hodges plans to use the property as part of the RBCEP and will make the facility, including the education center, available for church groups and school groups who wish to use it for outings and field trips.

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