The item would have allowed the American Legion access to office records, use of a computer and office equipment, and given an annual (unspecified) donation from the county for handling the services.
The county discontinued its Veterans Service Office several months ago in a cost-cutting move.
The proposed action proved controversial, with Jim Bowling, who served as acting judge of the county for several months in 2011 when Judge Fowler was temporarily suspended because of a false charge against him, blasted the proposal for several reasons.
Bowling, who later served as volunteer veterans’ service office for the county until they followed his recommendation and eliminated the position, listed five points in opposition in a prepared statement he read to the court.
“First, it is not your place to allow the American Legion to do anything that relates to Veterans Affairs,” he said.
He said the American Legion is federally chartered, with the expressed task of supporting federal veterans’ programs.
Bowling said that the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans and Veterans of Foreign Wars had performed “a volume of services” that “far exceeded our former county office traffic and yet they never considered asking permission or assistance.”
Second, he raised a privacy issue of providing private information in veterans’ files required by the goverment without expressed consent is inappropriate.
Third, Bowling said, “the lending of a county computer and office equipment for the use of a private entity is problematic on two counts.”
He said that surplus property “is not subject to casual transfer and lending such assets is simply an attempt to evade the letter of the law.” He said it also raised the quetion of who would be responsible for maintaining the computer and telephone lines, since the American Legion does not have either telephone service or wired computer capability other than at private homes.
The fourth reason he cited was that, two months after the court voted a tax increase to reduce the county’s budget, “it might seem hypocritical for you to seek the creation of yet another entitlement and increased spending, however small.”
Fifth, Bowling said that in the final report on the Veterans’ Office activity, dated Aug. 10, he provided a tally of activity for February through July, which showed “the minimal nature” of the veterans services the court proposed to transfer with a subsidy.
He said that when he staffed the office, that the average activity was fewer than four calls a week.
Jerry Holsworth commander of the American Legion Post based in Gilmer, responded and told the court that the county has about 3,700 veterans—around 10 percent of its population—and that a recent Veterans Outreach Fair sponsored by the three veterans’ organizations—American Legion, VFW and DAV—had drawn about 230 attendees looking for help with benefits, search for jobs, etc.
He said that if the county “don’t want to do it (provide assistance to veterans), our work (to help veterans) goes on as usual. . . . We’ll still be here, doing our job.”
Holsworth recommended that the county, if it does not provide somehow for veterans’ services, get rid of confidential recordsby transferring them to the veterans’ involved, or, if a person has died or cannot be located, advertising for a relative of the veteran to pick up the documents.