By Jesse Wood
After hearing a presentation from a Watauga County citizen unhappy with the way he says he’s been treated by the Appalachian District Health Department, members of the Watauga County Board of Commissioners are expected to attend a regularly scheduled ADHD meeting on Tuesday to discuss “health department issues,” according to a special meeting notice.
Coy Miller, a 77-year-old cattle farmer, applied for a septic permit earlier this year to repair a system, which was boxed in with block, after several of the blocks fell down. The system was about 55 years old, built before stricter standards existed, and the sewer lines and system still worked fine, according to Miller.
An inspector told him that the current system didn’t quite meet the standards. Miller was told to relocate and build the system on another piece of his property. Miller didn’t want to move it to the area that was suggested because it was a “good lot for weaning cattle.”
The inspector then said that he couldn’t issue the permit, but that his boss, Andrew Blethen, environmental health supervisor with ADHD, could. Miller said that after 2 ½ months of trying to get Blethen out to the property, he went ahead and repaired the system without the permit.
In the past three months, a warrant for Miller’s arrest was issued twice, the latest being at the end of last week, just a couple days after Miller presented his case to the Watauga County Board of Commissioners.
“This is clear retribution against Mr. Miller for addressing the board of commissioners and letting the Health Department’s actions known publicly,” Miller’s attorney Nathan Miller said in a statement to High Country Press. “It truly is a sad day in America when a citizen can’t address his local elected officials about a rogue government agency without fearing that same government agency is going to have him arrested. Law-abiding citizens of Watauga County should not be subjected to such harassment.”
Local health departments don’t make public health laws of the state; they enforce them, an attorney representing ADHD said.
“We intend to press on unless Mr. Miller brings his system into compliance. We have no intent to send Mr. Miller to jail, but only to compel him to comply with the state’s public health laws,” Edwin M. Woltz, an attorney representing ADHD, said after last week’s meeting and before the second criminal summons.
While the commissioners are “somewhat constrained by state statues,” as Commissioner Billy Kennedy said last Tuesday, they still plan on discussing matters that are under their control.
At the meeting last week, Coy Miller stood before the commissioners and blasted Blethen as “arrogant and overbearing.” He told Lovette, who was in attendance, “You seem like a nice person, but if you don’t get control of Andrew, he’s going to ruin you.”
Miller went on about when nearly a dozen people, including staff from ADHD and a lawyer with the state, came to Miller’s property and took pictures of his unpermitted and repaired system, Blethen, according to Miller, said, “For all I know you’ve been running it into the creek for the last 55 years.”
“A man shouldn’t be treated the way I have been treated,” Coy Miller said.
To this the commissioners seemed to all agree.
The ADHD Director Beth Lovette declined to speak on “personnel” matters and asked staff, including Blethen, to not speak to the media about the dispute with Miller.
ADHD is a three-county agency that is comprised of Watauga, Ashe and Alleghany counties. The ADHD board is comprised of 18 members. Commissioner Perry Yates represents the Watauga County Board of Commissioners on the board. Aside from a commissioner representative, specific professions are represented on the board.
Attorney Nathan Miller suggested that Watauga County break away from ADHD in order to have more control of internal issues.
Following the meeting when reached for comment, Watauga County Manager Deron Geouque said in an email, “The commissioners made it clear that customer service is paramount to them and that the citizens of the County should receive the highest quality of service possible.”
The ADHD board meets on Tuesday, Sept. 8, at 6:30 p.m. at Mountain Aire Seafood & Steaks, located at 9930 N.C. 16 in Jefferson.
A special meeting notice states, “A quorum of the Watauga County Board of Commissioners may be present at the Appalachian District Health Department regular board meeting … [to] allow for discussion of health department issues.”
For more on this matter, see prior story.