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Fayette Commission debate focuses on bypass, responsiveness

All eight candidates for three posts up for grabs on the Fayette County Commission squared off in a forum June 19 hosted by the Fayette Local Issues Tea Party.

Unlike other forum formats, the same questions weren’t posed to each candidate. Instead, any candidate could chime in with a response by raising a purple card to be recognized before moderator Leslie Edwards moved to the next question.
A portion of the event focused on the controversial West Fayetteville Bypass, which is under construction and was initially planned to connect Ga. Highway 85 south of Fayetteville with a path leading northwest toward Piedmont Fayette Hospital and then northeast to Ga. Highway 92 north at Westbridge Road.
Commissioner Lee Hearn, who is seeking reelection, has proposed an alternate for the third (southern) phase that would have the road end instead at Ebenezer Church and Redwine roads instead of going across farmland to reach Hwy. 85 south.
Hearn was asked by Edwards to justify his support for the West Fayetteville Bypass even though he has said recently the East Fayetteville Bypass would handle a lot more traffic.
Hearn said a recent traffic study to help in designing the intersections for the west bypass projected that traffic on the northern part of the bypass would reach about 8,000 vehicles a day “which completely, in my mind, justifies the work that has been done.”
The south end of the bypass, in contrast, has very little projected traffic with less than 3,000 vehicles a day, Hearn said. Hearn in recent weeks said he would prefer to scale back the final southern phase of the bypass in scrapping a continuous road path in favor of making intersection improvements to handle the traffic load appropriately.
Hearn noted that the bridge on Ebenezer Church Road needed to be replaced as well, and that was part of the third phase of the bypass.
After Hearn’s comment, Post 2 candidate David Barlow chimed in that the bypass was for developers and not for traffic, a statement he attributed to former Fayetteville Mayor Ken Steele.
Post 3 candidate Randy Ognio also replied, saying the county missed out on state and federal funds that had been planned for the as-yet-unbuilt East Fayetteville Bypass. The East Fayetteville Bypass is planned to stretch from Ga. Highway 85 north of the Fayette Pavilion shopping center to Ga. Highway 54 and then on to County Line Road south of Hwy. 54 where it would end at the intersection of County Line and Jeff Davis Road.
“Why they built the West Fayetteville Bypass was quite obvious: it was for developers,” Ognio said.
Post 2 candidate Jack Smith said there was no federal funding for the east bypass when the commission decided to build the west bypass instead. In fact, the county’s transportation tax was slated to raise $70 million for the county, and if the East Fayetteville Bypass had been built, it would have eaten up $69 million, nearly the entire amount of revenue from the tax, Smith said.
“The intersection improvements, the Jimmie Mayfield (Boulevard) widening, none of that would ever have happened had we pursued East Fayetteville as number one,” Smith said. “It was the elimination of federal funds, it was the need for us to reallocate and re-budget those funds to get the most bang for our buck that caused us to change the priority.”
Ognio said he disagreed because he thinks the federal funding is “still there and they’re looking to use it now.”
Post 3 candidate Stopford said that the property around the west bypass is not zoned for more intensive development.
“The zoning there does not indicate it’s for anything other than to relieve traffic in that area,” Stopford said, adding that the citizens of Fayette County have indicated they would much rather the west bypass funds be diverted to the east bypass.
Ognio replied that Stopford must not be aware of the plan for the West Fayetteville Neighborhood which involved a proposed zoning change and new businesses coming to the area on farmland that is currently undeveloped.
Post 2 candidate Sheila Huddleston said she thought the West Fayetteville Bypass “impedes traffic” and is “just an accident waiting to happen.”
“It doesn’t make it any quicker for cars to get through,” Huddleston said.
Another question centered on why the current county commissioners don’t respond to ci

tizen comments during the public comment portion of commission meetings.
Post 1 Commissioner Robert Horgan noted that it is the commission’s policy not to address citizens who speak during public comment.
“It’s not out of disrespect or anything like that, but to keep the meeting going correctly,” Horgan said, adding that the people “are heard” when they address the commission.
Post 3 candidate Ognio noted that he asked several questions at the June 14 commission meeting about a project to add rip-rap to protect a hole at the Planterra Ridge Golf Course from erosion since it abuts the county-owned Lake McIntosh reservoir. Ognio said he wanted to know if the lake would have “wave action” to create erosion, if the county looked at other options, whether there were competitive bids and if the money was coming from the Lake McIntosh project.
“They approved the consent agenda without answering any of those questions,” Ognio said.
Post 1 candidate Charles Oddo noted that residents who don’t hear feedback from the commission might feel their comments aren’t being heard, and he suggested there’s no reason that policy couldn’t be changed.
“If you go and expect to hear an answer, and you hear nothing, you feel like you’re not being paid attention to and that affects the community at large and that’s what you’ve got to get away from,” Oddo said.
Post 2 candidate David Barlow said citizens who ask questions of the commission should be given the courtesy of a reply, and he intends to do just that if he is elected. His remark drew widespread applause from the audience.
“It seems foolish to me that the citizens who are the taxpayers, the citizens who actually pay the bills, are not allowed to receive an answer,” Barlow said.
Post 3 candidate Susan Stopford said she thinks transparency between the commission and citizens is vital.
“I’ve talked with so many neighbors and friends and said, ‘Hey what do you think of that West Fayetteville Bypass, everyone thinks that stinks.’” Stopford said. “I’ve had people say ‘What are you talking about?’ They have no clue, they have no interest in it.”
Moderator Edwards asked if the county paid to install crosswalks at highway intersections all over the county in recent years, but Smith replied those were constructed by the Georgia Department of Transportation over the objections of the county, which preferred to spend the money elsewhere.
“They refused, steadfastly,” Smith said.


ginga1414's picture

Commission Candidate/Former Commission Chairman Jack Smith has used the term "More Bang For The Buck" with reference to the W. Bypass so many times over the last six years, I truly wonder exactly whose "Buck" he is concerned with.

Actually, the premise behind either bypass was to relieve traffic in Fayetteville.

The East Fayetteville Bypass was chosen as the number 1 priority because it was determined that it would provide the most traffic relief.

Then Jack Smith came along and said the West Bypass would provide "More Bang For The Buck!" However, he never said more traffic relief for the buck. He knew that if he told the truth, he wouldn't have been re-elected.

The voters of Fayette County aren't stupid. All it took was one glance at the map to see thousands of acres owned by developers running along Phases I and II of the W. Bypass to know what the truth was/is. That coupled with Jack Smith's seat on the Board of Directors of the developer friendly Bank of Georgia sealed his 2010 election fate.

The West Bypass will only add to traffic. You see, the Commission, Fayette County Development Authority, former Fayetteville Mayor Ken Steele, the City of Fayetteville, and family developers have been behind the scenes planning a high-density development known as the West Fayetteville Neighborhoods for years.

Commissioner Lee Hearn knew all about the West Fayetteville Neighborhoods when he made his statement that Phases I and II will handle "8,000 cars a day." If you will remember, Lee Hearn's cousin owns a goodly portion of the West Fayetteville Neighborhoods known as the Lester Hamlet.

The West Fayetteville Neighborhoods is only a portion of the development slated to happen along Phases I and II of the West Bypass. There is almost another 2,000 acres owned by other developers just waiting for the W. Bypass to happen.

During his 2010 campaign for re-election, Jack Smith said the West Bypass was for future development!

Just before the November 2011 mayoral election The Citizen broke the news about plans for the West Fayetteville Neighborhoods development, and former Fayetteville Mayor Ken Steele had no choice but to acknowledge the development and finally said at the mayoral candidate debate that the West Fayetteville Bypass "will not relieve traffic in Fayetteville."

Commission Candidate Mrs. Susan Stopford pointed out that the zoning won't accommodate anything other than traffic relief? Of course, Mrs. Stopford zoning would have to be changed to accommodate the development, but zoning changes have never been a problem for our commission.

By the way, the grapevine is abuzz that Stopford and Huddleston are plants to cause a runoff. They certainly didn't add anything of substance to the debate.

Robert W. Morgan's picture

First of all there was no substance to the debate I attended last week. Big nothing.

As to the allegation that Stopford and Huddleston are plants to cause a runoff, that's just silly. It is also insulting to the two females in the county commission race. The idea of plants causing runoffs has been used in the past to favor incumbents. The thinking goes that non-incumbent candidates are under-financed for a runoff and that their support erodes when their person doesn't win in the first election. Seldom do supporters for multiple non-incumbent candidates unite under the guy that beat them just for the sake of beating the incumbent. It happened with Steve Brown, but is very unusual.

All that combined with an incumbent officeholder's cronies and big business and banking contacts loyally voting in the runoff for their man to keep their guy in office usually means the incumbent wins. I assume you are thinking Smith is the quasi-incumbent in his race and that Hearn is the incumbent in the other. So Stopford and Huddleston siphon off enough of the anti-incumbent vote in the first election and then they and their supporters go away for the runoff and Smith and Hearn benefit from all that. Hmmmm. Maybe.

I don't think Smith or Hearn is smart enough to set something like that up. Eric Maxwell is. Think he's behind it?

Live free or die!

mudcat's picture

This is the smallest of small potato politics. None of those guys in office or out have the imagination for something like a third candidate as a plant.Those ladies are serious candidates and we could do a lot worse than the two of them on county commission, well actually we have. Sure there will be a runoff or two and I'll bet Smith and Hearn are the odd men out. They certainly deserve to be.

Huddleston thumps the bible thumper and Stopford squeals past by the road rager in the run off election. It could happen. And your favorite bad dream about Brown becoming commission chair and dictator? That would have to be put on hold with these ladies and Oddo coming in.

That's how I'm voting - the ladies and Oddo. Lady judges as well.

Busy Bee's picture


Busy Bee's picture

How much better off would we have been if we had listened to that advice in PTC in the last election?

ginga1414's picture

One of the ladies has been seen and heard dining with some big political movers and shakers here in Fayette County. She was being coached before the debate. That particular dining experience took place at a popular local restaurant.

Can't divulge my source. Promised I wouldn't.

I wouldn't be surprised at anything Smith, Hearn, Maxwell, etc. might come up with.

Even I, lowly Ginga1414, have received emails from folks who want me to keep my mouth shut. However, I don't seem to be able to do that when the deck is being stacked against folks.

Who defines who those people are and what are the parameters that drive such a determination? You can tell that I don't know any of these people or else I guess I'd know the answer.

ginga1414's picture

Former and current long term and short term office holders who back certain candidates with finances and information.

At the debate, candidate Huddleston recited two of the 2010 Brown-McCarty campaign planks..."no more West Bypass" and "no more mass transit." She is clearly going after the same folks who supported Brown and McCarty. I think she also came out as not being in favor of the regional TSPLOST, also in line with the third B-M campaign plank entitled "no SPLOST."

No, I don't think Maxwell is behind it. I think his style is more accurately reflected in his 2010 lawsuit against McCarty, and the information he provided the newspaper on the recent road rage article.

BTW, when the commissioner debate participants were polled, Mr. Smith said that he had not made up his mind about voting "yes" or "no" on the TSPLOST (even though he voted for all its projects as our representative). Horgan, Hearn, and even Frady haven't publicly said how they'll vote, either. Looks to me that there is not much that could happen between now and July 31 that would make any difference, so why not commit? Do you suppose that it it just might not be politically sound for a Fayette County candidate to commit to voting in favor of the TSPLOST prior to the election? I think you'll agree that most voters would want to know where their candidates stand on major issues.

Finally, both ladies have spoken about the real issues only in very general terms. I would look for a serious candidate to tackle a specific issue that is a current problem, and then propose a solution to it. Can you see them debating the current county budget issues problems because of deferred maintenance of vehicles or communications equipment? Lots of difference between current business issues and "the commissioners' not listening to public comments must stop".

Regardless of your political, religious or social affiliations, have a wonderful 4th of July and thank your lucky stars that you live in a country where you can choose to dissent. And a special thank you to those who sacrificed and those who continue to sacrifice to see that we continue to have that right. Our service personnel, active and retired, and especially those who did not make it home, deserve only the best this country has to offer for all they have done and continue to do for all of us. Let's not only remember them when the bands are playing and the flags are flying---for they are truly heroes every day of the week, and should be honored as such. For what it is worth, each and every one of you have my heartfelt thanks. God Bless America!

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