Countdown to July 20: Smith vs. Brown, Maxwell vs. McCarty
Voters in the July 20 primary certainly have two different options to choose from for the Post 4 seat on the Fayette County Board of Commissioners.
One of their few similarities: neither is new to Fayette politics.
In one corner is incumbent Commission Chairman Jack Smith and in the other is former Peachtree City Mayor Steve Brown.
Brown has been critical of Smith’s approval of the West Fayetteville Bypass, which once complete will give motorists a way to circumvent Fayetteville, linking Ga. Highway 92 north at Westbridge Road to Ga. Highway 85 south at Harp Road on the southern end.
The $29.7 million road project is being paid for with funds from the 2003 Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. Brown argues the project should be killed and the money spent on other SPLOST transportation projects.
Smith counters that the commission has no choice but to build the bypass and other SPLOST projects because they were approved by voters in the 2003 referendum, which referenced the county’s transportation plan and project lists for the unincorporated county and all its municipalities.
Smith also referenced a lawsuit in which a Georgia county was sued when its county commission voted not to spend funds to build a recreation center that was approved as part of a SPLOST. The county lost the lawsuit and was forced to build the recreation center.
“The court said once voters have approved it and substantial funding has been spent on it, you cannot abandon the project,” Smith said.
Smith added that a failure to follow voters wishes is a “dangerous precedent to set.”
“Whether you agree with it or not, the majority of the voters want the transportation plan followed,” Smith said.
The West Fayetteville Bypass has shown up on county transportation plans dating back to 1990 when it was called the “Central Fayette Parkway.”
Brown advocates killing the bypass and caucusing with the cities to find out which projects they would prefer implementing with the millions left over from the West Fayetteville Bypass. Brown acknowledged that the West Fayetteville Bypass has the support of Fayetteville Mayor Ken Steele, and Brown contends the road is nothing but a “developer’s road.”
Smith said even with the West Fayetteville Bypass being completed, the SPLOST will have enough money left to “build substantially, if not all, the other projects we have. The issue is how far will the money go.”
The SPLOST revenues, once projected to max out at $130 million over the five-year collection period, will only total about $107 million due to the recession, Smith said. Some projects will have to have their scope reduced a bit in order for them to be completed with the remaining funds, he said.
Smith also said the county has done a good bit of SPLOST work with its own workforce, and a recent hire in the roads department will allow the county to expand its capabilities in this regard, particularly when it comes to culvert work.
Brown said he would like to see projects to eliminate a number of curb cuts, for example, on Ga. Highway 85 North along with an additional turn lane in an effort to help traffic flow smoother. However, such a project does not exist on the transportation SPLOST and therefore could not be funded with SPLOST revenues, Brown admitted.
An exhaustive study of the route of the second phase of the bypass was undertaken last year by The Citizen, and it was determined that of the hundreds of acres of undeveloped land adjoining the proposed road, none of them were dependent on the bypass for any road frontage.
Brown still contends the road is for future development and won’t help Fayette taxpayers.
“I think the West Fayetteville Bypass is a negative impact. It does nothing for the taxpayer who’s paying that SPLOST.”
Former Mayor Brown has also chastised Chairman Smith for “supporting mass transit” but Smith counters that he has not supported any type of mass transit coming to Fayette County.
Smith has admitted to voting for a regional transit plan that shows two bus routes going through Fayette County and a light rail line that would stop in Peachtree City with a downtown Atlanta destination.
However, Smith has said he voted for that plan to “preserve” public transportation as an option for Fayette’s future should the price of gasoline, for example, ever rise astronomically so as to make transit a viable option.
Smith also noted that public transit in the Atlanta area still lacks funding to implement the regional transit plan, and local voters still, as far as he knows, “don’t want transit of any kind in Fayette County.”
Brown, in campaign promotional literature, says he’s against mass transportation “like MARTA” for Fayette County. He since has admitted that MARTA has no plans at all in terms of ever offering any service in Fayette County.
In fact, MARTA last month had to cut a number of bus routes and made other service changes to make up for dwindling funds for the services it offers in Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb counties.
Brown, who has made a political allegiance with fellow commission challenger Allen McCarty, has said he would like to institute a senior homestead exemption to further reduce seniors’ property tax bills. A similar policy was enacted in Peachtree City under Brown’s tenure that saved residents $26 a year if they met income guidelines.
McCarty is running against incumbent Post 5 Commissioner Eric Maxwell.
Brown said he also wants to explore a cooperative arrangement between the county and the cities for vehicle and recreation maintenance.
“Maybe we could unify some services to create some efficiencies,” Brown said.
Brown is also touting legislation to limit county commissioners to serving no more than two terms. He has said that plan is in lieu of his previous support for district voting, which would allow voters to vote for just one county commissioner who resides in their district.
Currently, voters may chime in on the elections for all five seats on the county commission. The county only requires three of the seats to come from residents in specific districts and the other two seats are “at large,” meaning any county resident may run for those seats regardless of where they live.
Newcomer McCarty seeks to unseat Post 5’s Maxwell
It’s coming down to the wire for voters to decide between Fayette County Commission Post 5 incumbent Eric Maxwell or challenger Allen McCarty. Both candidates on Monday presented their thoughts on a variety of topics such as the West Fayetteville Bypass, issues relating to future development, the effectiveness of county government and term limits.
First up with his comments was Eric Maxwell. Much has been written, and even more stated, about the West Fayetteville Bypass. It has been the subject of candidate’s forums, newspaper articles, emails and blogs. Asked for an encapsulated comment on the topic, Maxwell said he had no problem with any vote he had cast that pertains to the bypass.
“The plan was put in place 25 years ago and I was on the board that implemented it,” Maxwell said. “I am sorry that a small group of folks are impacted, but the large majority of the population will enjoy the benefits of that road.”
Something that has not occurred since Maxwell has been in office is any significant residential or commercial development due to the ongoing effects of the recession. Aside from approximately 120 acres that have been rezoned in the past three years, Maxwell said the only significant projects he has been associated with are the seniors’ center and Kenwood Park, both of which were implemented by sitting commissioners after being put in place by the previous board.
That said, Maxwell noted that he is committed to the county’s land use plan and the large lots associated with sizable portions of unincorporated Fayette County.
“I live on 37 acres with cows, chickens, turkeys and donkeys,” he said. “I believe in slow, reasoned growth as Atlanta pushes forward.”
Maxwell also noted the quandary that befalls many in elected office when development does arrive.
“You can promise to be a person of ‘no,’ but when development comes before the board it’s often a legal issue. You can temporarily slow it down, but eventually it will come,” said Maxwell.
Looking ahead, Maxwell said county government should maintain its “lean, mean workforce,” adding that he would like to see a stand-alone facility for higher education. Maxwell also said that, as an attorney, he is interested in the court system. The current configuration of the Griffin Judicial Circuit is a “historical relic” as it stands now, he said, suggesting that, “Fayette ought to have its own (one-county) judicial circuit. The time has come.”
One of the items on Post 5 challenger Allen McCarty’s radar is term limits. Responding to McCarty’s assertion that commissioners should be limited to two terms, Maxwell said if terms limited were instituted they should be for all elected officials. Beyond that, Maxwell said the voters are the best arbiters of term limits so, “Let the voters decide” if the individual should stay in office.
Maxwell last year was the only one on the Fayette County Commission to publicly address the issue of fellow Commissioner Robert Horgan who was arrested in May 2009 on misdemeanor charges for smoking marijuana in his truck and driving with an expired tag. Maxwell at the time called on Horgan to resign.
Asked about his decision to make the request public, Maxwell said it was simply the right thing to do.
“When you are put in a position of trust there is a level of accountability. I’d do it again, with no regrets in taking a stand,” Maxwell said. “Certain offenses ought to be certain death for politicians.”
McCarty also weighed in Monday on some of the topics he has put forward in recent months.
Arguably the biggest topic during the election cycle has been the West Fayetteville Bypass. And though McCarty has been continuously vocal in his opposition to the roadway, he offered several comments on Fayette County’s transportation issues, both current and future.
“We have a transportation plan and a land use plan that we paid for and we should use what we have,” McCarty said, noting the east and west bypass projects included in the transportation plan are a part of a much larger volume of proposed projects throughout the county.
And though an opponent of the West Fayetteville Bypass, McCarty said he was in favor of the Phase 1 portion of the project that joins Lester Road to Sandy Creek Road.
“I have no problem with Phase 1. It’s a needed project, but not Phase 2 and 3,” he said, explaining that the Phase 1 route provides for better access to Piedmont Fayette Hospital. “At some point we’ll need a bypass to handle other counties’ traffic, but it needs to be one that makes sense, one that goes somewhere. I would be for that and I believe that most of the citizens of Fayette would be, too.”
As for the future, McCarty said he thinks MARTA should stay out of Fayette, though he did propose that private companies such as Greyhound could establish bus routes within Fayette County.
“If we bring in mass transit today we would bring in growth that we’re not prepared to handle. Fayette County needs to come up with its own privately-funded transportation plan,” he added. McCarty said he also believed that, at some point in the future, the state would supply a commuter rail system that would include Fayette County.
As for the few rezoning measures that have come before the board during the recession, McCarty said the commission, “Has a good plan for rezoning, and a logical process. Progress will happen. We need to gauge it at a reasonable rate and keep people informed.”
McCarty, along with Post 4 commission candidate Steve Brown, recently published “A New Vision for Fayette County” that dealt with fiscal issues, preserving Fayette’s rural character and respecting citizens.
Pertaining to fiscal responsibility and development, McCarty said that he favors Fayette’s mantra of large, rural lots and controlled growth. And when development comes, said McCarty, developers should be responsible for building the roads that accompany those projects. Additionally, McCarty said his stated position on rejecting 1-cent sales tax initiatives was aimed at those dealing with special interest groups such as developers.
McCarty acknowledged that maintaining a low growth, rural character would, over time, translate into an increase in millage rates.
“I think most people wouldn’t mind paying if they saw the money being used wisely and if the budget was kept within its means,” he said.
Another of his campaign issues deals with establishing two-term limits for county commissioners. That position is meant to provide a prohibition against having a commissioner develop special interests that might negatively impact citizens and county business, he said.
Following that line of reasoning, McCarty said he believes considerations and actions by the board should not be done covertly or behind closed doors.
“Integrity is an issue on the board and, in general, I don’t see integrity on the existing board,” McCarty said, referencing both Chairman Jack Smith’s position on the board of directors of the Bank of Georgia and the short-handed manner in which the public is sometimes treated at commission meetings. “It’s important to be respectful of citizens and to have things out in the open. I’ll be the squeaky wheel.”
The Fayette County Republican Primary will be held July 20.