Why Smith and Steele are complaining
Our political leadership within the county has begun a debate on issues that are of the utmost importance to the future well-being of our county and our quality of life, so please pay attention. County Commission Chairman Jack Smith and Fayetteville Mayor Ken Steele are forced to go on the offensive in an attempt to defend their past actions.
Many people have not yet gained a grasp of the issues and have found past articles and letters in the newspapers difficult to follow. This correspondence should help you understand the concerns and the consequences and future letters will lay out the details.
Two themes are running on parallel tracks. The first subject is the often talked about West Fayetteville Bypass also known as “The Road to Nowhere.”
County Commission Chairman Jack Smith’s original argument a while back was the bypass would reduce traffic congestion in Fayetteville. Such arguments were proven false, so Smith tried to disguise the project as a less harmful road by changing the name to the “West Fayetteville Parkway.” That did not work either.
Chairman Jack Smith’s latest tirade at the citizens in a public meeting included the “everyone is lying about me” tactic and “we have no choice, but to build the road” logic.
Intelligent observers will recognize there were lists of projects under the 2004 SPLOST umbrella, all subject to construction. Unfortunately, the citizens in attendance at the meeting were barred from countering Smith’s hollow argument because public input from taxpayers at public meetings is strictly prohibited when an agenda item is called.
Chairman Smith has admitted the East Fayetteville Bypass has been the priority, going back two prior Boards of Commissioners in time and was so at the time of the 2004 SPLOST referendum.
What Smith fails to reveal is the real reason he changed the 2004 SPLOST priorities in 2007, neglecting the road priority voted on by the citizens of this community and the one he was bound by oath of office to uphold.
Smith did not solicit public input nor conduct any public discussion on his undisclosed changes. Again, the neglected taxpayer and voter have no rights of speech in this current administration.
Many believe the sudden, unannounced flip-flop on priorities has something to do with the Board of Directors position Smith accepted at a local developer bank after he was elected. Smith consistently refused to resign from that director’s position, citing he had the ability to weed through the conflicts of interest.
The county government is saying they want public opinion on the new transportation plans. This is merely a legal formality they must meet. They have proven through their actions that public opinion is shunned, priorities changed at will and no justification or discussion is required.
When you go back and review the series of different excuses Smith used before and during his re-election campaign in an attempt to justify the West Fayetteville Bypass, it is clear there was no logical or rational reason to change the priorities.
Fayetteville Mayor Ken Steele confessed the West Fayetteville Bypass was actually about handling future development traffic from the “future growth in Fayette County ... occur[ing] between Peachtree City and Fayetteville and southward towards Starr’s Mill” (Mayor Steele, Letter to the Editor, June 17, 2010). In essence, the West Fayette Bypass is akin to a developer bailout as we pay for their expensive road they should be building, accelerating future development.
The current Board of Commissioners admitted “the bypass is not expected to put an end to traffic congestion” (“Commissioners hold steady on bypass,” Oct. 2, 2010, Today in Peachtree City). Also, Chairman Smith stated “due to the economy, development in that area is likely to be slow in coming” (“Bypass, part 2, to start shortly,” The Citizen, Sept. 15, 2010).
However, Steele stole my thunder and acknowledged at the recent Association of Fayette County Governments (AFCG) meeting that Fayette County is cited as one of the top three areas where development will return the fastest. Smith is simply not telling the truth.
Steele is so worried about intelligent opposing views in the public forum that he cut off Peachtree City Mayor Don Haddix in mid-sentence at the AFCG meeting in a bullying fashion and then exclaimed the mayor’s opinions were not worthy of discussion, talking over Haddix.
Mind you, Steele spouted his personal opinions for over 20 minutes at the AFCG meeting, but he thought it wise to cutoff any public commentary contrary to his personal stance. Steele owes Haddix a public apology for his rude behavior. Commissioner Herb Frady, who chaired the AFCG meeting, also owes Haddix a public apology for permitting such behavior, allowing the meeting to get out of hand.
Once again, a gag rule was applied for the taxpayers at the AFCG meeting. I was not even allowed to speak as an incoming commissioner.
Added to the governmental smoke screens on the bypass is the Fayette County’s inclusion in the regional mass transit plans. It is an absolute fact that our two Fayette representatives to the regional government, Jack Smith and Ken Steele, voted in favor of transit bus routes in our county connecting to Henry, Clayton and Coweta Counties (Smith and Steele: Saying one thing at home, the opposite in Atlanta, The Citizen, Mar. 17, 2010).
Since their transit vote was discovered, both Smith and Steele have been desperately denying any plans for transit in our county. (Do you remember their excuse for building the West Fayetteville Bypass? I think it was, “It’s been in our plans for years.”)
Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) Chairman Tad Leithead, a man employed in the development industry for years, openly stated at a Fayette County Commission meeting that the goal they are pursuing is a bona fide “regional transit system” and he confirmed the move to expand MARTA beyond Fulton and DeKalb Counties.
Steele finally admitted at the AFCG meeting that mass transit is coming to Fayette County. However, the 70-year-old mayor tried to sidestep the issue by saying it would not happen in the years he has left on the planet. Steele’s near-admission and Smith’s outright denial on the transit buses that we will never be able to sustain financially is vastly overshadowed by their glaring votes in favor of the transit projects 100 percent of the time in the regional meetings.
Now for the parallel subject, which is new state legislation on regional government transportation funding referendums. You hear people say, “HB 277,” referring to the bill in the state legislature that created the new referendums.
For Fayette, we are grouped in a 10-county region called the Atlanta Regional Commission that includes Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, Henry, Cobb, Gwinnett, Douglas, Cherokee and Rockdale counties.
Peachtree City Mayor Don Haddix and Tyrone Mayor Don Rehwaldt have already sounded the alarm about the hazards facing Fayette County if we remain in the Atlanta Regional Commission referendum area. I fully agree with the two mayors.
Primarily, the funds from the regional referendums go to worst congested areas. (Hint: That’s not Fayette County.) So the “big counties” continue to overbuild, under-plan and defer infrastructure, causing tremendous problems and we, the taxpayers of Fayette County, fund all of their projects to lessen the damage they brought upon themselves.
Even worse, our low population works against us because we are such an extreme minority in the regional picture that we have no influence on the referendum at all.
More details on the Regional Transportation Referendum will follow later. However, for the moment, ponder these thoughts.
First, we have a choice to get out of the ARC and join the counties below us who do not have massive traffic congestion snarls and who share our low housing density and more rural philosophy.
Second, instead of becoming a “donor” county with tens of millions of dollars flowing out annually with only a few million coming in, we could go to the Three Rivers Regional Commission below us and have an equitable stake in all things.
As you would expect, the pro-West Fayetteville Bypass, pro-ridiculous 2009 SPLOST, pro-Fayette mass transit contingent of Jack Smith and Ken Steele oppose leaving the ARC. No surprise there.
Fayette Commissioner-elect, Post 4
Peachtree City, Ga.