In Haddix coup, Steele is kingpin
Quite a few of us who follow local government issues, actively involved in a revival of Fayette County ethics, land use standards and common sense conservatism, attended last Thursday’s City Council meeting in Peachtree City.
We were attending the council meeting in the hopes of brokering the peace between three council members (Eric Imker, Kim Learnard and Vanessa Fleisch) and Mayor Don Haddix. It has been no secret that a rift exists and the ability to agree to disagree has fallen by the wayside.
We stood before the elected body saying, honestly, we support all five on the council and wished to see some efforts at creating harmony. This was especially important on that evening because the three council members had created a new agenda item requesting that Mayor Haddix be removed as one of our county’s representatives to the Regional Transportation Roundtable (RTR).
We thought the request for Haddix’s removal was not an appropriate way to handle personality conflicts. However, much to our surprise, we found out the change on the agenda was only part of a wider scheme to remove Haddix and centralize power in the hands of Fayetteville Mayor Ken Steele.
Council member Fleisch began reading off a list of similar actions being conducted simultaneously by other city councils in the county. What was occurring was a well-orchestrated plan to lock Mayor Steele into the powerbroker position over our future as both Atlanta Regional Commission representative and RTR representative should the coup be successful.
When asked from the audience who the three council members chose to replace Haddix, Council member Imker said it was Steele. In an awkward moment, Imker stated that he really did not know Steele well, but considered him a man of honesty and integrity, causing me to almost fall out of my chair.
This is the same Mayor Steele who said he opposes mass transit buses in Fayette County, but voted in favor of plans including them in our county at every regional government vote. After his votes were discovered, he said mass transit would never come to Fayette County anyway, later admitting at a recent Association of Fayette County Governments (AFCG) meeting that mass transit would most likely come in the future.
Steele also publicly supports the construction of the West Fayetteville Bypass, a developer welfare project that supports accelerated residential development from northern Fayette down to Starr’s Mill.
But what was Haddix’s crime that necessitated his removal from the RTR? Well, he dared to say Fayette County might fare better in another region to our south. When we face the possibility of losing $25 million per year, I think it is only prudent to consider all the options.
Even Steele admitted that the HB 277 regional funding referendum was “flawed.” In fact, 13 mayors from Fulton County publicly voiced their displeasure with the HB 277 according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Moreover, the Livable Communities Coalition (an organization Steele has been intimately involved with over the years) conducted a survey that “found suburbanites outside the five-county Atlanta area [Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, Gwinnett and Cobb] oppose it [HB 277 referendum] 55 to 40 percent,” (AJC, Transit backers hope for change, Sept. 9, 2010).
So why does Haddix’s comment merit such harsh retribution? Actually, his comments do not merit any such treatment, but Steele is using the situation for a power grab.
Steele has supplanted the spirit of county cooperation with rumors that Haddix is getting negative comments from regional players. The City Council of Peachtree City got their information from Steele and cited the negativity towards Haddix as their primary excuse, but they could not name a single regional person expressing those views. Likewise, none of the three troubled council members attended any of the regional meetings, relying solely on Steele’s hearsay.
Here is something the reader needs to know as well: Steele voted for Haddix to serve as our RTR representative. Steele’s problem with Haddix is the Peachtree City mayor is willing to take a fiscally responsible approach and look at all the possible options in contrast to Steele’s method of voting along to get along with Clayton, Fulton, DeKalb Gwinnett and Cobb counties on mass transit plans and using our tax dollars to fund their roads and transit debacles.
And, yes, mass transit is a big issue. The HB 277 referendum guidelines were created by State Transportation Director Todd Long. “Under the tax guidelines drafted by Long, new mass transit projects might take up to 40 percent of the Atlanta region revenues. Transit operating expenses might take up to 20 percent, meaning over half the region’s tax could go to transit,” (AJC, Sales tax could aid mass transit, Aug. 19, 2010).
MARTA and Xpress buses operated by the Georgia Regional Transit Authority (GRTA) are going broke and they want you to cover the bill. “Then in 2012, the Atlanta region likely will have a referendum [HB 277] on a regional transportation tax, and GRTA officials hope the system’s operations funding will be included in that” (AJC, Xpress service going broke, Aug. 13, 2010).
Those complaining 13 Fulton County mayors want you to pay for their mass transit too. That is why they were complaining.
Council Member Imker, at the council meeting, committed to looking at more information on the alternatives, needing the “pros and cons,” saying, “When I can get more information, I can change my vote.”
In the same spirit of collaboration, Tyrone Council Member Tracy Young committed to me after the meeting that he is receptive to an open, honest discussion of all the options.
Power grabs and closed discussions hurt our citizens, so let’s not go in that direction.
Fayette Commissioner-elect, Post 4
Peachtree City, Ga.