New chairman must listen to, respect voters
On their way out of office, County Commission Chairman Jack Smith and Commissioner Eric Maxwell have demonstrated that Fayette voters made appropriate choices in the voting booth this year. Commissioner Maxwell’s latest escapade to embarrass incoming Commissioner Alan McCarty and overturn the will of the voters was a glaring example of the type of politics we don’t need in Fayette County.
One characteristic of Fayette County government that must be reinvigorated this January is leadership, which was once described as “the ability to charge into hell with men who are enthusiastic to follow you.” That demanding role falls primarily on our highest elected official, the chairman of the County Commission.
Our Chairman over the past four years, Jack Smith, has made a number of civic contributions during his long tenure as a Fayette resident, but as commission chairman has failed to galvanize citizen support on several key fronts.
The current West Fayetteville Bypass project is one case in point. His enthusiastic support of the expensive undertaking is clearly at odds with many of the taxpayers who will pay for it, and he has exercised scant leadership to bridge the gap.
During commission meetings, Mr. Smith has been dismissive of individuals’ and groups’ opinions that conflict with his own, and has never, as far as I know, hosted an open forum where citizens and their political leadership can have a dialogue on the matter. That’s not how political leaders treat the public they serve; by virtue of their position they can, but they don’t.
Leaders are also up front about their actions, especially when the decisions are controversial. By virtue of his position as commission chairman, Mr. Smith also represents us at the regional level, serving on the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) for the 10 counties closest to Atlanta.
In that forum, Chairman Smith voted to approve regional transportation plans that included public bussing across Fayette County, but repeatedly stated back in Fayette County of his aversion to such bussing. Why didn’t our leader move to delete bussing routes from the plan? What’s he done to address our concerns? Are you enthusiastic to follow Smith down this path?
These leadership challenges, along with those related to our $80 million budget in a stagnant economy, maintenance of essential services, personnel matters, and coordinating solutions to regional issues, underscore the critical responsibilities of who is selected as the next chairman.
He will have to better understand citizen concerns and priorities, exercise vision, and demonstrate the ability to listen and communicate. Armed with strong citizen support, the new chairman will have to professionally and persuasively represent our interests at the ARC.
If you hold the top spot on the county Board of Commissioners, you should expect to be scrutinized repeatedly. By the same token, the chairman must be able to receive public criticism without denigrating concerned constituents.
The chairman takes the heat for shortcomings of the commission. If you can’t take the heat, don’t be the chairman. When you assume the top spot on the team, the buck stops with you, so be accountable and cut out the excuses.
Being a leader requires the boldness to confront an outraged crowd while listening quietly. Chairman Smith’s explanations, bordering on an apology by saying the commissioners have no choice but to build the West Fayetteville Bypass because the SPLOST was approved in 2004, is downright unconvincing and viewed as poor leadership by most in this county. We expect better from our leaders.
If this election year has taught us anything, it’s “no more free rides” for government leaders. You had better lead, follow or get out of the way.
Capt. Dennis D. Benson, USNR-ret
Peachtree City, Ga.