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Smith and Steele: Saying one thing at home, the opposite in Atlanta

Steve Brown's picture

Unfortunately, the minutes of the regional mass transit boards, commissions and committees tell a much different story. So different, in fact, he tried frantically to weave his way out of the web he created in a Citizen article last week entitled, “Commission Chairman Smith explains his vote for mass transit in Fayette.”

But let’s be totally honest. Former Commission Chairman Greg Dunn and his bunch was just as accommodating of the mass transit proposals in the early stages of the regional Transit Planning Board (TPB) before Smith’s tenure.

In addition, Commissioner Lee Hearn has known about all these proposals since his days as head of the county department handling roads and transportation planning.

Hearn’s replacement in charge of county transportation, Phil Mallon, knew about the mass transit proposals for Fayette County, too, voting in favor of them at an Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) Transportation Coordinating Committee meeting on Nov. 11, 2008.

In a column I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I said that Commissioner Hearn was up for re-election in November along with Jack Smith and Eric Maxwell. I was wrong as he is not up until 2012 — wishful thinking on my part. Hearn acquired his commission post by defeating an uncaring Peter Pfeifer.

Hearn gives the appearance of the good-hearted country boy, but he has proven to be as insensible as his predecessor. Both Hearn and Pfeifer also share the West Fayetteville Bypass tragedy.

Seriously, to think the entire current Board of Commissioners is not aware of the transit plan situation is plain foolishness. Yes, we are being set up, quietly.

Mayor Don Rehwaldt of Tyrone and Mayor Don Haddix of Peachtree City are opposed to Fayette’s inclusion in regional mass transit and have made their opinions known.

Mayor Ken Steele of Fayetteville, on the other hand, voted in favor of our participation in the regional mass transit plan alongside Chairman Smith at the Nov. 13, 2008 meeting of the ARC Transportation and Air Quality Committee (TAQC).

It is astounding that Steele approved of a mass transit plan that included a Fayetteville to Riverdale bus route, listing his city as a regional transit center.

According to Cheryl King, TPB staff director, Smith’s and Steele’s affirmative vote at the TAQC meeting “will formally incorporate Concept 3 [mass transit plan] into the regional transportation planning process and will facilitate actions towards the advancement of regional transit” (TPB Combined Committee minutes, Sept. 25, 2008).

In his wobbly series of excuses, Smith pleaded that he attempted to remove bus and rail projects from the regional plan without success. There are no commission resolutions or correspondence that I could find, not even a mention in the minutes of the transit board meetings Smith attended, suggesting he tried to delete anything.

What is reflected in the minutes when Smith attended the TPB meeting is staff stating, “The TPB is looking for input from the Board members on the projects that are included, if there are others that need to be added or if some listed should be dropped” (TPB minutes, Feb. 22, 2007).

Many of the TPB meeting minutes refer to board member interviews (that would be Smith), but not a single negative comment from Fayette County is mentioned.

Truth be told, the “project evaluation methodology” for creating the regional transit plan called for “member input” (that would be Smith, again) (TPB minutes, June 28, 2007).

Smith constantly voted in favor of a plan he disagreed with — make sense to you? In fact, in several instances, Smith voted to move the regional transit process, including Fayette, forward to the next step toward implementation.

The wobbling continued in The Citizen article as Smith said he was merely preserving a space for Fayette in terms of transit, stating it is not funded yet.

Smith chimed, “My position is I have no interest in footing the bill for any mass transit into Fayette County.” I cannot believe him again because the system he is creating will leave us no choice. Again, he is saying one thing and doing another.

Smith and his colleagues are in the process of creating a regional transit authority that includes jurisdictions within “the federally defined Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) area,” which includes Fayette (memorandum to Regional Transit Committee from John Crocker, Jan. 5, 2010).

The funding method of choice from Smith and his colleagues is an additional one-cent sales tax covering 14 counties (including Fayette) (Concept 3 Illustrative Program Financial Analysis Report for the TPB, Nov. 2008 and staff presentations).

Currently, House Bill 1218 in our state legislature is a tool to get the sales tax, favored by Governor Perdue and House Speaker Ralston. This bill will allow the entire region to vote on the new tax, but no county within the region can opt out of the measure, locking even counties that voted the tax down into paying.

Think about it, the entire Fayette population is about 9-percent of the Fulton County’s population; they are always going to win.

At first, HB 1218 appears to be a road construction bill until you reach the fuzzy part about “and other transportation purposes.”

Mass transit is certainly not cost-effective for Fayette or counties currently funding transit. The TPB admits, “All of our operators are struggling with how to pay for and contain operating and maintenance costs” (Minutes, TPB’s Planning and Funding Committee, Jan. 25, 2007).

Yet, Smith keeps voting to increase mass transit infrastructure, including Fayette County.

Our indifferent elected officials at the county are taking us where we do not want to go. Like the callous bunch that preceded them, this commission has taken on selfish ambition and forgotten about the masses they were elected to serve.

The county we love is quietly being dismantled. Your power is in the voting booth this November.

[Steve Brown is the former mayor of Peachtree City. He can be reached at]


Obama is ramming the healthcare plan up our behinds. PTC is aiming for tax increases and cost of living raises. The Riff Raff at the county office is trying to hook us up to MARTA. My God what is happening here?

ginga1414's picture

I sent Jack Smith a letter a while back, seeking answers to questions concerning the West Fayetteville Bypass. Part of his reply to me was that if I wanted to know what was going on in Fayette County that I should attend the Commission meetings. At the time, I knew that wasn't true. If I were to attend each and every commission meeting and work shop, I would never know exactly what was going on in Fayette County. No one would ever even have an inkling unless they started digging through mountains of hidden files and minutes of meetings not available to the general public.

Jack and his buddies are real good at double talk. They have been giving the West Fayetteville Bypass Coalition the run around since 2008. As a member of the WFBC, I have learned that if we want to have any idea at all what is actually happening with the WFB, we have to ask for information through the Georgia Open Records Act. Even at that, we have found that there is always something conveniently missing or something that we are told we aren't allowed to see. Folks along the route of the West Fayetteville Bypass have been held hostage by our county officials for years. We have been lied to. We have been deceived. We have been strung along. And, we are sick to death of it.

I have had neighbors call me because they were worried about what was going to happen to their homes and property due to the WFB. When I told them that we would stand together and united in our resolve to help one another when it came to fighting for our property and homes, I received a call from one of our county employees who obviously didn't appreciate the fact that I had tried to give folks some comfort because I was told to "stay out of it." In fact, there are folks along the West Fayetteville Bypass who are actually scared to say anything for fear that the commissioners will retaliate against them and take more of their property. This County is in a sorry sad situation.

If it hadn't been for your digging, Steve, none of us would know about Jack Smith and the TPB. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you so much.

Regardless, the state of Georgia has excellent planning for transit state wide. The state government, the Gov Perdue, Lt Gov Cassel both back a reasoned approach to transit state wide. The federal government is moving forward with national plans to improve transportation infrastructure. North Carolina was recently awarded $700M to use toward the development of high speed rail infrastructure.

The GA plan goes beyond that. It takes an integrated approach to rails, roads, shipping. State planners and officials all see transportation infrastructure as critical to the economic viability of the state and the region. GA and Atlanta metro competes with all other US cities for economic resources. Transport infrastructure is part of the investment in the vitality of the region.

Isolationism is no longer sound policy. Fayette County is part of the larger whole. By joining the dialog - we have a voice in the outcome. It is the democratic process. I may not get my way but I can influence the system.

The real question is what options make sense for us going forward and how to communicate that to the planners.

I read very little about that in the column here.


Steve Brown's picture

The real question is can a county of 168,000 in 2030 (Atlanta Regional Commission's figures) sustain mass transit? The answer is no. Even more, can a combined Fulton and DeKalb population currently approaching 2 million sustain mass transit? Again, that answer is no. In fact, MARTA announced they are looking to cut half their bus routes. Clayton abandoned their entire system and Gwinnett is slashing their system. Is this really where a slow-growth, low density county wants to go? There is what makes us feel good and then there is reality.

Apparently you are more conservative than I thought you were. Bad dudes those transit riders!

There were many heated arguments once upon a time about bringing those firebox vehicles into town and getting rid of the horses who pooped all over the street! But those protesters lost out on that one.
Now we need to get rid of 100 "fireboxes" with one person in them and put them on a train or bus.

2030, you mentioned, is somewhat short-sighted. It takes maybe 50 years to fund, install, and sell a properly functioning transit system.

The airlines are still screwed up after about a hundred years of practice!

We killed the trains and buses over the last 30 years and we miss them.

Steve Brown's picture

This argument only becomes political ("conservative" vs "liberal") if you take the stance that we need to fund mass transit no matter what the outcome, function or cost. MARTA has been at it since 1965. The RTC is asking for $1 billion from Fayette up to 2030 for two bus routes and the slight chance of a heavy rail route - it is a rip off. Portland has been pretty effective with mass transit only because they have made serious attempts at controlling growth patterns. Metro Atlanta sprawls everywhere. Does it really make sense (or cents) to tax everyone in a region to create a transportation system that will cost $60 billion to build and nearly $2 billion to operate annually so a fraction of the population can ride it? Again, it comes down to outcome, function and cost. We are not very good at thinking outside the box to come up with viable solutions.

think we should do now about the traffic and pollution in say 20 years!

If you are simply protecting PTC and Fayette, that one thing on transit won't do it. In 20-30 years we will live in the city with all of it's problems and crime.

The original developers of Fayette and Coweta County had little concern to keep us as a planned community or we would have had our walls built before now (12 feet high with guards).

Those sorts of thing usually serve one generation or until the development is done. Or at least I doubt you can show me a planned community that is two generation old that isn't as screwed up as the rest of the country for traffic and pollution.

It is a pipe dream. Too many people won't sacrifice now for a long-term future.
Just look at the vote Sunday!

Steve Brown's picture

I used to be a member of the policy cabinet at GRTA. I kept insisting that traffic problems following land planning problems. Eventually, after several studies, they agreed with me. They came up with the Developments of Regional Impact (DRI) process. Unfortunately, like most everything else, the process became political and the authority did not have the guts to regulate development proven to harm traffic capacity. Our solution(s) are going to require a much different way of thinking. For example, why are people driving into Atlanta every day just to occupy a seat at a desk in a generic office setting that could easily be built in a more suitable location? Corporate decision making is causing a great deal of congestion on our roads; simple changes could create very affordable solutions. I love the Perimeter Center example - poor access and not a whole lot that can be done - but they continue to build office towers and settle businesses and, all the while, complain about the traffic. It is ridiculous!

The sprawling layout of metro Atlanta makes it almost impossible to cover with transit. And seriously, how many people in Fayette County are going to ride a bus, realistically?

to the country will solve the problem?

Even if that could be made to happen, which it won't, then what happens to the city? Why, it moves where the people might have gone! Cities can't survive without taxpayers and spenders.

Then also you move the traffic to the country, don't you?

The real problem is that the city workers need to live in the city---not 50-75 miles away!

does Fayette County lack the population density to make mass transit feasible, it obviously lacks the desire and personal preference. I like the idea of light rail in the city-proper area. Maybe it would spur development and city usage much as Denver's did. But to think that it could be a highly viable, highly used system metro-wide AND make money doing it is not realistic.

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