County badly failing its own mission statement

When you visit the Fayette County, Ga., website and scroll down to the county commissioners, you’ll find an interesting set of criteria. They’ve listed visions, missions, and other criteria we should all use to measure their performance. I’ve listed some of them below, and then applied a few observations I made.

I got into this because of all the hoopla that has been going on at the commissioners’ meetings that I’ve attended. Most of what’s happened occurred before the two new commissioners were sworn in. I’ve listed the criteria they published in quote marks, and my observations follow.

“Vision Statement

“We envision a local level of government that remains open and easily accessible to all citizens and does so in a manner that generates trust and confidence among taxpayers, employees, and elected officials.”

1. Commissioners buried the West Fayetteville Bypass (“WFB”) intro in a voluminous referendum exhibit to the 2004 SPLOST ballot. My wife and I had to visit two county offices and then burrow through 70 pages or so into one of the two exhibits to finally find it in Exhibit B. In order to understand what you were voting for, you would have to be familiar with the entire County Transportation Plan (Exhibit B), and the Project List (Attachment A).

Affected landowners were blind-sided by written notification from the county that their property was subject to condemnation under eminent domain procedures. The whole process was conceived by snakes, and they bit us with the WFB. The least they could do is apologize to the veterans for renaming the road “Veterans Parkway.”

“The programs and services provided by Fayette County Government are responsive to and prioritized in accordance with community expectations and legislative mandates, while simultaneously ensuring the health, safety and welfare of citizens.

“Our Organization embodies a culture that values open communication, effective community relationships and excellence in all endeavors.”

2. 9/16/08: County conducts WFB Open House and invites impacted landowners to ask representatives individual questions. No open public discussion is held. Over 50 written negative comments were provided, which the county never addressed. Since that time, hundreds of public comments at commissioners’ meetings and newspaper articles have been made and written, and none was positive.

The ousted and holdover commissioners failed to address these concerns by the very people who voted them in. We expected them to at least infer that the absence of support for the WFB project would tell them something. Trouble is, nobody listened.

“The Mission of Fayette County is to provide critical services to protect and enhance the health, safety and welfare of its citizens in a manner that is efficient, fiscally and environmentally responsible, and which perpetuates a quality lifestyle for future generations.”

3. Landowners and others continued to complain about the WFB having no viable purpose other than affording developers up to 3/4 mile of free access road to subdividing their property. The county failed to show specifically how WFB is vital to traffic flow or will significantly reduce traffic in Fayetteville. The WFB is to cross Ga. Highway 54 between Fayetteville and Peachtree City, and it ends at a rural destination that has no interstate access.

The road creates the appearance of a conflict of interest with the old commissioners favoring developers over the public as the only beneficiaries. The quality lifestyle provided by the county will be rampant development through huge tracts of land the WFB will cross. Our grandchildren will remember the WFB as the thing that devoured Fayette County.

“All County Government services are grounded in respect and concern for citizens.”

4. 5/14/09: I addressed Fayette County commissioners, asking anyone against the WFB to stand in a silent show of opposition support. The chairman told all to “sit down, this is not a circus.” WFB opponents had been earlier criticized for opposing a project “they voted for” and chided for not having attended commissioners meetings. When they did attend, the commissioners never even appeared to listen to all the negative comments about the WFB.

The county later hired a land acquisition firm to obtain the right of way for the road. The land acquisition company has been the source of numerous complaints, and was finally required to stop using county letterhead by one of the new commissioners.

A neighbor of ours complained that the firm called them several times a day, and led them to believe that their home would be 12 feet below the road level. We spoke with Public Works Director Phillip Mallon, who indicated that the road would not be elevated in that area.

“We seek always to improve our services through innovation, integrity, and competence.”

5. The ousted and carryover Commissioners abandoned the East Bypass, the #1 priority, without evaluating all the alternative alignments. In 2010, the commission chairman said he was not familiar with Alternative Alignment D.

They shifted East Bypass funding to WFB without voting, and no minutes of meetings showing how the decision to shift funding was made exist. When the funding was shifted, there had already been a barrage of complaints from the citizens, but the complaints were never heard. They had already spent over $500,000 on the East Bypass.

“We are committed to excellence, we value our employees and their abilities, and we are committed to ensuring their safety and security through effective staffing and competitive compensation.”

6. In 2010, it was learned that the commissioners in office at that time replaced two long-standing county employees in critical top jobs with appointees. They then rewarded them with hefty pay raises without any record of performance review.

Recently it was learned that the elections supervisor will be replaced with a person having no specialized experience and introduced by one of the carryover commissioners not by his knowledge, skills and abilities, but as “a leader in that commissioner’s church.” The ousted employee was merely told that it was time for a change. The new commissioners voted “no” but were outnumbered.

“The County strives always to work for the benefit of all citizens and consistently takes our citizens’ interests and needs into consideration when making decisions.”

7. Two commissioners were voted out of office last year with opposition platforms being (1) no WFB, (2) no mass transit, and (3) no SPLOST. Meanwhile, the three returning commissioners continued to push the WFB forward. Jack Smith, the former commission chairman, was later given a prestigious award for regional excellence by the head of the Atlanta Regional Commission (“ARC”) with the ARC stating that his regional leadership that resulted in political sacrifice was admirable.

The holdover commissioners all profess to be against mass transit while voting for a plan that includes a rapid rail line into Tyrone, Peachtree City and Senoia. Fayette County, by population, represents only about 2 percent of the ARC Regional Plan.

The diagram of proposed new roads and realignments are almost all to the north of Fayette County with the exception of one loop that dips into it.

Frady, Horgan and Hearn are fiercely loyal to ARC, which has the final say as to where the 2040 Plan Regional SPLOST tax funding will go. Citizens in Fayette County have demonstrated only opposition at commissioners’ meetings to getting into a plan that includes rapid rail.

If the commissioners are working for the benefit of all citizens, then why don’t they tell us how we’ll benefit from their continuously voting for mass transit? All they tell is is “it will never happen.” But as long as we remain in the ARC, we go with its projects, even if we vote 100 percent against the regional SPLOST.

I concluded that the visionary/mission/creed of the Fayette County commissioners sounds fine, but actually applying it to what we’re getting from our holdover commissioners is a matter of interpretation.

I would encourage any readers who care to comment in favor of MARTA, the WFB, mass transit, or the forthcoming regional SPLOST referendum to do so publicly at the next commissioners’ meeting. You’ll make headlines, and at least three new friends.

Steve Smithfield

Fayette County, Ga.

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