Brown questions elections board member’s land interest
Embattled appointee Lester controls 109 acres near West Fayetteville Bypass
Fallout continues from the Feb. 24 appointment of John Addison Lester III to Fayette County’s elections board.
At the May 4 Fayette County Commission meeting, it was revealed that Lester is the managing partner of a family group that owns 109 acres of land near the West Fayetteville Bypass.
Commissioner Steve Brown claimed that the parcel is adjacent to the bypass, but county maps clearly depict it being one parcel west of the new road.
Part of the 109-acre tract is zoned for agriculture-residential, with minimum lot sizes of five acres, and the other is zoned R-70 for minimum lot sizes of two acres, according to county zoning records.
Brown alleged that Lester should not be overseeing the county’s election process given the controversial nature of the bypass, which is now officially called “Veteran’s Parkway.”
“He will be overseeing the election of someone heavily in favor of that road,” Brown said, asking again for Lester’s appointment to be rescinded.
Commissioner Lee Hearn, who recommended Lester’s appointment to the elections board, told The Citizen after the meeting that Brown’s assertion was inaccurate since the parcel is not adjacent to the bypass.
Opponents of the West Fayetteville Bypass are hoping to stop it by voting out of office Hearn and fellow commissioners Robert Horgan and Herb Frady when their terms expire in December 2012. All three have continued to support completion of the bypass, against the wishes of newly-elected commissioners Brown and Allen McCarty.
Brown has been a vocal opponent of the West bypass, but wants the county to halt the project by diverting millions toward the East Fayetteville Bypass, which begins at the north on Ga. Highway 85 but ends at a rural intersection in southeast Fayette County, well short of the two major arteries south of Fayetteville of Ga. Highway 92 and Ga. Highway 85.
The first phase of the west bypass is complete, and the second phase is in the property acquisition stage. Once all three phases are complete, the road will lead from Ga. Highway 85 south at Harp Road to Ga. Highway 54 at Huiet Road, ending at Ga. Highway 92 and Westbridge Road.
This isn’t the first time Hearn has endured criticism for recommending Lester as the county’s appointee to the three-member elections board, which oversees elections and the enforcement of related laws in the county.
It wasn’t until weeks after Lester’s Feb. 24 appointment to the elections board that Hearn sheepishly admitted Lester was indeed his cousin. At the Feb. 24 meeting, Hearn recommended Lester but said only that he knew Lester from church, failing to disclose the familial relationship.
Hearn, after he was called on the carpet by fellow Commissioner Brown, apologized for the omission at a subsequent commission meeting.
Lester’s appointment to the position has drawn the ire of citizens deploring the fact that it meant kicking experienced elections board member Marilyn Watts to the curb.
Last week Brown attempted to convince his fellow commissioners to adopt a new policy on appointments to various boards and commissions which would require a resume and a questionnaire to be submitted on each candidate. Brown said he also was stunned that the county did not advertise upcoming vacancies on such boards and commissions.
In the light of the Lester situation, Brown wanted one of the questions to be “are you in any way related to any elected official or county employee.”
“Throwing out a name at a meeting, I think it’s just not right,” said Brown, who contended the process is “non-democratic.”
Brown’s suggested process was deep-sixed as no consensus could be reached to go forward.
Commission Chairman Herb Frady said the current appointment process, in which an appointee is suggested to the board by a single commissioner whose district the appointee comes from, hasn’t led to any unqualified people being appointed.
Frady said if applicants are sought and only one is picked, he didn’t like having to explain to those who lost out why they weren’t chosen.
Commissioner Robert Horgan said he supported advertising vacancies, but he didn’t feel comfortable with having applicants fill out a questionnaire.
Some appointments must be advertised as required by law or other ordinance, noted Commission Executive Assistant Carol Chandler.