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Ethics a challenge for officials

“Politicians and their cohorts are dangerous because you never know what their real motivations are,” said current Fayette County Commissioner Jack Smith at a recent political forum. He’s running for re-election and is being challenged by Steve Brown, who is well known for his strong stand on ethics.

I found Smith’s statement interesting for a couple of reasons. First, Smith is on the board of a local bank which works primarily with developers who obviously are in favor of the West and East Fayetteville bypass projects.

As has been pointed out by many people, the location of the newly constructed schools that are “out in the middle of nowhere” actually are somewhere — it just wasn’t obvious to the rest of us that the schools are right in line with these bypass projects.

Secondly, school board hopeful Charlie Cave (running against Dr. Bob Todd, a respected educator and critic of less than honest decisions) was the business development manager for another local bank that works with developers.

Even to a casual observer, the potential conflicts of interest for both Smith and Cave are obvious.

Having been a resident of Fayette County for nearly 10 years has opened my eyes to the way business is done in a small community. While I understand and recognize the associations that have been forged by families and business dealings over a long period of time, it is simply wrong to ignore the taxpayers to further business interests.

The bypass projects are but one glaring example of our tax money being used to build infrastructure to further development interests. The insistence of some school board members that the schools were being built where they were needed — clearly not true — is yet another.

But the distorted view of what’s ethical extends into several other areas. Let’s revisit some other examples of what I will call — in an effort not to be ugly — “ethical oversights.”

• A mayor goes into business with a city manager.

• A school board member sits in on real estate discussions involving a family member and forgets to disclose millions of dollars in corporate holdings and property.

• A school board member’s adult child teaches in the system without certification at a time when other qualified teachers have either lost their jobs or cannot get positions for which they are qualified.

• Elected officials accept hospitality during a trip outside of the U.S. and then vote on concessions for the hosting company that is relocating to the area.

• A county commissioner is caught breaking the law by driving with an illegal drug and is still in office.

Does this sound like a bad reality TV show?

Open meetings and open records — which must uphold laws that are not open to interpretation — are yet another issue that taxpayers find is an uphill battle.

It is standard operating procedure in our community to run into multiple roadblocks when open records requests are filed (some of you may recall my nearly $3,000 quote for open records from the school board attorney) as is the use of executive session to keep the public in the dark.

A case in point is an executive session from Aug. 1, 2007 that County Commissioner Eric Maxwell (who is being challenged by Allan McCarty in the July 20 primary) was asked to explain. He called the session to discuss a legal matter, but there was not an attorney present.

State Attorney General Baker ruled the private assembly ordered by Maxwell was illegal.

At the next month’s meeting, Maxwell moved to alter the minutes and affidavit on the executive session that stated the illegal reason for meeting. The commissioners voted to permanently alter the record.

But someone caught the motion and vote on videotape and posted it to YouTube. This is not the first time a citizen has videotaped and posted public meetings to bring poor and unethical behavior of elected officials to light. Janet Smola’s “Is that what you want Marion” video on YouTube has nearly 800 hits.

What exactly does this mean when citizens are so angry that they resort to videotaping arrogant actions by elected officials? It means that we are frustrated and fed up with our community being run for the benefit of a few.

Early voting has started for the July 20 primary. Because we don’t have opposition to the Republican candidates in any of the races except for one school board post, whoever wins the primary automatically wins the race.

It is crucial that we all vote for the ethical candidates. If we don’t, our tax dollars will continue to be squandered on development projects, and we will be kept in the dark by seemingly powerful public officials who say they are ethical but whose actions favor a few people at the expense of the rest of us.

The website electfayette.pbworks.com has information on the local elections. As the candidates set up online sites, these will be added. Links to various parties and community issues are also available.

I hope to see everyone turn out for this important primary election. Let’s restore our hope in honest government by electing people who actually act on their convictions and represent the community’s interests.

Tami Morris

Peachtree City, Ga.

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