Mayoral maelstrom may be over: Steele trumps Haddix on roundtable
For all intents and purposes it will be Fayetteville Mayor Ken Steele who will be one of the two Fayette County representatives on the Regional Transportation Roundtable that will produce a list of proposed transportation projects for the 10-county Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC). The final list to be determined later will go before voters in mid-2012 in the form of a 10-year, one-cent transportation sales tax.
Georgia Dept. of Transportation Planning Director Todd Long said Wednesday that, given the stipulation in the law, the group of Fayette County mayors had until midnight on Nov. 10 to make any other change of mayoral representation beyond the one made earlier this week when the mayors of Woolsey, Brooks and Fayetteville voted 3-0 to change the representative from Peachtree City Mayor Don Haddix to Fayetteville’s Steele. Haddix had been elected earlier in the fall to be the county’s mayoral representative. Neither Haddix nor Tyrone Mayor Don Rehwaldt attended the meeting Monday night when Steele was elected.
Questioned about which mayor should represent the county on the RTR, Todd on Thursday morning said he had received no other communication from Fayette County by midnight on Nov. 10. That said, and with Steele being the most recent selection by the Fayette mayoral caucus on Monday, it will be Steele that will represent Fayette beginning in 2011, along with the new Fayette County Commission chairman.
Long said the one-cent transportation sales tax legislation (House Bill 277) was very clear that a mayoral representative was to be elected by Nov. 10. The bill was very quiet on how that was to be done, Long said.
“I got a mayor representative from Peachtree City and (now) I’ve got a revised representative (in correspondence earlier this week) from Fayetteville,” Long said. “Common sense says you need documentation.”
The reason for that documentation deals with what Long said is outlined in the legislation that establishes the roundtables. The roundtables, he said, were intended to be locally controlled. Otherwise, the legislation would not have passed through the General Assembly, Long told The Citizen yesterday.
“The bill is very clear that the state is not part of the local selection process of a mayoral representative on the roundtable. I really do not think any of our 159 counties want the state to step in and decide representation from a county. As far as I can tell in my reading of the bill, a county can change their selection as many times as they want to before submitting a name to be on the roundtable by November 10,” Long said in an email sent last night. ”I have heard from many of you and have talked to the press several times. I have been consistent in all of my answers. The last correspondence we have received was from a majority of mayors from Fayette County indicating that Ken Steele was chosen. It matters not that previous elections were held. I hope this clarifies my position and we can move forward.”
Haddix in an email Thursday night and subsequent to the one sent by Long gave his perspective on the issue.
“That is not agreeing with my communications with Todd Long. In an email conversation Todd Long said this needed resolved at the local level. He neither sided with Ken Steele or me. Like it or not that was a legal position to kick it back to Fayette County. It was made by the official at the final step of the process. My position is that the bill required an election on or before November 10. That was accomplished with my name submitted and publicly acknowledged by Ken Steele in a press release. So a legal decision and announcement was made per HB 277 and Ken Steele made it,” Haddix said.
“Now, what will happen if both of us show up at a meeting? If one is seated over the other that is a legal decision. If no one is seated that is a legal decision. So no matter how you phrase it Todd Long has already made a legal decision in kicking it back and will have to make another if we both show up for meetings,” Haddix continued. “So, what are my options? That would be to resign, refuse to resign and go to court or refuse to resign and not go to court forcing either Steele to go to court or Todd Long to make a decision on who, if anyone is seated. None are good options in my book.”
Haddix in his attempt to resolve the matter of Long’s statement solicited the opinion of state Rep. Matt Ramsey, an attorney with a Peachtree City law firm. Communicating Ramsey’s response, Haddix in a Wednesday email indicated that Ramsey had said, “This required being taken to court to resolve it. He neither sided with Ken Steele or me. But that, again, was a legal decision.”
Contacted Thursday, Ramsey provided The Citizen with a copy of his exact response to Haddix.
“No, I am not making a statement as to the appropriateness or inappropriateness of any action by the DOT. You said in your original email that the guy at DOT is ‘refusing to take a position’ and I'm suggesting it would be inappropriate for the DOT, or any executive branch official for that matter, to in any way arbitrate a dispute such as this,” Ramsey told Haddix.
“As for my position, I believe in a very strict construction of the U.S. and Georgia constitutions and strongly believe in adhering to the constitutionally mandated separation of powers set out in both those documents,” Ramsey continued. “Our Constitution set up an explicit and distinct separation between the judicial, legislative and executive branches of our government which should be followed to preserve the proper checks and balances established in our system of government. It would be a gross overstep of my role as a legislator to render a legal judgment or opinion in a dispute over the application of a statute in a local matter such as this. Repeated examples in recent years of elected officials ignoring the fundamental framework of our Constitution are exactly why people are mad at government, as you suggest they are. Arbitrating disputes and interpreting laws is the province of the judicial branch of government.”
The mayoral maelstrom, at least in part, stems from recent comments by Haddix, and Rehwaldt, surfacing the idea that Fayette County might benefit more from moving from the ARC to the more rural Three Rivers Regional Commission. Those statements were a main thrust of the meeting Monday night when Steele was elected to replace Haddix as the Fayette mayoral representative.