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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 stevebrownptc@ureach.com.]

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