Incumbents Smith, Maxwell defend West Bypass; challengers say Fayette quality of life at stake
Candidates for the two Fayette County Commission posts had their say Monday night at Christ’s Church at Whitewater at a forum sponsored by the Fayette County Tea Party. The four included Commission Chairman Jack Smith, challenger and former Peachtree City Mayor Steve Brown, Commissioner Eric Maxwell and challenger, retired businessman Allen McCarty. More than 100 people attended the event.
The candidates each had five minutes to make opening statements. Those were followed by audience questions. The statements by candidates and the questions and answers later would not be allowed to get out of hand, said Moderator Cathy Valencia, who made it clear at the outset that she would quickly intervene if that occurred.
In his remarks, Brown said he wanted to maintain Fayette County’s quality of life, one that came about because the county has no access to a interstate and, consequently, was able to grow slow and avoid some of the issues facing other metro counties.
“For the most part we’ve done a fantastic job. My main purpose is, let’s keep it that way,” Brown said. “But some of the things I’ve seen lately are starting to concern me.”
Brown said that, similar to the federal government, he was seeing indications of spending with no accountability. Aside from taxpayers paying for empty schools, Brown said he had opposed the transportation SPLOST (1-cent sales tax) defeated 3-1 by voters in 2008 and is opposed to the West Fayetteville bypass today. Brown said he is also opposed to the Atlanta Regional Commission’s regional mass transit plan that will include Fayette.
“We’re a slow growth, low population, low density county and I love it that way. Coweta is falling under the Gwinnett County model and they’ll end up in the same boat. We can’t even afford to fund a mass transit operation, much less whether we want it or not,” Brown said concluding his remarks.
Next up was Commissioner Jack Smith.
“Fayette has always been ahead of the pack, leading the state with a wonderful lifestyle and a high per capita income and quality education. Planning has always been a hallmark of Fayette County,” Smith said, adding that “Fayette citizens, including me, wrested control of their government from the politicians and placed it with people who cared more about the county than about re-election.”
Smith said he was no politician and would not become one.
“Politicians and their cohorts are dangerous because you never know what their real motivations are. Take my opponent’s cohort, Mr. Bost,” Smith said. “The real reason he detests me has nothing to do with the reasons he currently writes with his poison pen. I am bound by the ethics in my profession and the rules of Fayette County government. I am successful and I got there by being ethical. I refuse to lay my ethics at anyone’s door.”
Smith said that despite the effects of declining sales and property taxes during the recession the County Commission has completed the first phase of Kenwood Park, expanded the 911 Center, began construction of Lake McIntosh, engineered a land swap with Peachtree City, completed a joint road project with Fayetteville and started many SPLOST projects and other efforts.
“Fayette County is one of the best, if not the best, county governments anywhere. Today’s budget workshop for next fiscal year projected both a small surplus for the end of this year and the continuation of the same property rate despite another 8-10 percent expected reduction in property tax revenues,” said Smith. “Listen to the comments made here. You owe it to yourself to think and seek out the facts. I get things done. My politician-opponent plays on your emotions.”
Smith was followed by Commissioner Eric Maxwell, who referred to himself as an active member of the tea party movement in Fayette.
“I ran four years ago on ‘Time for a change’ because things going on in county government just weren’t appropriate,” Maxwell, noting the fight going on then between the commission and the sheriff. “Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on lawsuits. Ultimately the sheriff prevailed and the county didn’t win a single lawsuit. I saw significant waste four years ago and I convinced other commissioners to go a different direction.”
Maxwell said an in-house county attorney was hired, saving approximately $400,000. He said the current commission bid out the county’s property insurance for the first time, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars. Changes to county employees’ benefit plan saved another $400,000 with employees paying a significant portion of the benefit, he said.
Maxwell said the commission has held to the land use plan and the county is no longer seeing a massive rezoning of property.
Concerning the East and West Fayetteville bypass projects, Maxwell said, “I am on record supporting the West Fayetteville Bypass. I’ve got documents up here that the West Fayetteville Bypass dates to 1985 with the first study. I’ve done everything I can to stop the East Fayetteville Bypass.”
The final remarks came from Maxwell’s challenger, Allen McCarty, a 15-year resident of Fayette County.
McCarty said he loves Fayette and wants to “keep it the way we love it.”
“But I’ve seen some changes that I really don’t like. Nothing big, but subtle. That’s why I decided to run for the county commission,” McCarty said. “Taxes have increased immensely in the last 15 years. County projects spend money, for what?”
McCarty said development is fine, but not at the expense of taking people’s land and homes. He said unneeded roads will take those lands and homes and will upset the county’s rural nature and increase density.
McCarty turned his statements to the new Rivers Elementary School on Sandy Creek Road, saying there are approximately 40 students and a compliment of staff populating the school. This puts a strain on the county’s educational resources, he said, and is a tremendous waste of taxpayers’ dollars.
McCarty then noted the installation of crosswalks in a number of rural areas.
“But there are no sidewalks,” he said. “It looks like it is part of a future plan for mass transit, like a bus stop.”
The statements by candidates were followed by questions from the audience.
Concerning any conflict of interest with his serving on the board of the Bank of Georgia, Smith said that most of the bank’s loans occurred outside Fayette County. That response was later challenged by another speaker.
In a question posed to Maxwell on his possible desire to obtain a vacant Superior Court judgeship, the commissioner said his career path called for a judgeship and that he will apply so that he can have a one-on-one with the governor to advocate for state court Judge Fletcher Sams since Sams is the only clear choice. Maxwell added that the remaining judgeship is a long shot.
“I’m running for county commission,” he said.
A number of questions pertained to the West Fayetteville Bypass and were directed either to Maxwell, Smith or both.
Maxwell said the total approximate cost of the West Fayetteville Bypass is $24-28 million. That compares to the estimated $60 million cost of the East Fayetteville Bypass.
“Both could move traffic,” Maxwell said. “But I see no reason to build a $60 million road when we can do it for $24-28 million.”
Pertaining to the local sales tax funding previously collected for the West Fayetteville Bypass and the designation of that roadway, Smith said the decision to build the road was made by voters prior to the current board taking office.
“Whether we like it or not this commission came on board and has no choice but to implement it,” Smith said, adding that the commission could change the order of construction so that the east bypass was constructed first, though they have no financial ability to construct the road.
Others residents at the podium disagreed, and several other questions that pertained to the need and funding of the west bypass filled much of the remainder of the forum.
A video of the forum will be available today (Wednesday) in the video section at www.tbfaco.com.