Commission infighting goes public: Et tu, Barlow?

Barlow says he will issue apology to public at Thurs. commission meeting

A political brouhaha will be settled this Thursday night as current County Commission Chairman Steve Brown will face opposition for the post from fellow Commissioner Charles “Chuck” Oddo in the annual vote for who will serve as commission chair for the year.

At the heart of the chairmanship battle is a heated behind-the-scenes dispute between Brown and fellow Commissioner David Barlow, who last week went public with the reasons he will not be supporting Brown as chairman this year.

Brown on Friday said all those reasons were “a smokescreen” for what he thinks is the real reason: their disagreement over the handling of the water department fiasco this summer involving several weeks of smelly, bad-tasting water.

Asked to comment on this and other points Brown raised, Barlow declined to address them directly Tuesday. However, Barlow said at Thursday night’s commission meeting he will issue “an apology to the citizens of Fayette County.”

“I regret that this has come into the public domain and at this point I feel the need to apologize to Fayette County taxpayers and to the administration of Fayette County government if I have brought any harm or ill will on them,” Barlow said.

In a lengthy interview Friday, Brown claimed that Barlow is using other issues to advocate for Brown’s removal as chairman because the public won’t support him on the real reason Barlow is upset: the handling of the water issue.

“I’d have more respect for him if he just said ‘I hated Steve Brown and I don’t want to ever see him be chairman,’” Brown said. “That would be just fine. He’s never going to say it’s because of the water thing because he knows he won’t win that in the public. I’d have more respect for him other than making up stuff, ‘I’ve got anonymous sources’ deal that he’s doing, and all these other things. Because nothing’s there.”

Brown was referring to Barlow’s comment in last week’s edition of The Citizen claiming that two unnamed sources who deal with the Atlanta Regional Commission have said Brown is despised by his counterparts at the ARC to the point where they don’t want to work with him on Fayette projects.

Brown said while he has disagreed with some matters advanced by ARC, he has done so respectfully and with research to show why his decision “is in the best interest of Fayette County.”

Brown opposed the regional transportation SPLOST that was defeated in 2013, and his work included speaking engagements around the metro area in which he advocated against passage of the T-SPLOST, which split its funding almost roughly in half between road and transit projects.

The T-SPLOST was an effort at first conceived by the Georgia Legislature and then implemented via a project list by a roundtable of regional officials with significant help from ARC staff. The ARC pitched in because of the voluminous amount of detailed information it already had on the vast majority of the proposed T-SPLOST projects.

“You can vote and be respectful,” Brown said. “… As long as you’re doing it in a professional way with researched, rational thoughts and you’re doing it for the right reason: doing what’s best for your constituents.”

Brown says he is the best-equipped commissioner for the chairman’s job particularly as it relates to working with ARC on the county’s transportation priorities, as the ARC works in conjunction with the Georgia Department of Transportation on administering state and federal road, highway and interstate funding. By law the chairman of each county commission in the 10-county metro Atlanta area sits on the ARC board of directors.

Brown said he has been able to make progress particularly on the improvements to the interchange at Interstate 85 and Ga. Highway 74 just across the county line in Fairburn, which is used by a large number of Fayette commuters going back and forth between Atlanta. Some $8 million has been moved up for right of way acquisition in 2015, Brown noted, saying he is the commissioner who is most familiar with the regional road funding process.

Barlow last week objected to Brown writing letters to the editor and blog posts, claiming that by signing them with his chairman’s title, readers will think Brown is speaking for the entire commission. Instead, Barlow said he wants Brown to run those letters by his fellow commissioners before submitting them, or just penning them as “commissioner” Brown instead.

Brown said the letters he has written to the editor to inform citizens have been “considerate and professional” and he said Barlow also has the opportunity to write letters to the editor if he wishes.

Brown further contends that Barlow once shouted at him during an executive session meeting earlier this year and threatened at the time that Brown would not be re-elected as commission chairman.

Brown said Barlow has also been abrasive in emails with him, highlighting one remark that said in part “God has given me the freedom to deal with you.”

“I have to pause, I have to say, ‘What does that mean?’” Brown said. “And what is he doing?”

Brown said he sent a copy to his colleagues and also to the sheriff with a note of “just in case, you’ve got a copy.”

“When someone says to you that God has ordained them to trash you, what’s your rationale? What are you supposed to say to that person?” Brown said.

The situation also had a ripple effect on the way others approach Barlow, Brown said.

“I think to some degree, some board members, maybe Rapson, maybe other people, have a high degree of fearful sensitivity because they don’t want Barlow exploding on them,” Brown said.

In reference to Barlow’s complaint about Brown working with residents on a potential four-way stop at Redwine Road at the entrance to the Whitewater Creek and Highgrove subdivisions, Brown insists part of his job is to listen to residents’ complaints and see if something can be done to address their concerns. The residents had complained about safety issues in getting their golf carts safely across Redwine, Brown said.

Furthermore, Brown contends that although the intersection doesn’t meet the statistical warrant data necessary for a four-way stop to be considered under the county’s current traffic warrants, those restrictions can be changed or perhaps the county could narrow the road to slow traffic down, or other traffic calming ideas.

“If Commissioner Barlow doesn’t like them, he can vote against them when they are brought up,” Brown said.

Brown contends that based on phone calls he has received, Barlow is losing support of local residents by taking up arms against Brown.

“And nobody supported him more than I did, which makes it even worse,” Brown said.