Three former Peachtree City mayors who are seeking election to the post 3 seat of the Fayette County Commission, which has the largest swath of city voters, were grilled Monday night at a forum hosted by the Fayette County Republican Party at City Hall.
Challengers Don Haddix and Harold Logsdon flanked incumbent Steve Brown at the dais, and though there were a handful of residents from all over the county in attendance, only voters who live in District 3 will be allowed to vote in the race due to the court-ordered application of district voting this year.
The topic of district voting, the result of a lawsuit filed by the NAACP, was a significant one addressed by the candidates.
Brown said the district voting map adopted by the court is a gerrymander based solely on the voters’ race, and he contended that “all case law says you can’t do that based on race.”
Pointing out that the lawsuit sought district voting as a relief for black voters, Brown noted that it has now morphed into another intent.
“Now all of a sudden it’s not about what we think: electing Democrats is what it’s really about,” Brown said. “There is no constitutional protection for the election of Democrats in any jurisdiction in the United States. … We’ve got a rift now in our county and I hope we can heal that, I really do, because there’s a lot at stake.”
Haddix said he does not support preferential treatment in voting, and he feels it is not constructive based on other places he has lived which have adopted it.
Haddix said he felt the county needed to be united as one district, not divided into five different districts.
Logsdon said based on what he has been told, the county’s attorneys feel confident they will win on appeal. Logsdon said he felt the map was an unlawful gerrymander. Logsdon added that it will not cost much more to appeal the lawsuit than has already been spent on the case.
Haddix and Logsdon noted that Brown has the advantage on this particular issue because he is privy to the advice of the county’s attorneys, which is kept secret by attorney-client privilege.
Candidates also were asked if they would favor bringing sewer service into the unincorporated county if there was a way for the county to keep its current land use plan intact.
Logsdon said he prefers to use sewer because of the water that is reclaimed in the process, but he said the key would be maintaining the land use plan to avoid a potential overdevelopment by maintaining a low density and keeping the county’s small-town image.
Haddix and Brown said they would not support bringing sewer into the county. Haddix said the land use plan could easily be changed by future elected officials and cut down on greenspace. Haddix noted that he supported Fayetteville’s Pinewood Atlanta Studios project, but he felt the city’s annexation was too big.
Brown said he would consider extending sewer into the county only for government buildings, citing the failing septic tank at Tyrone Elementary as an example where it would be helpful. Otherwise, extending sewer into the county would be used to justify an increase in density, Brown added.
The candidates were asked if they felt regional governance was the best way to address regional concerns such as transportation and air quality.
Brown touted his participation in fighting against the 2012 regional transportation sales tax, adding that he would be okay with regional governance as long as home rule is protected.
“As long as we are not forcing the region to pay for other people’s projects, I’m OK with the Atlanta Regional Commission,” Brown said.
Logsdon said ARC is helpful in distributing money from the federal government for certain programs, but he feels ARC has no authority over county decisions.
“We have got to maintain local authority, and you cannot have that with regional governance and make it work,” Logsdon said.
Haddix said ARC is pushing the region to urbanizing including plans for bus and rail service here with control centered in agencies like ARC.
“That, folks, is regional government and I have no use for that and am totally opposed to that,” Haddix said.
The candidates also weighed in on how best to handle property tax abatement issues for large businesses moving to the county. The abatement process is not controlled by the county commission but by the Fayette County Development Authority, a separate agency for which the county appoints five of its eight current members.
Brown in particular has been critical of what he touted as a failure of FCDA’s leadership in communicating the tax abatement offered to Pinewood Atlanta Studios.
Haddix said the authority followed state law but it should have consulted with the county government because of the potential loss of tax dollars. Haddix said the county needs a strong development authority and he wants to make it even stronger.
Brown said the commission should have been involved in the process because “we’re talking about hundreds of millions of tax dollars.
“We demanded accountability, and we stood for accountability,” Brown said.
Logsdon said the commission should have been privy to the Pinewood tax breaks, but there was plenty of opportunity for county officials to ask questions, given that Pinewood was announced last February and the abatements were voted on near the end of the year.
“If I am your commissioner, I won’t wait for them to come tell me about what’s going on,” Logsdon said. “I will be keeping in touch so I will find out and we won’t get blindsided.”
Logsdon added that if the authority failed to inform him of a tax abatement, he would advise them not to do it again, “but I don’t think you need to implode an organization just because of miscommunication.”
On other issues addressed during the candidates’ opening statements:
• Brown touted the commission’s success in rehabilitating the county water system, while Haddix claimed there were long-known problems with brown water coming out of residents’ faucets.
• Logsdon said the county needs to focus on educational opportunities brought in large part by the location of Pinewood Atlanta Studios, including the possibility of bringing a technical college campus here.
• Haddix criticized the current commission for spending $1.4 million to acquire land for the East Fayetteville Bypass even though the project is currently unfunded. He drew a comparison to an $850,000 land purchase Brown’s city council made a number of years ago to build a cart path bridge over Ga. Highway 54 West that has never been built due to lack of funding.
• Brown said the county’s economic momentum will continue and progress is being made on the interchange project to improve traffic flow at Interstate 85 and Ga. Highway 74, which is in Fairburn but used by many city commuters going to and from Atlanta.
• Logsdon said the county needs to continue to address the needs of the growing senior population, but it also needs to attract young professionals to live here by creating “live, work, play” communities.
• Haddix criticized Logsdon for “bailing out” the city’s tennis center during Logsdon’s term as mayor. Brown would later jump in and argue that he didn’t blame Logsdon because “somebody had to do it.”