Local political activist Harold Bost had organized the political gathering of nearly 140 people last week, but he got some pushback from Fayetteville Mayor Ken Steele over one of Bost’s central contentions.
The March 9 meeting at Whitewater subdivision of representatives of the Fayette Citizens for Open Government (FayCOG) saw increased numbers due, at least in part, to the slogan “tea party” used in advertising the meeting. Another departure from many FayCOG meetings were the comments from some in the audience, including a disagreement between FayCOG founder and former County Commissioner Bost and Mayor Steele on the issue of the West Fayetteville bypass.
The main issues covered included the county’s recently defeated 1-cent sales tax, the West Fayetteville bypass, the county’s defined benefit program for employees and FayCOG’s attempt to unseat Commissioner Robert Horgan.
Pertaining to the 1-cent sales tax, Bost said it was ill-conceived and thanked voters for turning it down. Referencing one of the special purpose local option sales tax items, the $55 million payoff of the Fayette County Justice Center, Bost said, “If it was paid off would it lower the annual budget? I don’t think so.”
Commenting on the three-phase West Fayetteville bypass often labeled by project opponents as the “road to nowhere,” Bost said that, “When they get the whole thing built, where is it going? To the same place on the north side (Ga. Highway 92). In my opinion it just doesn’t make sense.”
His remarks were followed by a member of the audience asking who was responsible for the project and when was it decided. Sitting the back of the room, Mayor Ken Steele weighed in with his take on the question.
“As memory serves, I think you were on the county commission way back then,” Steele said to Bost. “Fayette was the first county to sign off on a comprehensive plan and I believe you were chairman. We prioritized a countywide plan. Our first priority was TDK, the second was the East Fayetteville bypass and the fourth was the West Fayetteville bypass. At the time all the elected officials said the growth would be in Peachtree City and Fayetteville and that if we didn’t build a bypass it would never be built.”
Bost responded saying to Steele, “Your memory doesn’t serve you correctly.”
The two men squared off politely but insistently on one other occasion a few minutes later, again disagreeing on the issue of when Bost served and when he was county commission chairman.
“Sir, you are being disingenuous,” Bost said to Steele, challenging him to prove his point.
A check of county records after the meeting showed that Steele’s dates were correct. Bost was elected in 1996 and served as commissioner from 1997 through early 2001 when he resigned. Bost was commission chairman in 1999 and 2000.
According to a previous report by The Citizen, in December 1996 a study entitled Fayette County Transportation Study-Interim Report and compiled for the Association of Fayette County Governments was completed and then adopted by all entities in 1997. The project included seven public meetings and a questionnaire to solicit public input, according to county documents.
Similar to a 1990 study, the report identified and recommended both bypass projects. The west bypass route was essentially the same as the current route, though the east bypass route differed slightly from current plans, county records showed.
But the county’s assessed need for a bypass goes back a decade earlier. Information obtained from Fayette County shows a 1985 Land Use Plan with a map of “Future Thoroughfares” that included a needed roadway along a similar route as the current west bypass.
The county also identified a May 1990 report from consultant Moreland Altobelli outlining the county’s first comprehensive transportation improvement plan. The document recommended bypasses on Fayetteville’s east and west sides, though the west bypass was referenced as the “Central Parkway.” The plan had no funding or implementation process.
Other topics at the March 9 meeting included a presentation by Pat Hinchey of Hinchey Financial Group on what he said were inherent flaws with the county’s defined benefit plan for employees.
Hinchey began his remarks by telling residents why he became a FayCOG member and a member of the South Atlanta Tea Party Patriots.
“I couldn’t sit back anymore,” Hinchey said. “Governments, school boards — they don’t listen, but we can wear them down. Turn off the TV on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays and go to the meetings. So turn off the TV. We need to care about our country, we need to care about our county.”
Concerning the county’s defined benefit program, Hinchey said it does not mean much to most people. But that perspective needs to change, he said.
“Defined benefits is akin to a pension. It takes a lot of money to promise it forever,” Hinchey said. “With defined benefits, as the years go by, the amount of dollars required to meet the commitment goes up exponentially. The county said they went to (the program) because they needed to be competitive and retain employees. I told them they were being sold a bill of goods and were making promises they couldn’t keep.”
The final agenda had FayCOG representative Bob Ross review the organization’s attempts to have Commissioner Robert Horgan unseated after being arrested last year by a Fayette County Sheriff’s deputy on misdemeanor marijuana charges.
“I expect (elected officials) to lead by example. When he didn’t resign I took exception to that,” Ross said of the lengthy recall and court process that is still not settled.
After Ross’ comments a woman in the audience spoke up, saying the situation with Horgan is a non-issue, adding that groups such as FayCOG should also focus on other areas not mentioned at the meeting such as the school board.
Bost at the outset of the meeting noted that while FayCOG was not affiliated with the local tea party group, his organization had incorporated the “tea party” slogan into the meeting because the model had resulted in public interest in topics of concern and was working well locally and across the nation.
“The tea party groups have been very effective. This meeting is not officially connected with them but we felt the model was working well,” Bost said, adding that the phrase “tea party” carried no trademark. “We’ve tried to identify issues that we have information on to back up what we say is true. We’ve spent hundreds of hours evaluating what we’ve found. This is not a meeting to bash Republicans or Democrats, so this is not a partisan issue.”