You have, no doubt, heard the expression, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” Another reality alongside that statement is it disappears so slowly you do not realize you are losing it.
Freedom of expression is part of the bedrock of our country. Our country works because our people can publicly address both the good and the bad with honesty and candor. Likewise, countering public expression with yet more public expression, regardless of controversy, is permitted.
I probably treasure our freedom of expression a little more than most people in our county because I have had to defend my right in court. Years ago, a local government power was trying to silence me from exposing improper activity, but my right to speak prevailed and corrections were made.
Now I am witnessing a local movement toward squelching our freedom of expression. It’s no longer acceptable to agree to disagree. Nowadays vengeance is required.
I went to the meeting in Peachtree City where council member Kim Learnard, council member Vanessa Fleisch and council member Eric Imker censured Mayor Don Haddix.
The horrific offense that landed Mayor Haddix in the censure hot seat: public expression. Council Member Learnard led the prosecution with the main charge of “negativity.”
Really? Yes, it’s true. The mayor made some supposedly negative comments; most were true, by the way, but they were construed as negative none the less, and somehow that is now a crime.
Learnard read aloud a series of local newspaper headlines and mentioned comments written in editorials and Internet blogs. What light, she would ask, does this cast upon our city when outsiders read such things? The ridiculousness of it all is that Mayor Haddix did not write the headlines, nor does he control the content in other’s editorials and blogs.
The three council members brought up the resignation of the city’s new economic director, Joey Grisham. Haddix wanted city funds to go the city’s Development Authority and not to employee Grisham. Let’s just say the argument went back and forth and back again.
Grisham had gotten to be a bit of a personnel matter previously as economic director in Keller, Texas. In fact, he resigned from Keller too when their City Council was to review Grisham’s “position and whether or not his expectation and ours are the same,” according to Keller City Manager Dan O’Leary.
Haddix felt Grisham wanted to take the city in a direction that would ruin the character of the place. Haddix’s wife felt the same way. Moreover, Ms. Haddix told Grisham personally that she did not think he was a good fit for Peachtree City.
Grisham took Ms. Haddix’s personal, face-to-face, comment and fed it to the news media to put the issue on public display. Although the move was a bit tasteless on Grisham’s part, no one on the City Council convicted him of negativity. On the same note, Grisham also released an email Mayor Haddix had sent him complaining about the liberalization of alcohol laws in the city.
In the email, Haddix described former Mayor Harold Logsdon as attending a City Council meeting “part drunk.” Of course, many of us know Logsdon is not allergic to alcohol.
Council member Eric Imker brought up the charge that Haddix had made a negative comment about the Fayette County Development Authority. A flustered Imker said the mayor claimed the Development Authority did attract Panasonic, Hoshizaki, Sany, TDK, Rinnai, etc., to Peachtree City. Not only is Haddix’s claim not negative, but it is true, as the state government recruited those corporations and brought them to the county.
Council member Vanessa Fleisch said Haddix had made comments about how he wanted Fayette County to change regions instead of staying in the Atlanta Regional Commission and subsidizing MARTA and becoming part of a regional mass transit system.
Those words are true and what worries me is why Fleisch would want to remain in that situation instead of landing in another region and having more funds to spend on road projects in our own county.
A couple of the council members claimed Haddix was creating dissension in the region. That was an outright lie fabricated by Fayetteville Mayor Ken Steele to get Haddix removed as our regional representative. In fact, I met with county leaders from all the metro counties and most of them did not even know who Don Haddix was.
As the juvenile attack on Haddix continued, the audience quickly realized the definition of “negativity” was any opinion that failed to agree with the three member majority’s views. In other words, if you speak out against them, you are going to see some real negativity coming your way.
At one point, Imker blurted out, “He [Haddix] is delusional!” Funny how Imker did not think his comment was negative.
You probably read about it in the newspapers, but Haddix was officially censured on a 3-2 vote.
Half of the audience members who made public comments said that all five of the council members were not working well and that all five could be replaced. One gentleman observed that the coming headline about censuring the mayor would evoke negativity itself.
We have had several instances where elected officials and local citizens have been rebuked for attempting to make a point in the public forum.
Take note, we are slowly losing it and you will figure it out when it’s gone.
Fayette County Board of Commissioners, Post 4
Peachtree City, Ga.
[Brown is a former mayor of Peachtree City.]