Is this the next Fayette Commission chairman?


Steve Brown’s position in play as critics challenge his leadership

If Commissioner David Barlow can get another vote next week, Commissioner Charles Oddo (in photo at right) will take the chairmanship from Commissioner Steve Brown.

As custom for the first meeting of the new year, the Fayette County Board of Commissioners next week will vote on who will be its chairman for the 2014 calendar year.

Due largely to behind-the-scenes political sparring, current commission Chairman Brown will be facing a challenge for his leadership role when the agenda item comes up at the commission’s Jan. 9 meeting.

Commissioner David Barlow confirmed Monday that he will support Commissioner Charles Oddo for chair this year, in large part because he feels Brown lacks true leadership skills. Barlow noted that his first preference was to have Commissioner Randy Ognio as chair, but Ognio is far too busy with his electrical business to have the time to handle the role.

While Barlow was complimentary of Brown’s work as a county commissioner, he had harsher words for his work as commission chairman.

“I have said publicly to a number of people that I think that Steve Brown is a dictator from his keyboard and that he is not a leader,” Barlow said. “… I’ve said that publicly bunches of times.”

Barlow’s keyboard comment stems from his unease with Brown writing letters to the editor and blogs which Brown signs at the end as “Fayette County Commission Chairman.” Barlow contends if Brown wants to publish his title with such writings, he should get input from his fellow commissioners before sending them, or instead simply sign it in his individual role as “Fayette County Commissioner.”

Below, left, Commissioner David Barlow.

“It gives the indication that we are in agreement with him, when actually we may not be in agreement with him,” Barlow explained.

Barlow said he has asked Brown to stop that practice “and he refuses to honor that.”

Barlow claims that Oddo already has experience with handling public relations duties for his company and will handle that portion of the job very well.

Brown contends Barlow’s problem is more of a personality conflict that developed early this summer when Barlow vocally supported then-Water System Director Tony Parrott in the middle of the weeks-long crisis involving foul smelling and bad tasting water delivered to homes, restaurants and businesses in the county.

Brown on the other hand was publicly critical of Parrott and urged for him to be fired, but ultimately with the support of the commission Parrott initially was disciplined instead of demoted, and several weeks later he was demoted for failing to make adequate progress on recovering from the foul water problem.

Parrott weeks after the incident admitted that he had incorrectly guessed at the cause of the smelly, foul water which was later attributed to equipment problems and improper procedures undertaken at the Crosstown Water Treatment Plant.

While the commission chairman’s role largely involves running the meetings, whoever is chairman by law is a voting member of the Atlanta Regional Commission, a planning agency for the 10-county metro area which controls the purse strings to federal and state transportation dollars.

Brown contends that he has been able to successfully lobby for $8 million in land acquisition funds for interchange improvements at Interstate 85 and Ga. Highway 74 just across the county line in Fairburn where many Fayette residents meet a choke point during their daily commute.

Brown said he is still pushing for a partial cloverleaf design that would allow southbound traffic leaving the interstate to spiral up to Hwy. 74 so it could merge into the southbound lanes, but the Georgia Department of Transportation hasn’t made a final decision yet.

Barlow, citing unnamed sources he has spoken to privately, counters that Brown is despised by his counterparts at the ARC to the point where they do not want to work with him on Fayette projects.

Barlow contended that Oddo would be a better fit with ARC in terms of working with other regional officials, and he added that Public Works Director Phil Mallon is really the county’s point man for transportation issues in the region.

“He understands the road conditions, the road needs, what the Georgia Department of Transportation will do,” Barlow said. “… Brown actually interferes with our ability to get along with, and potentially make long term arrangements with, the ARC.”

Brown said if Barlow’s goal is to agree with every cause advanced by ARC, then it would be counterproductive for Fayette County, in large part because Brown contends that attitude is what got Fayette included in a regional mass transportation plan several years ago.

Barlow also claims that Brown is interfering with regular county government operations, and he pointed to a push Brown is making to install a four-way stop on Redwine Road at the intersection of the Whitewater Creek and Highgrove subdivisions. Barlow says Brown promised the four-way stop to residents, even though it doesn’t meet the county’s regulations that require proof that a four-way stop is necessary.

Brown says the county should look at changing those regulations to accommodate a four-way stop, particularly because there have been close calls with golf carts crossing Redwine Road from one subdivision to the other. There is no room to put a tunnel under the road, Brown noted.

Below, left, current Commission Chairman Steve Brown.

When the matter is brought up for a vote by the commission, Barlow is free to vote against it, Brown said.

“I think everything I’m going to do from this point forward, he’s just going to kick sand at it, I guess,” Brown said.

Earlier this year, a provision of the county’s ethics ordinance prevented commissioners from becoming involved in dealing with county staffers; instead a previous informal policy was to have commissioners take issues to the county administrator to be handled appropriately as he saw fit.

But the current commission eliminated that restriction from the ethics ordinance earlier this year, citing that it prevented them from doing something as mundane as informing staff that a restroom was out of toilet paper, for example.

“It is what it is,” Brown said of his conflict with Barlow. “Unfortunately it’s more of a personality thing than an issues debate.”

Brown said he has tried to be “very civil and very professional about the way we conduct our business, and we have been extremely open and extremely transparent and have tried to reach out to the public whenever possible and I think we had a lot of productive results to show for it.”