Haddix: Changed annexation rules lead to conflict of interest

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It is a new year with a new along with an old issue heating up. In this letter to the editor the new annexation ordinance will be covered. The old issue, which ties into this letter, will be updated in the next letter. More on both these issues can be found on donhaddix.com.

In October Peachtree City Council members asked the annexation ordinance be amended to allow the City Council, Planning Commission and/or city staff to file annexation requests on behalf of a property owner. In December it passed without inclusion of city staff.

Currently, only the owner and/or their agent are allowed to file. This the norm for annexation requests, other than ones to eliminate county islands.

For clarity of meaning, agent means the owner’s lawyer, a developer interested in the property and other non-city entities.

This is a conflict of interest, no way around it. How can the Planning Commission or council do an impartial review hearing of an annexation request when they are acting as an agent of the property owner? The vote is a foregone conclusion with the decision made with zero public input or proper questioning.

Of course, they may claim there will be public meetings before they vote. But, in reality, that would be doing a Step One with preliminaries controlled by the Council or Commission acting in a completely biased and partial manner.

Now, say, the county objects and it goes to arbitration. The five member arbitration panel, composed of two each elected officials, from different cities and counties, plus one qualified academic, are not going to be comfortable with this situation.

The county will most assuredly make the panel aware of this situation.

The city will have to rebut, but how? How does the city justify their actions? How does their lawyer deal with their client being both agent for the owner and the city granting the annexation at the same time?

Pity the representative of the city who must testify to the legitimacy of the annexation also having to explain why city officials served in such conflicting roles.

Also consider the troubling issue of undue pressure on staff to not be impartial when evaluating an annexation.

The questions many are asking is, “Why?” What is the motivation for such a change, especially when motivation is a key question in any annexation. Why now? How is this a benefit and not just a power play that looks suspicious? Remember there is not even supposed to be the appearance of impropriety.

All need to remember history. We had a good development authority doing wonderful things with only $35,000 a year in funding in 2010. It was disbanded, which was supported by then-blogger Mike King, because the council majority could not take direct control. The accomplishments ended.

Then they decided to give $75,000 to the Fayette County Development Authority (FCDA) to hire someone to work exclusively — repeat, exclusively — for the benefit of Peachtree City, which has never happened. Already existing responsibilities of the FCDA were simply shifted to that person, so they are in fact working for the county.

Why did we assume normal operating costs already a part of the FCDA?

Spearheaded by Mayor Vanessa Fleisch, more tax money given to Recreation, especially via the Convention and Visitors Bureau, was supposed to be the answer for new revenue. It didn’t work.

Then came the annexation to build homes on the south side of the city. Again, Fleisch claimed it was economic development that would provide revenue for the city. Again, it does not work.

Then there is Line Creek. Yet more retail when we already have too much, that, if they get their wish, will add yet another traffic light to Ga. Highway 54 where there is too much traffic congestion already.

As long as we have so much retail space that is empty or in constant transition, why push for more?

Now, there is this current effort spending yet more money for no gain.

City Manager Jim Pennington said the current policy “has prevented staff from exploring potentially advantageous annexation opportunities.” “That this would allow “marketing” by staff to provide ““smart” expansion around its borders.” The primary targets would be “commercial properties” that could “drive economic development.”

The exclusion of residential property earned, I believe, the no vote from Mayor Vanessa Fleisch. But it does not exclude more retail.

Sure, someone can be hired to act as a clearing house for available properties on the market. But, they cannot only show preferred properties. They must list all.

Then there are private companies who already seek out property for any interested companies.

Trying to persuade people to annex property into Peachtree City is wasted time and money. The top reason property is annexed is for sewer access. Until they need it they are not going to want to be annexed and pay city taxes on top of county taxes.

Annexing the Publix on Hwy. 54 would be good for Peachtree City. They told me they want to come in when the economy reaches a point they feel they can afford to bring the property into compliance with Peachtree City ordinances. So no gain there from this.

Some of the other parcels listed are willing to come in. But, as they told me, as retail only, to maximize their profit.

Staff and private real estate companies cannot apply for state and other grants and incentives usually necessary to attract good jobs.

Development authorities are the only ones who can do all the needed tasks. They are found in both counties and cities throughout the state. Our neighbors, such as Fayette, Fayetteville, Coweta, Newnan, Senoia and Griffin/Spalding have them.

This has gone full circle and the merry-go-round pony Peachtree City is riding has returned to where it was in 2010. Seeking more power means more wasted time, money and no success.

Looking forward, all you can see is confusion and murkiness with more taxes, debt and spending and no plan.

Don Haddix
Peachtree City, Ga.

[Haddix is a former mayor of Peachtree City.]