Two categories of local government officials

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There are times when we look at local government and wonder what in the world they were thinking.

Consider how many times you have heard someone running for office stating how much they love the community, desire to protect the community, and want to improve the community. Then you watch in utter disillusionment as they take one action after another that makes no sense at all.

You can easily divide these wayward local government officials into two categories: don’t care and intentional deceivers.

Category 1: Don’t know, don’t care

The first category is officials who do not know what they are doing and do not care to learn.

The most recent example of this grouping is the total bungling of the new county government animal shelter. In past years, local animal advocacy groups attempted to promote changes in how dogs and cats are processed under the county’s animal control system. The county’s board of commissioners rejected all those efforts, ordering county staff not to even speak to the advocacy groups.

Thinking they knew better, the commissioners proposed to keep the worn, outdated policies and procedures, building a new $3.2 million animal shelter instead.

Upon completion of the new animal shelter, it was extremely apparent that there was no attempt to research how to design an adequate shelter. County taxpayers are shaking their heads in disbelief.

The local animal advocacy groups were kept at arms-length during the design process, and our tax dollars were rolled into an ill-designed project that is less effective than the old shelter facility they abandoned.

Red-faced, county officials began pointing fingers at and blaming the animal advocacy groups who never asked for a new shelter in the first place.

So, did the commissioners and county officials intentionally build the deficient excuse for an animal shelter on purpose? I seriously doubt it because it hurts them politically. However, they certainly proved they were ignorant of how to build such a facility and did not care enough to seek professional guidance, wasting a significant amount of our tax dollars.

A non-government Fayette County Community Animal Task Force has been created to force the county government to resolve the issues with the new animal shelter (see: https://thecitizen.com/2024/06/04/fayette-county-needs-help-steering-the-bus/).

Historic defeat

Unfortunately, the county board of commissioners landed in the “don’t care” category, again, with the approval of a gas station and strip shopping center across the road from the historic landmark Starr’s Mill site. The mill has long been considered one of the most photogenic sites in Fayette County and Georgia, appearing all over the internet.

While on the board of commissioners, I put a lot of effort into preserving the few historical structures remaining in Fayette County. Those structures include New Hope Primitive Baptist Church, the old county courthouse building, Starr’s Mill, and some historic cemeteries.

I worked with the county planning staff on creating an overlay zone on the adjacent properties around the mill site that created additional zoning restrictions for site design and architecture that blended with that of the mill. At the time, the board was pushing to have professional buildings (doctors, dentists, attorneys, etc.) on the surrounding properties because it would be easier to match the architectural style of the mill building.

To the dismay of many, the board of commissioners approved a rezoning for one of the worst-case scenarios with the gas station and the strip shopping center in 2022. The approval flew under the public radar as the Covid-19 drama was a primary focus.

The problem with the gas station and strip shopping center is it’s a horrible idea to have a fuel station or chemical usage near the confluence of Camp Creek and Whitewater Creek (our drinking water supply). It’s a genuine water quality issue.

Likewise, the modern gas station is a horrible architectural blending issue for the Starr’s Mill site. And from a practical perspective, the traffic from a gas station at the intersection of Georgia Highways 85 and 74 is a really bad idea.

The renderings of the buildings proposed by the developer are low-budget horrendous. The rezoning was approved by the commissioners with those cheap-looking architectural drawings.

Did the board ever research previous commissioners’ prior work on the overlay zoning and the discussions related to the sites adjacent to Starr’s Mill? It looks as though that never happened.

Did the commissioners ever care about preserving the historical feel and integrity of that very small but notable slice of Fayette County? Apparently, they did not.

Fayette County resident and FOX 5 news broadcaster Doug Evans also covered this issue (see: https://fox5atlanta.com/news/fayette-county-debates-impact-gas-station-beloved-starrs-mill-landmark).

Shocking results in Fayetteville

When the city council in Fayetteville began working on the then-secret project, later revealed as the huge data centers, did any of them research to see what was required? I can answer that: no, they did not.

There was no evaluation of electrical capacity requirements and the impact on Fayette County residents and their property values. Chalk up another one in the “don’t care” column.

Local homeowners were blindsided by Georgia Power playing the role of the 800-pound gorilla, planting high-voltage power lines right in their backyards.

Did the city council negotiate with the electrical utility and the developer as part of the development agreement on the least harmful placement of the new huge high-voltage lines leading to the data centers? I can answer that: no, they did not.

Did the city council meet with adjacent homes and subdivisions to brief them on their intentions and ask for feedback? No, they did not. Had they done so, the homeowners would have done the research that the city government should have performed.

To say the local residents are very concerned is an understatement (see: https://thecitizen.com/2024/04/29/warning-high-voltage-lines-for-data-center-bring-health-risks/).

The city council was most likely too busy planning the next allotments of huge stacked multi-family residential complexes in what used to be a place with a great small-town vibe, attracting quality families.

Citizens in Fayetteville are dreading the announcement of another top-secret project landing on 178 acres near the downtown (see: https://thecitizen.com/2024/04/22/still-secret-178-acre-project-moves-forward-with-unanimous-go-ahead-vote-by-fayetteville-council/). The city council has a bad habit of thrusting the large developments on the citizens with almost no citizen input.

Do the council members care about quality of life issues like traffic, school crowding, and public safety? I do not see it. The city is pondering yet another annexation and rezoning for 273 apartments on East Weatherly Drive off Ga. Highway 54 East. Will your property tax bill continue to grow to pay for the city council’s urban development folly?

Category 2: Pulling the wool over constituents’ eyes

The second category is intentional deceivers. The most prominent actor in this category has been Peachtree City Mayor Kim Learnard.

Learnard knows how the system works, knows the law, and is acting intentionally. She took over all the communications of the city to the exclusion of all other council members (see: https://thecitizen.com/2024/05/06/welcome-to-the-taxpayer-supported-mayor-kim-learnard-channel-all-kim-all-the-time/).

Now, she wants to create an $80,000-per-year communications director position to consolidate and focus on her agenda messaging even more. Meanwhile, you buy fewer groceries for the dollar while paying more taxes.

Learnard’s deeds have been deliberate and covered in political puffery (see examples: https://thecitizen.com/2024/02/19/mayor-wants-her-way-heres-a-list-so-far/).

A recent example is when she gave significant across-the-board employee pay and pension increases and bonuses while telling the television news stations it would “not cost the taxpayers a dime” (see: https://thecitizen.com/2023/04/10/mayor-misleads-about-cost-of-city-pay-raises/). She thinks you are stupid enough to believe it.

Another recent example would be her harsh restrictions on public speech in public government meetings (see: https://thecitizen.com/2024/04/01/warning-subversion-of-public-access-to-the-agenda-for-the-peachtree-city-council-is-coming/). There is only one reason to squelch public speech.

Under the direction of then-Mayor Vanessa Fleisch and current Mayor Learnard, the city’s planning department is being used as a weapon against our planned community (see: https://thecitizen.com/2023/08/21/planning-department-warring-against-long-standing-peachtree-city-plan/).

Where the other jurisdictions either do not know what they are doing or do not care, Learnard is on a mission. She knows that to forward her change-the-city agenda she must restrict opposing measures from her colleagues and silence public criticism.

Unfortunately, Learnard has two council members who are uninformed and inexperienced enough to help her achieve her goals.

So, what now?

Someone once said, “The quality of our lives depends not on whether or not we have conflicts, but on how we respond to them.” How do you intend to respond?

If you do not vote in local elections, blame yourself for local problems. If you do not communicate your displeasure to our elected officials, do not expect them to change course.

It’s sadly staggering how things have deteriorated. We are a unique metro Atlanta community and most local folks I speak to do not want to be another Fulton, Cobb, DeKalb, or Gwinnett County.

Regrettably, many people do not respond until those bad decisions impact their personal property. By that time, it’s too late.

Those who legislate

If you are in elected office or deciding to run for elected office, you need to understand why people moved to Fayette County and not some other county. Would radical changes in development patterns make us more like the counties our citizens chose to avoid?

Serving in an elected office is not a part-time job if you do it correctly. If you are unwilling to take the time necessary to learn how things work, do not enter the race. If you are not willing to care about the impact your decisions might have on people’s lives and the future of the cities and county, do not enter the race.

Allow someone who is knowledgeable and cares to do the job.

[Brown is a former mayor of Peachtree City and served two terms on the Fayette County Board of Commissioners. You can read all his columns by clicking on his photo below.]

17 COMMENTS

  1. OMG! Have you opened your tax assessment yet??

    Steve Brown nails it when he says they don’t care. Ever since Vanessa Fleisch was mayor it’s been continous large tax increases. Just stop already!!

    Can someone in the county government be sued for the screwed up animal shelter? Who is looking into this?

  2. Not all emails are answered, leading to sentiments of distrust. Effective communications tend to promote:

    Honesty – transparency and truthfulness in conveying information.
    Respect – treating others with consideration and valuing their perspectives.
    Empathy – understanding and acknowledging the feelings and experiences of others.
    Clarity – ensuring messages are clear, concise, and easily understood by recipients.

    Given these characteristics, effective communication translates to trust and confidence in government. Email, blogs, and other means of communication are not nearly as effective as talking to someone.

    • Doug, I’ve never had a PTC mayor, council member, or any other city government dept fail to respond to my emails. Sorry if your results aren’t the same. You lobbying for the new $80,000 job?

      • Hometown. Thank you for asking. I’m not lobbying for a new PTC personnel position opening. I’m indirectly lobbying for better Council communication. I want my grandkids to grow up trusting and building confidence in their government. That means honest, respectful, empathetic, and clear two-way communication. For example, the writer of this article writes negatively about our city’s government. While much of it is nonsense, there is enough truth to make it reasonable. How should our kids and grandkids respond to such things? Anyone on the Council can correct the insinuations in a couple of minutes. The problem is that they don’t. I prefer not to use names, but when was the last time Suzanne Brown, or fellow Councilmember, or candidate for Council, addressed anything in “The Citizen?” Simply stating, “We have heard you” on a streaming or linked video isn’t enough. There is little, if any, public discourse in Council meetings. Public feedback is virtually nonexistent; “Mondays with the Mayor” doesn’t do much other than set the Mayor’s agenda for illustrating what a remarkable place we have in PTC. I call a lot of it “eyewash.” Granted, PTC government does well with communicating public safety, but that is a given, a government’s purpose is to protect. I want more. I want my government to lead and maintain our trust and confidence. So, Hometown, to answer your question, I don’t necessarily think we need an $80-125K Communications Director, I think we need our elected officials and staff to communicate with us at our level. Lead without trying to control.

        P.s., I received a response in one of three emails this past year. The response was “We received your email.” I did receive a separate email to thank me for being civil.

  3. OMG! Have you opened your tax assessment yet??

    Steve Brown nails it when he says they don’t care. Ever since Vanessa Fleisch was mayor it’s been continous large tax increases. Just stop already!!

    Can someone in the county government be sued for the screwed up animal shelter? Who is looking into this???

  4. It’s a bit ironic to be lectured at for “being stupid” while this opinion writer cites to a letter with make-believe science about high-voltage power lines.

    Steve, do you think I’m too stupid to realize that?

    • Whether you believe the science or not answer this honestly.. Would you be happy to give up half of your homes value, have all of your trees cut down so that Georgia Power could install a 180 foot tall pole, 230 kv transmission lines, and surveillance equipment yards away from your house so that the QTS data center could be powered off of something other than the existing Georgia Transmission infrastructure because QTS deserves customers choice?

      • I do believe in the science, that’s why I don’t like the cite to the letter that Steve had. Steve is more than capable of providing his own thoughts about Georgia Power. In fact, he does that in his column. There was simply no need to link to that letter.

        My point is merely that Steve is calling voters who blindly trust Kim stupid while peddling the same level of misinformation. Two wrongs don’t make him right.

        • The letter literally just says the residents impacted by this homes will be in the radius that is dangerous to human and animal health and that people with unilaterally programmed pace makers won’t be able to mitigate the EMF exposure and are at high risk.. really not seeing what about that got you so worked up and blindsided

          • “The letter literally just says the residents impacted by this homes will be in the radius that is dangerous to human and animal health”

            ^Yeah, that. That is NOT true. The letter-writer wrote misinformation, and now Steve is repeating it.

    • It blows my mind how anyone would blindly trust any massive corporation let alone crucify someone who is scared and trying to let their neighbors know what’s coming. No one should sign an easement offer from a financial standpoint especially when their offering you $2,000 for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of devaluation to your property.. plus if you agree to the offer when AT&T wants to run fiber there they pay Georgia Power to use the easement not the home owner.. but if the property owner refuses the offer and GPC seizes the land through eminent domain it limits their usage rights and AT&T has to pay the property owner.

    • 3d category? Those who were around when he was mayor and while on the County Commission would classify him somewhat more harshly. He does paint his portrait in a favorable light, however. Wasn’t it only a couple weeks ago that he gave himself credit for Pinewood(now Trillith) when he was completely kept away by those involved?

  5. Unless it’s in today’s “The Slice,” I haven’t seen the Council attempt to gather citizen ideas. Many have more perceptions than those surfacing in surveys. I’m not opposed to a Communications Director. Maybe a Communications Director will answer our questions as well as relay our thoughts to the Council.

    • PTC once had an irreplaceable communications person, Ms. Betsy Tyler. She was so very helpful in not only providing information but also relaying inquiries for further answers. Again, Ms. Tyler is not replaceable. But we can use someone of her caliber. A person like that is worth more than $80,000 to me.

      • What is the communication problem PTC’s mayor is trying to solve with this position, Doug? It’s not apparent to me that we need a Communications Director for a town of 40,000 to “relay inquiries” for someone else to answer, or to be the mayor’s press secretary.

        I may be mistaken, but aren’t we already paying $50,000+ a year for a company to gather citizen input? Either way, since Ms Tyler is unavailable, there must be a clearer cost / benefit explanation given to make this $80,000 addition (easily $100,000+ with benefits) a city budget priority.

        On the bright side, at least the mayor isn’t proposing a Director of DEI. Cheers.