Commissioner Oddo: Car show, religious liberty, and public safety

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I would first like to thank those individuals who have reached out to me privately regarding the Flat Creek Baptist Church car show permit, and the opportunity I had to share my thoughts.

Those who know me individually, and those who have observed me over my time as a County Commissioner, know that my decisions are based in reason. My starting point is established by the Georgia Constitution and the Official Code of Georgia for all County Commissioners.

Commissioners are “charged with the responsibility of providing a system of local government services designed to ‘protect the health, safety, and welfare’ of their citizens.” Religious liberty and public safety are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the latter that helps protect and preserve the former.

Fayette County does not require permits for activities normally associated with Church functions, like daily or weekly church services, choir practices, church dinners, etc, nor would I ever expect such.

However, the Car Show is not an anticipated event. It was staged in a location not zoned for car shows, and was heavily promoted to the general public in the hope that it would attract many participants, spectators, and newcomers.

Car shows are wonderful. As a matter of fact, I still have the 1966 Chrysler New Yorker my family drove to Fayetteville when we moved here in 1970, and my brother has a convertible 1976 Cadillac Eldorado. We enjoy driving both in parades. So why a permit?

A permit is used to obtain basic information that will be extremely helpful to our First Responders if a situation were to arise requiring their assistance at an unfamiliar event, basic information not normally an issue. For example, where is ingress and egress designated to be? Where will cars be parked? Will there be a safety plan? Is there a sanitation plan? None of this information, nor the sharing of it, suppresses religious liberty.

At a Board of Commission meeting prior to the event, one Flat Creek church member commented on the extra security and sanitary stations the church was setting up to handle the large crowds. That comment was certainly recognition of the concerns the County had.

It is a reasonable precaution on the County’s part, and a reasonable expectation on our residents’ part, that the County be prepared for any unexpected emergencies or circumstances that could arise at such events.

By the same reasoning that Senator Harbin and others have used to object to this permit, should then, the County NOT require permits for building churches? Should the County NOT require permits to install electrical wiring and fire suppression systems? Should the Department of Health NOT permit sanitary septic systems? Should Fire and EMS NOT perform basic fire inspections each year? Should the Flat Creek Baptist Church NOT receive an exemption from paying annual property tax as it does now?

I am aware of no objections to these permits or tax exemption by any church. These interactions with the County help ensure public safety for the congregation, for its guests, and for its neighbors who live or travel in the area. They do not suppress religious liberty.

If an emergency were to occur during a car show event, the first three numbers to be dialed would be 9-1-1. God forbid such a tragedy should occur, and the county not respond timely due to lack of basic information. Readers, you are no doubt aware there was another very large car show held the same day the church car show occurred, and for which the County had to simultaneously prepare.

Flat Creek Baptist Church is a valuable member of the Fayette community, which I serve. There is no reason the Church and the County could not have worked together to ensure the success and safety of its car show. There is no harm in that. Common interactions with the County help ensure the health, safety, and welfare of our community.

As a Commissioner and a resident of Fayette County since 1970, I fully support Flat Creek Baptist Church having a car show. I hope the event this year was hugely successful and safe.

The world needs God now more than ever. I would hope bringing people to God would be so successful that Flat Creek Baptist Church would have to expand its sanctuary. But please let the County do its part by providing for the public safety.

I respectfully encourage Flat Creek Baptist Church to be our partner, and to work with the County by providing the basic information requested in a permit for future car shows, for the benefit of our entire community.

I hope I have shed a light on my reasons that you readers and members of Flat Creek Baptist Church will consider. We all want the best for our residents.

Respectfully,

Charles W. Oddo

Fayette County Commissioner

District 5 At-Large

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