Board of commissioners continues divisive dialogue
A divided Board of Commissioners continued to disagree Friday about whether Thursday night’s 3-2 consensus decision in favor of Commissioner Mort Ewing’s SPLOST proposal was the result of backroom politics or a show of leadership.
Commissioners Ewing, Tim Fleming and J.C. Henderson pledged support for the $57.6 million SPLOST proposal that Ewing presented for the first time at Thursday night’s work session, leading to allegations of a pre-arranged deal meant to stymie public discourse.
“It’s pretty apparent that three commissioners came to the meeting with a prearranged plan. People need to decide if they’re willing to put up with backroom politics,” Schulz said Friday. “If you’ll recall, they didn’t even want to discuss the list; they just accepted that carte blanche. None of us had seen the list in that context before.”
Both Ewing and Schulz presented proposals Thursday night, and Ewing said Friday that Schulz and Chairman Kathy Morgan were simply upset that their list was not chosen.
He said he met with Fleming, Schulz and Morgan prior to the meeting, but never met with Henderson or Commissioner Earnest Simmons, and never showed his final list to anyone.
“I understand their feelings and position, but in the absence of leadership somebody
has to step up to the table… my notes go back to Aug. 29, when we were first handed a SPLOST timeline. Quite frankly, I had waited for Ms. Morgan to put a list together. It became evident to me, specifically last Saturday, that the chairman was not going to put a list forward,” Ewing said. “When I was involved in SPLOST five years ago, I followed the same system. I met with chairman and various commissioners, then I came up with a proposed list.”
Schulz and Simmons said they opposed Ewing’s list because it contained projects specific to districts 1 and 4. Schulz said her proposal contained no district-specific projects and Simmons said each district should be treated fairly.
On Ewing’s proposal there is a line item for “District 4 Improvements” at $1.1 million. Ewing said only Henderson and Simmons had district-specific requests, though Fleming initially listed a fire station request and Schulz had a couple of district-specific road projects. Because District 2 had just received a new library and park, Ewing felt District 4 should be given first priority this time around.
Ewing said he left the District 4 item vague, because he wanted Henderson to pick the projects he felt were most worthwhile. However, Ewing said all projects will have to come back before the board for approval.
The $1.1 million does exactly match the revised, trimmed list of projects that Henderson presented Thursday, and Morgan said that fact made it likely that some form of communication had taken place between the two parties prior to Thursday.
As for the “Agricultural Facility” listed on his proposal at $1.1 million, Ewing said that project was supported by the local Cattleman’s Association, Farm Bureau, FFA club and 4-H club. He said it will be an agricultural youth and meeting facility, that will provide FFA and 4-H students with a place to keep and train their animals.
Schulz and Simmons wanted to go down the lists line-by-line Thursday night, but a consensus had been reached and the other three commissioners expressed a desire to not spend time in further discussion.
Schulz said Friday that she felt that Ewing and Fleming had not honored prior commitments, which was the most disconcerting outcome of Thursday’s meeting. She said at the Oct. 13 meeting, which neither local media outlet attended, that each commissioner, except Simmons who was absent, had agreed to prepare a final SPLOST list to give to the chairman by Tuesday of this week.
However, only Schulz and Henderson presented their lists. Ewing said Friday that Schulz made that recommendation at the end of the meeting, but that the commissioners did not formally agree. He said he spent much of his free time over the next few days with his brother who had come from out of town.
Schulz and Morgan said Ewing’s list also has several new projects that will lead to increased maintenance and operations costs for the county. Fleming had previously made a point of voicing concern about increasing future maintenance costs. Morgan said she didn’t oppose the projects, like the Miracle League field, Historic Jail and fire station, but said they could increase costs. Schulz said she felt the county should have had fewer projects on the SPLOST and paid off more debt.
“What happened last night, (the list) was not open for discussion. Here’s the deal, this is it, take it or leave it. It crossed the line, and quite frankly it crossed the line when Mr. Fleming and Mr. Ewing had not submitted lists as we agreed to do,” Schulz said.
Ewing said he researched every project on his list and was satisfied the county could handle all costs. He added that every project presented to the board has been discussed at several previous meetings.
Everyone spoken to Friday agreed that no illegal meetings had taken place, and everyone agreed that building consensus is an important part of politics. However, there was clearly no consensus about whether Thursday night’s politics were the good or bad kind.