By Josh Akeman
At Thursday's Fayette County Board of Commissioners meeting, former County Commissioner Lee Hearn challenged new commissioner David Barlow for failing to fulfill campaign promises.
In particular, Hearn said that Barlow had stated during debates that he would support fellow incoming commissioner Randy Ognio for commission chairman, and would push for local political activist Bob Ross to fill the county administrator seat vacated by Jack Krakeel. Instead, Barlow supported commissioner Steve Brown, who was elected chairman, and also voted for Steve Rapson, who now fills the county administrator seat.
Hearn, who lost his commission seat to Randy Ognio in November’s general election, addressed Barlow about his promise to support Ognio for Chair: "that was a promise you made to the taxpayers and voters of this county. However, when you voted last week you voted for Mr. Brown. I would consider this a broken promise that sets a poor tone for your record of campaign promises."
Hearn said the failure to push for Ross as county administrator was another broken promise, saying he "would also begin to wonder if you truly had intentions of doing what you promised the voters that you would do. Many are watching your actions and you probably realize you will be held accountable."
Barlow responded to Hearn's comments later in the night during commissioner's comments.
"When we went and took our training in Athens at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, we were addressed by the executive director, Mr. Ross King. He said one of the first things that you need to learn to do is, as you get into office, you will find that you're going to change your opinion about some things from when you were campaigning, because now you have inside information," Barlow said.
He went on, agreeing that he did say he would nominate Ognio and push for Ross. He said Ognio thanked him and said, "I will not consider it, don't bother mentioning my name."
He said the response from Ross was also a no, thanks.
Ross, in attendance at the meeting, had commented earlier that he indeed had never been interested in the county administrator job but was flattered to have been considered.
In addition to his remarks for Barlow, Hearn addressed four additional concerns to the new commission, questioning the transparency of the county manger hiring process; the validity of Brown, a former NAACP member, leading discussions in the ongoing NAACP lawsuit against the county; the future of the West Fayetteville Bypass; and the plans for the budget.
The incoming commissioners faced some scrutiny for conducting county administrator interviews without notifying the public, potentially in violation of the recently changed state Open Meetings law.
"I would like to know the names of the top three candidates considered for the county administrator job, as this is required by law, and these are to be posted I believe for two weeks. I'd like to know where these were posted or advertised," Hearn said.
Brown, interviewed the following day, agreed the interviews had been done without his knowledge that the law had changed, but says Hearn himself was given a top-three list and that Hearn, with the other commissioners, prevented Brown and the incoming commission from reprising the process using the new law.
"That's the irony of the whole thing" Brown said, "I think it's a bunch of sour grapes personally. For him to question that is kind of hypocritical."
Hearn also questioned Brown's past membership in the NAACP and how it may conflict with NAACP's pending lawsuit against the county over district voting.
"Do all members of the board of commissioners know that Mr. Brown, as is my understanding, has been a member of the NAACP in the past? I would ask the question, can he represent the county's best interests after being a member? It might be good to ask why Mr. Brown was a member and is not currently one," Hearn said.
Brown says he believes his membership ended in 2006, and says it remains to be seen what will happen with the negotiations.
"Here's the thing, there are alot of African-American people who live in this county. I love them dearly, they're good honest people. Some of them in the north Fayette area feel they havent been properly represented in the past, and I agree with them 100 percent. Our new board is going to make sure the representation is absolutely fair across the board, no matter what your skin color, whatever else across the board," Brown said.
Hearn also questioned the new board's plans for the West Fayetteville Bypass, asking "Will you finish it? What are your plans? I believe many would like to know and how much money has been spent on the project to date and what remains to be funded."
Brown says "the West Bypass was considered a boondoggle project, I will say our board will take a serious look at the bypass and the undeveloped land around it and try to turn this lemon into some lemonade."
Hearn's final concern was for how the new board plans to handle the budget.
"I believe this board's top priority should be to set the policy to drive the preparation of the 2014 budget. Questions like will services be cut, will personnel be cut? How do we deal with declining revenues and rising costs of services? Will taxes be raised, will you spend the fund balance? The citizens expect great services. The safety of our citizens depend on them," Hearn said.
Brown feels Hearn's budget comments were "quite ironic because he deficit budgeted for four straight years, so for him to say anything about how we budget when we've only had this board for a grand total of about thirty days is utterly ridiculous."
Hearn wished the board success, adding, "expect to see me often."
Brown maintains that Hearn has little ground to stand on for his criticisms: "Like I said I think this is just whining and sour grapes, no different than [former commissioner Robert] Horgan's ethics complaint against me. These claims don't have a lot of merit."