The new year hasn’t even started and it looks like the Fayette County Board of Commissioners is already tackling the tough problems -- like accord among board members. It’s apparent there is a battle underway for control of the commission and the decision is going to turn on two members who have yet to say anything about it.
If commissioner David Barlow can get the votes - and he believes he can- commission chairman Steve Brown will be taking a backseat to a new chairman on January 9. Barlow, a first term commissioner himself, said he’s supporting fellow first-termer Charles Oddo for chairman.
The power struggle between Brown and Barlow initially surfaced in May, when the county’s water system problems first emerged and Barlow jumped to the defense of then water system director Tony Parrott. Brown, on the other hand, began pushing for a complete change of directorship, pointing out the severe problems the system was facing and the lack of communication between Parrott and the commission.
Brown says that Barlow kept defending Parrott and made an attempt to keep on engineering company Mallett and Associates, despite Brown saying the engineering company wasn’t competent enough to run the system.
“The county has been in a no-bid situation with Mallett for over 30 years. He’s defending these people. He got livid with me when I kept coming out and saying we have severe problems in the water system and it was going to kill somebody,’ Brown said.
Brown also said Barlow, at an open commission meeting, called Parrott “one of the finest employees the county had” and if he “was proved wrong, he would throw the second stone.”
“I’m still waiting for the second stone. He backed away when it came to demoting Tony. He has built such hatred over this issue. I don’t know if it is because he was proved utterly wrong or if he still believes it.”
Barlow is not critiqueing Brown’s work on the commission, but rather his method of operation, calling him a ‘digital dictator’ and decrying what he calls Brown’s controversial way of dealing with situations, including writing emails and blog posts and particularly signing the emails with his title as commission chairman.
“I’ve asked him to stop doing it. Others have asked him to stop doing it, but it continues. That’s what he does, he creates controversial situations and then throws fuel on the fire, feeding on anyone who attempts to resolve it,” Barlow said.
The latest battle brewing between the two commissioners is a result of a request from residents in the Whitewater and High Grove subdivisions regarding the problem golf carts were having crossing Redwine Road at the Quarters/Birkdale Road intersection. According to an email from resident Bob Carty, he was the one who initially brought up the problem and received the support of the presidents of both homeowners associations.
“After considerable discussion we all agreed that the most practical approach would be to install a four-way stop at the intersection.”
Carty said that the residents worked with Brown and county engineer Phil Mallon on the project.
Barlow says that Brown was making promises of getting the problem taken care of, when, according to Barlow, the intersection doesn’t meet the minimum criteria of a stop sign. He said he had gone to the site and asked Mallon about the problem and was informed about the criteria.
Carty’s email indicates that Brown didn’t promise anything, but “agreed to work with Mr. Mallon and the other commissioners to help reach a solution.”
Barlow took exception with Brown’s suggestion that he [Brown] get one of the county vans to take commissioners, residents, Mallon and a member of the road department around Peachtree City, where Brown was mayor before his commission election, to see how the city resolved similar problems during his administration.
“The other four commissioners didn’t approve that. [county administrator Steve] Rapson didn’t approve it. We’re not approving county resources to do something like this.” Barlow said such a trip would ‘give homeowners the impression they would get it’. “He didn’t like me taking issue with it and now it’s David Barlow creating division. He doesn’t like the answers so he creates controversy. I never said I didn’t like him.
“I looked at the issue to see if it’s what’s best for Fayette. Steve made this about me. I’m disagreeing with him, but I was elected to make decisions that were best for the county,” Barlow said.
“The day working with your constituents is wrong is the day we lose our sense of community. If commissioner Barlow does not like something might propose he is more than welcome to vote against it. But cutting off the communication and hampering my efforts to look for solutions is unacceptable,” said Brown.
Barlow indicated he wasn’t the only one having a problem with Brown’s leadership and that Oddo had a long conversation with Brown himself before he left for a month-long stay in Columbia with his wife’s family. According to an email from Oddo, forwarded from Barlow,
“..after a great deal of consideration I’ve decided to present an option to the board of commissions and offer my services as chairman in 2014, in lieu of reelecting Steve Brown, should the board wish to have me as its chair.”
Oddo’s email to Brown, included with the forwarded missive from Barlow, thanked him for taking the time to discuss his concerns.
“Truthfully, I’d rather not be in the position that I now find myself. I don't take lightly the tremendous effort you’ve put forth. Truthfully, I’d rather not be in the position that I now find myself. You and I have had some discussions over the months and have agreed to disagree as you put it. I know you understand my feelings, and trust you also understand my opinions don’t deter from the appreciation I have for you and the work you’ve done.
“I have to balance my decisions against what is in the best interests of the county. The county needs a chairman who is strong, but who also avoids controversy. The county needs a chairman to be extra cautious of the ramifications of his statements and actions. Neither of these conditions rise to the level of requisite on your chair-meter,” Oddo wrote.
In the email, Oddo said he asked Brown to stop blogging and editorializing, consult with fellow commissioners before he went public with comments on policy or staff and asked him to be a team leader and stop negatively referring to individuals.
“Considering you have already expressed such changes would be difficult at best, I believe it is appropriate that the other commissioners have an option for chairman, and I will offer myself as that option if they so choose.”
Brown says that Barlow has frequently vented his rage at executive session meetings and in emails.
“There is no way a competent elected official could look at what David is doing behind the scenes and vote for him for any position of authority. You just couldn't. The screaming fits, vulgar, rude comments... he hacks you into small pieces in the background while showing the good Christian in front of everyone.”
More than that, Brown said that one of Barlow’s emails dismayed him enough to send a copy to each commissioner and to the Sheriff’s office.
The email noted “I’ll simply say that I will have an expose prepared to reveal who you really are should you run your moth and denigrate Mallett. The ball is in your court.” Another comment in the email, and one that Brown was worried about said “God has given me freedom to deal with you.”
Brown said he made everyone else aware of the contents of the email ‘just in case’.
“I’m trying to stand up to a guy who’s trying to bully people,” said Barlow.