Letter: Lessons learned on Northwest Connector deal

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 23, 2016


To the editor:

The journey with the Callaway Road has been long and tedious. We witnessed the result of a back-room deal being exposed.

A meeting took place in early 2014 between the city, the county and the Callaway Foundation. There were five people present. A deal was made to spend several million SPLOST dollars for an extension of the bypass passing through the Callaway property from Vernon Woods and ending at Country Club Drive.

In the initial scramble to explain this we were told that this was merely a logging road. I think that it is still on record with the EPA as being a logging road.

Next we were told that this road was part of the county’s long-range plan. We found that it was not.

Then the road became a “connector” and the county engineer attempted to justify it based on the needs of the public —a solution looking for a problem. His best efforts produced four possible reasons for the road, which ranged from wrong to laughable.

Faced with the facts, the City Council approved the road anyway in the interest of “development.” The county commissioners followed suit. They approved spending SPLOST dollars for a road that has no purpose and for a development plan that does not exist and for which the cost to the taxpayers is unlimited. We will be on the hook for all costs above $2 million. There is a blank check to build this road through the Callaway property.

There are several lessons here, which are worth sharing:

First, the idea that our elected officials govern our community is a myth. They are well-meaning people who can only deal with what they are told by municipal employees.

They were not told about the deal to spend SPLOST money on this road until the project was well under way. Then they believed everything that they were told.

Second, our SPLOST money goes into a pool — slush fund? — to be spent for projects chosen by city and county employees — not elected officials. If the county had been forced to go to the voters for tax money to build this road through the Callaway property the result would have been quite different.

I, personally, will not vote for another SPLOST unless I know exactly where the money will be spent and who will do the spending.

Third, and most disturbing, is the tendency to “circle the wagons” rather than to engage in public discussion of the issues. Rather than critical thinking, the attitude was that this road must be justified at all costs.

An inbred culture? Political pressure from the Callaway Foundation? Whatever the cause it’s going to cost the taxpayers a lot of money for a road that is not needed.

I’d like to express my sincere gratitude to the hundreds of people who have supported this effort verbally, in writing and financially. My hope is that in the long run we will all benefit. Thank you.

Respectfully submitted,

Dupuy Sears