SPLOST Makes for Strange Bedfellows

SPLOST Makes for Strange Bedfellows

If I were drawing up a Bizzaro World list of enemies and allies in local politics,
I would be hard pressed to imagine the alliances being formed on both sides of the
upcoming Augusta Special Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) vote.
Mayoral Candidate Helen Blocker-Adams and the Infamous Ryan B say “NO.”
Mayor Deke Copenhaver and Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree say
Commissioner Al Mason and Activist Brad Owens say “NO.”
State Senator Hardie Davis and Commissioner William Fennoy say “YES.”
Go figure.
Tuesday’s super secret press conference called at the last minute by the mayor and the
sheriff to tout the public safety aspects of the omnibus $197 million SPLOST plan was
ill-timed and poorly executed. No idea who is calling the public relations shots for the
pair these days, or for the pro-SPLOST effort itself, but they ain’t worth a warm bucket
of spit. Historically, public safety needs have been high on the voters’ priority list in
these matters, and wouldn’t you know it, our rookie sheriff just happens to be the most
popular politician in the land at the moment. This public plea for support could have
been a major advantage for the cause, but it comes about 40 days late, and without any
“pizzazz” worthy of the effort.
The sheriff says he needs 300 new police cars (over the life of the next SPLOST), fine.
How about showing us what you need to replace, and what you hope to get? Compare
the ragged out jalopies now in use, and get one of your municipal grease monkeys to
explain how expensive these cars get when they start aging. You know, show and tell.
While you are at it, sheriff, show us some working examples of the “body cameras”
you hope to put on all your officers, demonstrating how they work, and cases recently
dispatched where they would have been invaluable, if in place. The radio system you
need replaced? That is a glaring need your department has been living with a heck of
a long time. Congratulations, the recent “ice storm crisis” demonstrated a potentially
deadly service lapse and, on that occasion, you should have called a press conference
blasting that debacle the instant the ice melted, using all the anger and colorful metaphors
inspired by such a colossal cluster muck. Discussing it dispassionately 60 days later is a
relative waste. What was it said a few years back by some White House official in the
midst of some disaster, something akin to, “never waste a good disaster to promote the
pursuit of your political (and practical) agenda.”
But no, we missed such a dramatic performance and all the buzz it would have created.
As a matter of fact, if you had been following the SPLOST debate up until the very
moment of that Tuesday snooze fest, during which Roundtree took no questions, you
likely had no idea there was such a substantial public safety list within the approved
agenda. I know I didn’t.
So why the wait, and why the limp wristed “public appeal” at this point?
I would ask the guy, but he doesn’t talk to me.
The current mayor and the Chamber of Commerce types pushing the SPLOST are
apparently nervous that the issue is in danger of failing and, guess what, they are right!
Two of the three major mayoral candidates, and many other loud and vocal elected
officials are also calling for the rejection of the SPLOST package, mainly citing both a
lack of specific infrastructure improvement projects on the list and, yes, the inclusion of
a lot of “nonprofit” projects which appear to be about as close to a perfect example of
political pork projects as you can expect to find in your Funk and Wagnalls.
One balloon I am forced to burst, however, is the insistence by some of its loudest
critics that several of the construction projects that come under the control (and eventual
ownership) of Paine College, and both the Miller and Imperial Theatre boards, is in
some way illegal.
No. Sadly, they are not.
While the term “public facility” has been bastardized beyond all reasonable recognition,
there have been hundreds of examples of SPLOST projects all over Georgia that have
met the same criteria applied to the local cases in question, and all have passed legal
muster. Some of the facilities in question were hotly contested at the time of their
consideration, including, but not limited to, sports stadiums, performance facilities and
even bus depots.
They’re hard to swallow when we have so many infrastructure needs, no doubt, but
they are completely legal.

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