While I have much to say on about the Board appointments that were made yesterday at the first meeting of the new Henry County Board of Commissioners, please bear with me as I preface those comments with some history.
Them – The Special Interests.
I’ve been chronicling instances that have occurred in Henry County over the last four years of crony capitalism, favoritism, and blatant quid pro quo from some of our elected official who’ve been beholden to Special Interests. Real estate developers; lawyers; bankers; certain civic and business groups – deals have been struck which have enriched many of them and in exchange campaigns have been financed in order for power to be retained. And the cycle goes on and on.
Like many of you, I had never really paid much attention to local politics until a few years ago when I realized how corrupt things had become. Come to find out, for more than a decade now, Henry County government has been held hostage by certain elected officials who’ve put the Special Interest groups ahead of the taxpayers. As a result, the legitimate functions of our government such as public safety, traffic, county employees pay and benefits, and the annual budget are now at a point of crisis.
Those of you who have been paying attention for awhile will recall ethics complaints filed in a decade ago against former County Commissioners Phil Cosby and Nita Spraggins alleging:
“For several years, the county has experienced a growing population and economy fueled in part by land development, building and construction. Members of the county commission have represented, acted as agent for, and secured privilege for, members of that economic sector.”
Us – The Taxpayers.
During my research today for this article, I came across a cached version of a defunct website call Henry County Online where I read an editorial letter written in 2002 by a similarly pissed off taxpayer that nearly left me speechless (if that’s possible). After reading it, I realized not a damn thing has changed in the decade since she wrote it. It reads, in part:
“Again, alongside the same hardworking, battle-weary citizens, we struggled through dirty campaigns to fight to dethrone two highly controversial and unpopular county commissioners who had taken advantage of their positions and lost sight of the will of the people and stood firmly to support the will of the developers, their strong financial campaign supports. We fought a long weary battle that pitted the common little people against the highly financed professional developers and politicians. I firmly believed that good wins out over bad – no matter how long that may take. It will eventually happen. IT DID! OH, SWEET VICTORY!!
And yes, to Nita Spraggins and Phil Crosby, If it makes it easier for you to swallow and for you to sleep at night, you were beaten in the election by a bunch of disgruntled employees, disgruntled former employees, disgruntled citizens, disgruntled taxpayers, disgruntled constituents, disgruntled housewives, disgruntled retirees, and in your mind former or current political losers.
But if that is all we were to you, then you had no business being in the position of county commissioners. Because as county commissioners you are to represent everyone, do you hear me EVERYONE!!!! Whether we are disgruntled or not. You are supposed to represent the entire population, not just the happy people!”
Clearly history has repeated itself because this is exactly how many of Us felt after this last election (except insert the names BJ Mathis, Warren Holder and Randy Stamey). I firmly believed that with this election good won out over bad. Sweet victory, indeed, because we installed what we hoped would be four newly elected Commissioners who all said they would fight to protect the taxpayers.
Unfortunately, we are now seeing that that is not the case. The Board appointments made yesterday made it clear exactly who stands with Us – the taxpayers,and who stands with Them – the special interests.
The “Gentleman’s Agreement” Argument Fails
For the sake of this discussion, I’ll only be referring to three Boards; the Development Authority, the Water Authority, and the Zoning Board. Appointees on these Boards have enormous power that impact every citizen, not just those in the District which they represent.
The argument made by some of the Commissioners yesterday that, when it comes to these board appointments, there is a “Gentleman’s Agreement” to go along to get along. But if that were the case, why bother voting at all? If these appointments didn’t matter to the rest of the county, why not simply allow each Commissioner to make the appointment and be done with it? Those who think this vote is a formality are disrespecting the taxpayers. There’s a reason why appointees must be voted on by the full Board of Commissioners.
Case in point, all of the members of the 2007 Development Authority were responsible for purchasing the Cottonfields Golf Course for which we currently owe $12 million dollars. Every current taxpayer in Henry County will have to pay for it and that is why every Commissioner gets a say so as to who sits on the Development Authority.
Another example is the fact that the current members of the Water Authority have created such enormous debt that 41% of this years budget will go just toward servicing the debt they have created.
Let me say that again.
Nearly half – Forty one percent to be exact – of the fiscal year 2013 Water Authority budget will go toward Debt Service. Every taxpayer in Henry County must pay it and that is why every Commissioner gets a say so as to who sits on the Water Authority Board.
Just as insulting is the argument that if a Commissioner withholds his approval of a nominee, then he would be retaliated against and his own nominees would not be confirmed. I’ve got news for you. Doing the right thing is sometimes hard. If you’re not willing to go to battle to protect Us, the taxpayer, then get out of the way and we’ll find someone else who will. Yes, your nominees might get derailed but halting the appointment of individuals who have proven themselves to be unfit to hold power is worth it and that’s what you were sent there to do.
Fight for Us. No matter how hard it is.
District Three Commissioner Gary Barham is one of Them.
During a debate held by the Henry Community Coalition during the campaign, the District 3 candidates were each asked the following question (78:38 minute mark):
“What process and criteria would you incorporate in determining your appointees to all boards and will your appointee be allowed to make their own decisions, even if their decision is in conflict with what you believe?”
Candidate Gary Barham answered (81:38 minute mark)
“First of all, if I’m gonna appoint you to a board, I’m gonna know you and I’m gonna know everything I can know about you and we’re gonna have an understanding. But I am gonna trust that person to make the right decisions.”
So, taking Candidate Barham at his word, we must assume he has completely vetted his board nominees. Thus, by his choice to nominate them, Barham has exposed his allegiance to Them – the Special Interest, instead of Us – the taxpayers, as he promised throughout his campaign.
Every one of Barhams’ appointments is a throwback to the same old Henry County good old boys group that has disrespected the taxpayers. Barham, with these appointments, has chosen the status quo.
Charles Mobley – Development Authority
- Mobley has told provable lies and participated viciously in the politics of personal destruction during this last election cycle as the campaign manager in a State House seat.
- He’s run for elected office three times already and each times the voters have rejected him.
- He was a member of the Henry County Zoning Board in 2007 that allowed Big 5 owner Billy Abbate to lie about having an agreement with Clayton Clayton that provide him access to the airport from his adjacent property. Mobley, along with the rest of that Board, did not do their due diligence and approved the rezoning. Had that not happened, Abbate never would have been in a position to lobby for the County to purchase the airport for which we are now in debt. Charles Mobley is not fit to serve on the Development Authority.
- Mobley actively supported and was instrumental in getting the ESPLOST tax implemented. Tax increases are not something Republicans should be promoting.
- As a former Chairman of the Henry County GOP, he supported a Democrat in the 2011 District 5 BOE race.
- He supports the airport expansion and supports the Opportunity Zone scam that gives tax breaks to the crony land owners adjacent to it.
- He is beholden to State Senator Rick Jeffares who has participated in Crony Capitalism with the Special Interests – Them. Jeffares accepted at least $9,400 in campaign contributions from the people who own land adjacent to the airport and who stand to profit from the County’s purchase and expansion of it, while also being instrumental in the purchase of the airport.
- Mobley was the campaign manager in 2010 for State Rep. Andy Welch who, as President of the Henry County Chamber of Commerce, is beholden to the Special Interests – Them. Not Us.
Jim Risher – Zoning Board
- Like Mobley, Risher was also rejected by the voters when he ran and lost against John Douglas in 2004 for the 17th District senate seat.
- Risher was the Henry County Manager for 7 1/2 years beginning in the late 1990’s. During his tenure as Henry County Manager he was involved in a payroll scandal in which dozens of employees had received raises seemingly without the proper approval. Worse, the raises totaled hundreds of thousands of dollars. No one, including Risher who, according to an editorial written in 2002, had himself received an unapproved salary increase, had any explanation. (scroll here to article titled “The Hunt for Accountability: Cooperation Doesn’t Mean Looking the Other Way, Nov. 2002, by Christi Tate”).
- Also during his tenure as Henry County manager, Risher was found by the courts to have wrongfully demoted a police sergeant resulting in a four year legal battle which Henry County lost and the officer was exonerated and reinstated with back pay.
- In 2007 Risher was hired as the City of Hampton County Manager. That lasted only until December of 2009 when he resigned and told the Henry Herald that “his new schedule will allow him more time to spend with his family.” Anyone who’s been around politics for very long knows that’s code for being forced out for screwing up, which is likely what happened considering just four months later Risher was in contention for a position as Pike County Manager.
Jimmy Carter – Water Authority
Gary Barham chose to reappoint Jimmy Carter to the Water Authority despite the fact that he is in part, as Chairman of that Board, responsible for saddling us with the massive debt I described above.
Other than the fact that I am told Carter is Warren Holder’s Brother in Law, which I have not been able to independently confirm, (Update: confirmed, there is no relation here.) his existing profile on the HCWSA website pretty much sums up his loyalties to Them – the Special Interests.
“He spent 18 years as an elected member of the Henry County Board of Education, even serving as its Chairman for part of that time. Upon the request of District 3 Henry County Commissioner Randy Stamey, he agreed to accept an invitation to serve on the HCWSA Board, beginning in January of 2005.”
Charles Mobley, Jim Risher, and Jimmy Carter have no intention of fighting for Us – the Taxpayers.
In spite of the dozens of calls and emails he received asking him to reconsider, with these appointments, Commissioner Barham has for exposed himself on his very first day of governing as one of Them.
Expect Us to plan accordingly.