From WQCH, March 8, 2010:
- COST OVERRUNS IN THE CONSTRUCTION OF A NEW SOFTBALL COMPLEX TOOK UP A GOOD DEAL OF DISCUSSION TIME AT THE MONTHLY MEETING OF THE LAFAYETTE CITY COUNCIL MONDAY NIGHT. THE CITY HIRED BILL MORTON AS “BUDGET MANAGER” FOR THE PROJECT. HE TOLD THE COUNCIL THAT BAD WEATHER, UNEXPECTED SOIL CONDITIONS AND MOVING UTILITY LINES HAVE ALL MADE THE SITE-PREPARATION WORK MORE COSTLY THAN EXPECTED. THE CURRENT BILL “TO DATE” IS AROUND 400-THOUSAND DOLLARS.
COUNCILMAN WAYNE SWANSON ASKED MORTON TO “KEEP THE COUNCIL INFORMED ON EXPENSES AS THE PROJECT PROGRESSES.” COUNCILMAN BILL CRAIG AT ONE POINT DEMANDED A TOTAL COST TO FINISH THE PROJECT IN WRITING… SAYING “WE’VE JUST GOT AN OPEN CHECK-BOOK OVER THERE”.
COUNCILMAN NORM HODGE, THE LEADING SUPPORTER OF THE SOFTBALL COMPLEX, SAID “THIS IS A LONG TERM INVESTMENT THAT WILL BRING MONEY INTO THE CITY.” HE HAD LAFAYETTE MIDDLE AND HIGH SCHOOL SOFTBALL COACHES AS HIS GUESTS… CONFIRMING THAT SOFTBALL TOURNAMENTS RAISE A LOT OF CASH… AS WELL AS GENERATING INCOME FOR LOCAL MOTELS AND RESTAURANTS.
AT THE END OF DISCUSSION, THE COUNCIL APPROVED BIDS FOR MASONRY WORK, IRRIGATION, SOD AND FENCING FOR THE THREE BALL FIELDS. IT’S NOW ESTIMATED THE PROJECT WILL FINISH AT A COST OF AROUND 540-THOUSAND DOLLARS. MORTON SAID THE BALL FIELDS, LOCATED AT THE LOWELL GREEN RECREATION CENTER, WILL NOT BE FINISHED BY THE ORIGINAL ESTIMATE OF APRIL 15th… ADDING THEY WILL PROBABLY BE “PLAYABLE” BY JUNE.
This is ludicrous. Just beyond belief.
*not sure where to even begin*
In early 2008 the LaFayette city council and mayor decided it was of utmost importance for the city to build a new softball complex on a wooded tract of property it had acquired alongside the Hwy. 27 bypass. Despite concerns of several within the city and county government, the mayor and council pushed the plan through and demanded four new fields be done in time for the upcoming softball season. They announced the plans as a way of fixing everything wrong within LaFayette, as the presence of this softball mecca would draw visitors from all over the country to visit our fair city, stimulating the economy as they participated in a number of vaguely planned softball tournaments and other undeclared activities.
City work crews quickly bulldozed and burned acres of trees, filling the air with their smoke for weeks even as county residents endured an EPA-imposed burning ban. Pubic works dumptrucks congregated in Linwood, not to repair roads there but to dig up an existing softball field and large hill behind Simmons Memorial Park and use soil from that now-decimated recreational facility to build up ground where the new softball fields were being built. The smoke and dirt removal caught the attention of Georgia Environmental Protection Division and the Army Corps of Engineers, and before long the city was slapped with a multi-thousand dollar fine in response to their destruction of a wetland and removal of a drainage canal without proper permits. Once news of that fiasco broke (and quickly faded from the news) the city council abandoned its plans for the acreage beside Hwy. 27 and left it alone. Unfortunately that wasn’t the end of their intentions to build a softball shrine within the city.
Lowell Green Recreation Center opened in the early 1960′s on donated land beside Webb-Wheeler Rd. as the “colored rec” with a playground, basketball court, indoor gym, swimming pool, and single softball field. The pool was closed and filled in after desegregation, and the entire facility eventually slipped into disrepair as city leaders focused their attention elsewhere. In recent years the building has mostly sat empty, used only occasionally for police training and family reunions. The softball field was minimally maintained, used for church ball leagues and as a place for the LaFayette PD K9 unit to relieve itself.
Last fall the softball plans were resurrected, downgraded to three fields instead of four, and then applied to Lowell Green rec. City work crews moved in quickly to demolish the existing playground, softball field, picnic shed, and basketball court there. This time plans were not announced publicly, in case the EPD or city residents had issue with them, but the claimed intentions once again were to create a softball mecca that would attract tourists from all over the country. This time all the work would be done by city work crews, with outsiders needed for only the most advanced work. The completed project was projected to cost less than $170,000.
- THE COUNCIL WAS ALSO PRESENTED AN ESTIMATE ON THE COST OF BUILDING A NEW SOFTBALL COMPLEX AT THE LOWELL GREEN RECREATION CENTER IN LINWOOD. IT WAS 269-THOUSAND DOLLARS… NOT COUNTING ELECTRICAL AND OTHER WORK THAT THE CITY WILL HANDLE WITH ITS OWN EMPLOYEES. FUNDS FOR THE SOFTBALL COMPLEX ARE COMING FROM THE SPLOST PENNY SALES TAX.
By February the total cost had reached $269,000, paid for from SPLOST funds intended for infrastructure repairs. The contractor, Morton Construction, requested $1,210 weekly for its “supervision” of the project – which we assume doesn’t include the actual costs of doing the work. They also agreed, at the time, to have all work done on the site by April 8th.
Now we get to this week’s city council meeting where it was revealed that the entire project (currently a muddy disaster) will ultimately cost more than a half million dollars to finish and won’t even be “playable” until June, with no word when it will go from being “playable” to “completed.” The cost overruns are supposedly related to moving utilities on the site and providing better drainage for the bad soil, both of which would have been obvious needs to anyone who ever set foot on the grounds before work began.
So did the city rush in and begin work once again without doing any advance planning or site prep work (unaware of utilities that had been present for half a century and a softball field that stayed wet ten months of the year), or did advocates of the new complex, knowing from the beginning that these issues would come up, lie about the total cost to get their plan approved?
- COST OVERRUNS IN THE CONSTRUCTION OF A NEW SOFTBALL COMPLEX TOOK UP A GOOD DEAL OF DISCUSSION TIME AT THE MONTHLY MEETING OF THE LAFAYETTE CITY COUNCIL MONDAY NIGHT. THE CITY HIRED BILL MORTON AS “BUDGET MANAGER” FOR THE PROJECT.
The council appointed Bill Morton to supervise Morton Construction’s work and ensure the company doesn’t exceed its nonspecific budget. (Is he related to the company? Is this the same William Morton who formerly worked for the city of Rossville? How much is Morton being paid to supervise the work? Clarification is certainly needed here.)
- HE TOLD THE COUNCIL THAT BAD WEATHER, UNEXPECTED SOIL CONDITIONS AND MOVING UTILITY LINES HAVE ALL MADE THE SITE-PREPARATION WORK MORE COSTLY THAN EXPECTED. THE CURRENT BILL “TO DATE” IS AROUND 400-THOUSAND DOLLARS.
Mr. Morton, once appointed, immediately informed the council that the unexpected conditions detailed above have delayed work and made the project’s current cost almost double what it was projected to be only a month earlier (and about four times what it was supposed to be in the first place). This reveals that Morton will have no trouble bringing the work in under budget since there apparently IS no budget, and no contract with the company that guarantees any level of cost or any date for completion.
- COUNCILMAN WAYNE SWANSON ASKED MORTON TO “KEEP THE COUNCIL INFORMED ON EXPENSES AS THE PROJECT PROGRESSES.”
“Hey Bill, this is Wayne Swanson, LaFayette City Council. How’re costs lookin’ on that softball project?” “Oh hey Wayne. They’re looking ridiculously high.” “Alright then, thanks for keeping us informed. Keep up the good work.”
- COUNCILMAN BILL CRAIG AT ONE POINT DEMANDED A TOTAL COST TO FINISH THE PROJECT IN WRITING… SAYING “WE’VE JUST GOT AN OPEN CHECK-BOOK OVER THERE”.
For this Councilman Craig gets back one of the points we took away from him after his drunk driving arrest. However, asking for a written contract at this point is rather like calling the fire department a week after your house burns down. He’s right, it is “an open check-book over there,” but only because the city signed a blank check and handed it to Morton Construction when they signed on to do the work. (This might explain why the golf course clubhouse Morton built in 2008 ended up costing $1.4 million, but we won’t get off on that one again for now.)
The council was in such a rush, such a fever, to get this going and completed that they again failed to do enough planning or prep work before the bulldozers moved in, and then threw money at an out of town contractor without even getting a decent contract in place to make sure the work didn’t end up consuming every available SPLOST penny. And the driving force behind every bit of that is our very favorite sports-obsessed councilman, Mr. Norm Hodge.
- COUNCILMAN NORM HODGE, THE LEADING SUPPORTER OF THE SOFTBALL COMPLEX, SAID “THIS IS A LONG TERM INVESTMENT THAT WILL BRING MONEY INTO THE CITY.” HE HAD LAFAYETTE MIDDLE AND HIGH SCHOOL SOFTBALL COACHES AS HIS GUESTS… CONFIRMING THAT SOFTBALL TOURNAMENTS RAISE A LOT OF CASH… AS WELL AS GENERATING INCOME FOR LOCAL MOTELS AND RESTAURANTS.
In what part of the world do softball coaches count as economic experts? If the city needed advice on how to swing a bat or throw a ball, softball coaches would be the ones to ask. Advice about economics and tourism, however, should be provided by an economist – or at least someone involved in the hotel or restaurant business. Of COURSE the softball coaches “confirm” we need more softball fields in town – just like Hodge and his golfing friends knew we needed better golf facilities in town. Despite their “expert testimony” advocating the fields, ultimately Hodge and the other coaches (along with their friends and families) will be the only ones stimulating the economy after playing on the fields, and likely the only people who see much benefit from the new complex being completed.
If softball tournaments bring in so much outside cash, why has the city never hosted any before? There are four well-maintained softball fields ready to use at the main rec. department, along with an additional two or three nice ones at LHS, and one at LaFayette Middle School. All of those would have been suitable sites for a softball tournament in the past, and adding three additional fields in the middle of nowhere isn’t going to bring in a tournament that could have been held here four or five years ago.
Two other barely-maintained softball fields, at Max Stoker Rec and Simmons Park in Linwood, were converted to soccer and dug up, respectively, before construction began at Lowell Green – which also had its own decent softball field in place before the city bulldozed it to construct, erm, new softball fields.
None of those ten fields ever did anything to bring people to the city, they just provided a place for church leagues and kids’ teams to play – which is great, but how many more fields does the city need when there are already so many? Should a half-million dollar softball complex be our HIGHEST priority when the streets are literally collapsing under foot, kids only have one small poorly-kept playground left to play on, and the city’s utility rates keep going up? The only people in town demanding new softball fields are the ones Hodge brought with him to the council meeting.
- AT THE END OF DISCUSSION, THE COUNCIL APPROVED BIDS FOR MASONRY WORK, IRRIGATION, SOD AND FENCING FOR THE THREE BALL FIELDS. IT’S NOW ESTIMATED THE PROJECT WILL FINISH AT A COST OF AROUND 540-THOUSAND DOLLARS. MORTON SAID THE BALL FIELDS, LOCATED AT THE LOWELL GREEN RECREATION CENTER, WILL NOT BE FINISHED BY THE ORIGINAL ESTIMATE OF APRIL 15th… ADDING THEY WILL PROBABLY BE “PLAYABLE” BY JUNE.
Despite cost concerns, dubious economic predictions, a floating completion date, and a complete lack of demand for a new softball complex, the council approved the project’s continuation and then accepted bids for further work to be done.
That’s more than a half million dollars of SPLOST, the tax we all pay each and every time we visit a store or pay for a service in Walker County. 100% of the county’s residents pay it, but only a small percentage of the city’s residents will even benefit from what’s being spent on the ballfields. But what else would we expect from leaders who have continually displayed concern only for a small percentage of the city’s population since they were first elected?
Above are three maps of LaFayette. The first was posted on the city’s Web site about a month ago, purportedly showing the city’s political wards. A few weeks ago it was replaced by the second map, which shows vastly different wards labeled by the councilman representing each. The third map is identical to the first, but changes the former political wards into “Public Works Debris Pickup Zones” that “does [sic] not reflect election wards.”
The three maps provide quite a bit of confusion as to who represents what within the city. If the first map is accurate, Ward 3 councilman Bill Craig’s Culberson Ave. home is actually located within Ward 1 – a violation of state law. The “updated” map lays Ward 3 across Craig’s home, but only because it gerrymanders in an “L” shape across the middle of the city. The “Pickup Zones” map is just confusing, since Solid Waste only really has three pickup zones – South (Monday/Thursday service), North (Tuesday/Friday service), and Business (Wednesday dumpster pickup). Residents who asked about garbage service several years ago were told that it follows political ward boundaries, lending some credibility to the original map as being the city’s actual political landscape.
Since the wards can’t be changed without approval of the state legislature, we’ll assume that the first map was just a mistake made by the city’s Web techs – but no matter which map you use, the wards don’t provide adequate representation for everyone within the city.
The LaFayette City Council consists of five members – four who theoretically represent specific wards and one at-large member representing the entire city. The Mayor, who is also supposed to represent the entire city redundantly, gets his own vote on the council. That structure of four wards, one at-large, and the mayor adds up to six votes – which would lead to tied votes on many occasions if the council’s votes weren’t predetermined in meetings held privately or on the golf course.
If Bill Craig does indeed live in Ward 3 he’s located closer to the center of Ward 1 than the middle of his own district. Norm Hodge lives on Foster Mill Dr. in Ward 2, but almost none of the city’s residents reside in that district – most of the territory highlighted in light blue is wooded or city property like the rec. department, airport, and golf course, but that’s appropriate since Hodge represents those entities quite well. Andy Arnold (Alpine Dr.), at-large councilman Wayne Swanson (N. Duke St.), and Mayor Florence (Sleepy Hollow Rd.) all live within Ward 1 – providing that district with more than it’s fair share of representation.
Ultimately none of that matters much anyway. A number of years ago the city’s leaders decided to open up voting so every citizen could vote for every council seat regardless of where they lived. Because of that everyone in LaFayette is considered to be in the “at-large” ward, and as a result every councilman scrambles to please the same constituents. Even Eric Tallent, who lives on Ridgecrest Dr. deep within his Ward 4, has to cowtow to the demands of people living on Sunrise Dr. or Oak Park in order to be reelected.
The United States of America is supposed to be a representative republic, with each state given its fair share of senators and representatives who (at least in theory) promote the interests of everyone living within their respective districts. State and city law strive for the same goals on paper, with elected representatives voting the will of their constituents – but the current structure of the LaFayette city government is akin to every state’s senators being elected in a nationwide vote. It’s a legal yet lopsided system designed to give even more power over to those who started out with power, and results in the continual election of unfit candidates and the approval of unnecessary and costly plans like the softball fields or golf course clubhouse that a majority of the city’s residents would oppose if given enough information and a voice to do anything about them.