2010
03.13

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.

From WQCH, February 9, 2010:

    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?

Let’s break down the story line by line and figure out what’s happening here.

    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.

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21 comments so far

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  1. At this juncture, whether Bill Morton is kin to Morton Construction is acedemic at best when you take into consideraion the SOP of the current Administration.

    Mayor Florence hired City Manager Arnold and his brother-in-law Richard Moore (see La Fayette home/Administrators for verification), employed Mr. Arnold’s wife at his place of business (just go in and ask for her…), the Medi-Thrift Pharmacy, and then, to add insult to injury, blatantly appointed the City Manager (Mayor Florence hired…) as the Overseer of City Elections (along with the City Manager’s personal secretary, Mrs. Doris Webb Green as the “assistant” Election Official. Does ANYBODY see anything wrong with this picture?

    Obviously not, or it would not be continuing as the Status Quo as it has been for quite a few years now.

    Not withstanding, Richard More got himself fired (again) due to the same rude, disrespectful manner and lack of competency that cost him his last job he rode in on his brother-in-law’s coat-tails on (South GA), but if he had just been able to keep his mouth and attitude in check, he’d still be there. too.

    Armchair pundits banter incessantly about what’s wrong here and what needs to be done,but for some odd reason, never DO anything.

    Hopefully, that will change, come election day (but you have to remember who is in charge of counting the votes…………….).

  2. So the line at Culberson is the only one on the entire map that crosses a street other than the city limits boundaries, and it does so in front of Craigs residence ? I’m not buying it, Someone needs to get with the State and retrieve the original wards map. I want to see the real map, not the one they want me to see.

  3. I don’t think the map magling was fault of the web tech. They labels are the same as the city’s other property maps, so I think they were already labeled that way.

    Anyway, I hope the mer-people of the city lake are happy with Hodge’s representation!

    I don’t think we’ve seen the end to the cost of these fields. Hillsdale Road will have to be repaved for sure, and the charp curve straightened. It provides the best access from 193. But most people will probably be coming from 27. From North, 136 to Old Mineral Springs. THAT road would probably need improving… From the South and East, not much choice than to travel through the neighborhoods, increasing the risk of striking pedestrians.

  4. alicia:
    Are Andy Arnold and Johnnie Arnold also related? I had heard the part about Moore being connected to Andy Arnold but had no way to prove it.. Moore was an incompetent who didn’t need to be in charge of utilities OR roads, much less both. I’ve heard rumors that some of his employees contributed to the cemetery mess (or at least made a big deal about it) just to push him out…

    The elections are made worse when we consider who supervises them and counts the ballots, the League of Women Voters / LaFayette Womans Club, a/k/a the FiSDOP’s wives. That’s one reason why I’d never run for public office in LaFayette, it’s nearly impossible to win against one of the entrenched “approved” people. I’d give two fingers off my left hand to see Norm Hodge or Neal Florence replaced, but there’s not much risk of my needing custom-made gloves any time soon…

    Lucas:
    The best way to get to Webb-Wheeler Rd. from the 27 bypass is to go down Warthen, then hit Indiana. Indiana turns into Bradley Ave. when it crosses Probasco, and then comes out slightly past Hillsdale Rd. on North Chattanooga. I’ve thought for years they should set up that corridor as the quickest way back to Hwy. 193 and Davis Crossroads, but doing road repairs in that area would help the people of Linwood so I doubt it’ll ever happen. The city will be highly conflicted between its desire to help the upper class folks get back to the softball fields and its desire to continue a 20-year streak of not doing a thing to the roads on that side of town. Should be interesting to see which side wins – I’d speculate they won’t do anything except patch holes on Webb-Wheeler made by the construction work.

    – The LaFayette Underground

  5. You talk about the traffic going to the softball fields when they are done. You are implying that there will be people, outside of LaFayette, interested in playing there…I don’t think we have to worry about that. I don’t think there is going to be anybody, other than some church people, the little league teams and maybe the school teams that will be using it, and that isn’t a great amount of traffic going back there, more than now, granted…but it isn’t like we have to worry about hundreds of people coming from around the US or even Georgia to come for tournaments. Where would the stay and where would the park and most of them wouldn’t come back because they are going to worry about getting robbed or shot (not that they would, but it sure does look like that back in the area, especially to outsiders) with all of the falling down houses, the narrow, dark streets and the horrible roads.

  6. “You talk about the traffic going to the softball fields when they are done. You are implying that there will be people, outside of LaFayette, interested in playing there…I don’t think we have to worry about that.”

    Not us, but the city. The whole deal supposes a “Field of Dreams” phenomenon. Never mind the fact that it didn’t work for the other fields.

    “with all of the falling down houses, the narrow, dark streets and the horrible roads.”

    Speaking of the area… Does the city have any leads to the firebug in Linnwood.

  7. I hear that the city knows exactly who lights the fires. Most of the people that live in Linwood could tell you who it is. However, he stays on his side of town so they don’t bother with it too much. Guess people know who to go to when they want to get rid of their over mortgaged house….maybe the city pays him for his services…

    I get what you are saying, to make it so that people can get back there they will say they have to fix the roads, etc. What I was saying is that we don’t really have to worry about pedestrians or anything because it isn’t like there is going to be a lot of traffic heading back there anywhere, even when the Fields of (the city council’s) Dream are done.

  8. KTB. I hear Michigan calling you home

  9. Do you have too much time on your hands? Michigan doesn’t call me, not in the winter for sure :) I’d rather wait until summer to go up that way and as long as I didn’t have to go to Detroit.

  10. My only question is…..why do we need all these softball fields in little ole’ LaFayette when we certainly have bigger issues that need to be addressed? I announce today that I will be running for Mayor….or councilman…..or even Sheriff….somebody has to shake things up around here, so why not me? lol

  11. LU, please listen. City Manager Johnnie Arnold and ex-Public Works Official Richard Moore were BROTHER-IN-LAWS. Moore road in on the present City Manager (Johnnie Arnold) coat-tails, just like he did on thier last job (middle S. GA) and got himself fired from that job also. They have always been like a package-deal. Do the research. This not conjecture. If pressed, a dossier (factual and quite lengthy) can be presented upon request.

    Councilman Arnold (homeboy) and City Manager Arnold (Savannah area) have not been investigated @ this time. Gut feeling? No……………..

  12. ADDENDUM: The last City Councilman that was arrested for driving while under the influence of drugs &/or alcohol was unanimously required by the sitting Council to resign from his elected position (Kippy McConnel). Has the rules of endearment changed or is Bill just a “nice guy”? The different rules for different people are more than just a minor source of irritation for myself and quite a few other constituants. One law for everyone. No excetions for golf-players………………….

  13. Lowell Greene was neglected for years and now they are building it up I think this is just a way for some good ole boys to get rich on the City’s money. The council only wants to be re- elected they don’t give a shit about anything else.Most of the money will go in some one’s pockets and my kids still won’t get to play on that field.They got busted by the EPA when they tried to build on the By-pass which was a dumb ass idea in the first place now they are trying to regroup so they don’t look like they are wasting money.One day the city limits will move out to my area and I’ll take a run for the Council then I’ll show you how to get things done.I can’t wait!

  14. to cck36 . we can hardly wait

  15. Wonder if the $35 paid per child, and there has to be hundreds, if not thousands of them playing sports through the city rec. goes to help paying for the golf course or the stupid softball project. They no longer are going to provide full uniforms, they don’t pay the coaches, they already have the staff that organizes it that are doing other things, and don’t maintain the fields that often or well. This season the city will provide the softball/baseball shirts, but not the caps or the pants or socks as they have in the past. Just another cut for our kids.

  16. I’m just wandering what kind of grass they’re going to be using and if it’s going to be done before it warms up. I love me some baseball.

  17. AND THEY ARE STILL BUYING LAWNMOWERS AND TRACTORS FOR THAT CLUB-HOUSE!!!

    It’s just like we have not said or accomplished anything………..(March 8th City Council Minutes/C@L Swineson…………)

  18. Because they do not care what anybody says because they feel comfortable in their positions. They have their little comfortable nests and don’t feel threatened by people without faces making claims against them. Why should the change? They have it the way they like it. And they don’t have any doubts about getting re-elected because most people don’t care enough to vote and even if they do, most just vote for the status quo because they don’t really know any better, not to mention their buddies in high places who get the favors from them being in charge. Their nests are comfortably padded and insulated.

  19. Having a comfortable nest is a good thing. Not having to worry about making sure that your promises are kept, your responsiblities (family & children) are met…is a great thing.

    More often then not, it is something that is not given, but is aquired through effort. Be it manual, or long hours taken, dedicated, to accomplish this goal.

    My exception is not with individuals that have accomplished this the old fashioned way, by working for it and EARNING it. I find the minor source of irritation is with individuals who EXPECT a comfortable nest and RESPECT because of who they THINK they are, or who their parents were.

    “Proof is in the pudding” as some ancestors would say, and this pudding we have now would not even make good mud.

    I will contribute something positive the nano-second I become aware of it, ’round here…

  20. Question ; where are all the tractors lawnmower an all eqipment bought from ; are they put out on national bid or are the bought //?????????

  21. mlj: The last tractors the city bought, for the golf course, were bought from Loughridge Equipment on North Main. Other items come from various places, depending on availability. The bulldozers and etc. used for the endless construction projects are all property of the contractor. For specific details you’d have to ask the city.

    – The LaFayette Underground