Commissioners deadlocked on Fairview Park funding proposal

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

The Henry County Board of Commissioners deadlocked on a proposal to provide additional funding for a Fairview park, and during the discussion Commissioner Bruce Holmes unloaded on Chair June Wood, criticizing her leadership and throwing in the race card for good measure.

“I just want to say to all the voters, look what you elected,” Holmes said as he began his three-minute tirade during the board’s Feb. 7 regular meeting (it can be seen at the 1 hour, 24 minute mark of the archived video on the county’s website). “You elected somebody that is not for our community. This is somebody that is not going to take this county in the direction that it needs to go.”

The proposal in question would have shifted $2 million in SPLOST money, previously designated for a police station, to construct additional pavilions and install an eight-foot-wide walking path connecting the park at Fairview and Anvil Block roads to the DeKalb County line. Holmes maintained throughout the discussion that the police station is no longer needed and that money was designated by voters to be used in the Fairview area of his district.

The vote to approve the fund transfer was 3-3. Commissioners Dee Clemmons and Blake Prince voted for it along with Holmes, while the dissenting votes were cast by Wood and Commissioners Gary Barham and Johnny Wilson. The tie vote meant the measure would not pass.

Holmes said while he respected the previous chairman, Tommy Smith, because he knew where he stood on specific issues, he was losing respect for Wood every day because of a lack of leadership and vision.

“She has asked us over and over for our vision, but when I asked her for her vision she could not articulate her vision,” he said. “If you’re looking for economic development and the money is in that district, why would you vote against or speak against it? That is not leadership. Chairman, if you support the safety of these African American kids, support them.” (Holmes and Wood are both black.)

Holmes alleged that Wood’s support for issues in the northern end of the county is not as consistent as it is elsewhere, charging that Stockbridge and Fairview “were afterthoughts” in her recent State of the County address.

“Don’t look to send our money down to the southern end of the county. I’m sorry, I just had to let you know I just don’t think you’re the right person for the job,” he said. “I just don’t. Be a leader. Support every community. Don’t just support Eagle’s Landing and McDonough.”

Wood did not respond publicly to Holmes’ diatribe, which came immediately after Wood’s own statement on the issue at hand.

“I am concerned about safety of all citizens and about all districts equally. I am fully committed to working with every commissioner,” she said. “I also am committed to fiscal responsibility and what was approved by the voters.”

Wood said she was not in favor of taking money from other projects specifically identified by voters and allocating for a project that has changed in scope.

Ron Burckhalter, who directs the county SPLOST department’s capital projects, said that the original budget for the park was $4.85 million but after it was moved to a different location than what was initially identified, the cost so far is around $6.85 million not including the $2 million Holmes was looking to include at this point.

Holmes said the new facility would be a “destination park” and compared it to Piedmont Park and Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta. “It will have thousands of people on a daily basis,” he said.

After touting the economic development benefits of the park, Holmes stressed that new improvements he proposed would “provide safety for children and adults … protect people in my district from being hit by cars.”

About a dozen citizens spoke in favor of the measure, advocating the improved safety they said it would provide.

Holmes encouraged other county leaders to start thinking big and move away from where much commercial development has been going of late.

“We have to move away from these warehouses,” he said. “The 18-wheelers are killing our infrastructure. Our development authority can’t be focused on continuing to bring warehouses to Henry County.”

A police station was considered for the Fairview area a few years ago partly because of speculation over whether Stockbridge would form its own police department, Holmes said. That city is continuing to look at the issue but its own leaders have said that any such move would have to be tied into the next SPLOST because of its cost.

“Crime is down in Fairview. There have been no murders in over a decade,” said Holmes. “This is a safe community. I don’t get calls about needing a station. I get calls about too much police. I don’t want to hear how we need a police station.”

On more than one occasion during the discussion, particularly when questions were raised about police and public safety, Holmes attempted to interject in the middle of another commissioner’s comments and was asked by Wood to allow the speaker to finish.

Wilson made a motion to table the matter but it failed to receive a second, leading to the tie vote on Holmes’ motion.