Friday, July 23, 2010

SPLOST - A Cautionary Observation

I received this from a concerned reader over at the Terry College of Business.  It just goes to point out that we really need to know as much as we can about all of the projects buried in that $196 million SPLOST 2011 monstrosity coming up for a vote in November.  If more thought had been given to such things back when the current iteration of SPLOST was under consideration, perhaps we would not be saddled with such things as the ongoing fiasco that is the proposed Tennis Center.

I do not know how closely you have been following two situations coming up before the M & C at their next voting meeting, but I believe that, if passed, there are two items which will permanently change the traffic patterns of the downtown area, and I do not think that the public is being informed as well as they could or should be.  Therefore I am sending out the information, as I understand it, to those who might have more insight, or who might be able to share thoughts.  Here is what I have gathered:

One change is the "abandonment" of part of Hull Street between Baxter and Broad.  The announcement for this plan is in Friday's (July16) Athens Banner Herald under "Local Government" in the classifieds on page C2.  As I understand it, ACC will be turning over this part of Hull Street to UGA as part of UGA's plans for its special collection's library and it will be permanently closed to through traffic.  Apparently the southern section of Hull below Waddell will be "reconnected" to Florida Ave.  So, Florida Ave. will become Hull Street, and Hull will become a dead-end nub extending from Broad southward and ending at the future special collections library.

Another proposal on the table is part of the SPLOST 2011 referendum that we will be voting on in November.  It is my understanding that the Classic Center expansion plan which is included in the proposal will permanently close the easternmost part of Hancock Ave. to traffic.

The county website for SPLOST 2011 is and I believe there are links to the Classic Center plan there.  As far as the Hull Street plans, the only way I know of to view those would be to visit the Department of Transportation and Public works during business hours at 120 Dougherty Street.

Some of the concerns that have been expressed to me regarding the Hull St. situation are as follows:
  • The redirecting of Hull will involve merging it with Florida Ave., which does not cross broad in a manner so as to provide a convenient link coming back to Five Points from the downtown area.  In other words, once this is done, there will be no "straight shot" coming out of downtown besides Thomas St./East Campus, since Lumpkin is one-way and the section of Hull that currently runs by the Holiday Inn will no longer carry you through to Baxter.
  • This realigning has the probability of pushing more traffic onto the section of Broad Street east of Florida Ave. down to the Thomas/East Broad/Oconee street intersection.
  • ACC will be giving up its ownership of the "new" portion of Hull Street to UGA, and with it any decision-making capability for that right-of-way in the future.  ( I am particularly sensitive to this concern because I live on South Milledge, which is state-owned, and I have been told that we as ACC citizens have little or no control over the decisions the state makes for that road.)
Regarding Hancock Avenue, the concerns I have heard are somewhat similar: 
  • Right now Hancock is the only remaining "straight shot" from downtown to Foundry Street, which is gaining importance with the continued growth of downtown toward the East.  Closing this off would most likely increase traffic congestion at the five-way intersection of Thomas/E. Broad/Oconee streets.
  • The plan to close Hancock is part of a proposal in the SPLOST 2011 referendum that the commission will finalize (I believe) at its Aug 3 meeting.  Unfortunately, it will be very difficult for even the most informed citizens to understand that their vote on Nov. 2 for or against SPLOST will include this street closure plan, if the Classic Center expansion proposal remains unchanged from how it stands now in the SPLOST proposal.
Please let me know any insights, information or opinion that you have on these matters, since other sources of information seem to be scarce.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

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Fire Station No.6 Further Update

For those interested, I received the latest in a series of correspondence concerning Fire Station No. 6 from District 8 Commissioner Andy Herod last Thursday, 15 July (the delay in posting it is my fault, not his).

Commissioner Herod's questions of staff received this response: 

"The Unified Government did apply for stimulus funding (ARRA Grant), to be used in combination with funds to be received from the insurance company, to rebuild Fire Station #6 to the same design used for our newer suburban fire stations (e.g. F.S. #9 - Danielsville Road). If the stimulus monies had been received, we would have used the building plans previously developed for F.S.# 9 to solicit bids and the project would have been quickly constructed to this somewhat higher standard. Therefore, the project was viewed by staff to be "shovel ready", had we received the grant funds and used the previously developed F.S#9 construction plans.

The ARRA Grant application for the subject project was submitted on July 13, 2009 and by written correspondence dated May 13, 2010 the Unified Government was notified that our grant request had not been approved. To our knowledge, there is no appeals process and the staff level decision was made to move forward with reconstruction of the facility using the insurance funds. Staff has no specific insight into why our ARRA Grant application was not approved. These grants are highly competitive and I suspect go through a comparative analysis where projects are both evaluated relative to specific criteria and to one another. Given that there were likely thousands of applications, only the federal agency could respond to the question of why our application was not approved. As is indicated by the above comments, reconstruction of the project was delayed (approximately 10 months) until staff knew the result of the ARRA Grant application.

Once the May 13, 2010 notice was received, staff moved quickly in cooperation with the insurance company to finalize the plans for reconstruction of building (the plans were not developed prior to the May 13 notice since this would have been an unnecessary expenditure had the grant been received and the F.S.#9 plans been used), obtain permits and to begin construction. The fact that the ARRA grant notice was received in mid-May and that construction is already underway with a scheduled completion date of late fall clearly demonstrates that the permitting process has not delayed the project. Further, I suggest that private sector projects likewise move quickly through the review and approval process if complete appropriately designed plans and associated documents are submitted in a timely manner."

I truly appreciate Andy poking around a bit on my behalf (pointedly, no one else has). I must note, however, that in my capacity as a two-time candidate for the Commission and as a frequent commentator on local issues, I have been regaled often and at great length by business owners whose experiences with the Unified Government’s zoning and planning bureaucracy have left quite a bit to be desired.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Fire Station No. 6 Update (and then some)

I received an email from District 8 Commissioner Andy Herod late last week concerning the progress (or rather the seeming lack thereof) over at Fire Station No. 6. Readers will remember that the station has been closed for the almost 17 months since the snowstorm of 01 March 2009.

Wrote Commissioner Herod:

I saw on your blog where you asked what is happening viz Fire Station
#6. I asked staff about it. Here is their response:

"Reconstruction is currently underway and is being funded by the UG's [Unified Government's] insurance company. Crews are now working on the living quarters to renovate that area to a standard very similar to the new fire stations (e.g. Fire Station #9). The final drawings for the remainder of the reconstruction are currently being finalized and necessary permits obtained. In fact, staff anticipates that the plumbing, concrete slab in the bay area, etc. will start sometime next week. The forms for the concrete slab are already in place. The current schedule indicates that the reconstruction will be completed and available for use by late fall."

All well and good; this is the course of action I advocated almost a year and a half ago, namely that of using the insurance settlement to get the station back up and running as soon as possible. Even so, given the news blackout concerning the issue since last summer, some legitimate questions remain.

Even though I did not support relying on it to reconstruct the station, what happened to that Obama Administration economic stimulus grant that the Unified Government was going to use to accomplish this goal? After all, if ever there was a “shovel-ready” project, this was it (putting aside the fact that the entire stimulus bill was a sham from the very beginning).

Was the economic stimulus grant applied for? If not, why? If so, was the application turned down? If so, why?

If the economic stimulus grant was not applied for, why did it take so long to get started using the insurance settlement?

How long did (will) it take to get the ”final drawings” and “necessary permits?” When did this process begin? If recently, why did it take so long? If not recently, does not that fact bode ill for private sector businesses trying to navigate the regulatory process imposed by the Unified Government?

Regardless, thanks to Andy for addressing my concerns. I do not live in his district (I live in District 1 and “super” District 9), and yet he is the only member of the Commission or Board of Education (I live in BOE District 1) member who actually addresses the issues I bring up here, either through TOA blog posts, letters to the editor of the Banner-Herald, or through direct communications with elected officials.

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Shane Coley For State Senate District 47

After careful review, I have decided to back Shane Coley in the race for the GOP nomination in Georgia Senate District 47. This seat represents the eastern edge of Clarke County where I live and is the one being vacated by Ralph Hudgens, who is running for Insurance and Fire Safety Commissioner.

Everything that I see on his campaign web site indicates to me that Shane is a small-government conservative/libertarian type – just like me. We may well disagree on specific policies concerning this or that issue, but we appear to be quite similar in terms of political philosophy.

I do not claim to have much influence over the manner in which others may cast their ballots, but such as I do have is given in support of Mr. Coley.

Contact Shane’s campaign by any of the following:

The Committee to Elect Shane Coley
P.O. Box 35
Statham, GA 30666

Telephone (706) 352-4731

Fax (770) 586-0700


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Degrees Of Separation (?)

Just for my own amusement, I took the time to backtrack this one.

I posted a notice of Paul Broun’s upcoming town hall meeting in Athens at 9:25 a.m. on Tuesday (see a couple of posts below).

Matt over at Beyond the Trestle picked up on that and posted something of his own at 2:49 p.m. (with joking attribution en espaƱol as to its source - as Rush would say, “with just a little Spanish lingo thrown in" - at least he noted the source, most people who appropriate my notices, information, research, and arguments, do not).*

Someone ensconced at One Press Place clicked through the BTT post to my original TOA post at 4:33 p.m. (as evidenced by the fact that the “referring URL” from the Morris Communications server in Augusta was the post on BTT).

This post then appeared on Blake’s Online Athens blog at 5:04 p.m.

That was followed by this editorial printed in Wednesday’s edition (the online version usually appears after midnight of the same morning the printed version of the newspaper comes out).

And around we go.

*Those with good memories may recall that my 2006 campaign web site included an extensive page in Spanish covering my biography, political philosophy, and platform planks. Other local campaign web sites, before or since, have not (and almost all of those being for progressive Democrats). Of course, this is yet another example of how intolerant and exclusive we Republicans supposedly are, with the reality being somewhat different.

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Impertinent Observations

Some readers may remember that I sent an "open letter" to all nine members of the Clarke County Board of Education concerning the Clarke County School District’s FY 2011 budget and its spending practices over the years (see a couple of posts below). The letter also went to the District’s superintendent, associate superintendent, and business services director (in the case of the latter two, they are the folks who make the presentations at the District’s legally-mandated TBOR hearings).

The letter was sent as a PDF attachment to an explanatory email message a couple of weeks ago. As of this morning, I have yet to get so much as an acknowledgement of my letter from any of them, much less any response as to its content. And they wonder why folks do not show up at budget hearings (for the record, I did attend the first one at Gaines Elementary School). Not that public input makes a damned bit of difference, mind you. Also, the per pupil spending amount given on the “Facts and Figures” page of the District’s web site still indicates the outdated figure from FY 2008. The most recent figure available dates from FY 2009 and has been available from the Georgia Department of Education since last December. Some readers may also remember that the use of outdated figures caused something of a minor controversy (initiated primarily by me and resulting in immediate changes to and deletions from the District's web site) during the last election campaign – and absolutely nothing has changed.

Some readers may finally remember that I noted the partial demolition of the abandoned Fire Station No. 6 almost two months ago. The engine bay was quickly dismantled and carted off, with the resulting exposed portion of the remaining structure being covered with a green tarp. Since then, nothing of consequence has happened at the site. And there still has been not a peep from the Unified Government as to what is transpiring there.

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Paul Broun Town Hall

Congressman Paul Broun will host a town hall meeting at the Holiday Inn in downtown Athens at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, 08 July.

This town hall is part of a nationwide strategy, known as America Speaking Out, designed to gather ideas from the American people to craft a new agenda for America. During the town hall, Congressman Broun will listen to ideas from 10th District residents and demonstrate how they can participate throughout the year as issues and events unfold.

What: America Speaking Out Town Hall

Who: U.S. Representative Paul Broun and 10th District Residents

When: 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, 08 July

Where: Holiday Inn, 197 East Broad Street, Athens, Georgia 30601

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