Apparently WCTV’s “at the South Georgia Medical Center Parking Garage”> meant actually in the nearby parking lot, because that’s where we found some city and county employees and a few volunteers standing in the shade of a Valdosta Police van. An invocation and six speeches from five speakers ensued, all in support of SPLOST VII, the Special Local Option Sales Tax on the November ballot. Several of the speakers were not so positive off the podium about the library and auditorium projects, and nobody from the library board spoke.
Here are videos of all of the speeches.
- Continue the growth —Sam Allen, co-chair
- The most amazing thing I ve ever seen —Gail Green, co-chair
- SPLOST history —Larry Hanson, Valdosta City Manager
- SPLOST future —Joe Pritchard, Lowndes County Manager
- Quality growth —Suzan Prince
- Not here to debate —Sam Allen
The major theme of the event was a firm reminder that SPLOST VII is not a new tax, just a continuation of a penny sales tax that has been in place since 1987.
Fair enough. However, Sam Allen’s second talk summed up what’s wrong with SPLOST VII: “We’re not here to debate.” Well, when were any of these SPLOST VII project lists debated or discussed in a public forum? The previous public meeting about SPLOST, 11 June 2012, was, according to the VDT 7 June 2012, merely a formality of finalizing negotiations among the county and the cities:
“There shouldn’t be any negotiations. Monday should be more of a formality,” said Hanson.
It was quite clear this was not a public hearing:
The SPLOST negotiations will be held on the second floor of the Lowndes County Administrative Complex at 9:30 a.m. in the conference room adjacent to commission chambers. The public is invited to attend.
The public could come hear, but not speak.
Local leadership is expected to have a list of estimated proposed project costs, but specifics costs and projects have not been released yet.
And specific costs and projects mostly still have not been released yet, even while we’re being asked to vote on this tax. Even WCTV is confused about what the total dollar figure is.
Now I commend Mara Register for presenting a Five Points Steering Committee report more than a year ago. But even then that committee didn’t seem to be seeking public input, merely informing us all what had already been decided. And what had already been decided was that there would be a new library building at a location determined mostly by projected population shifts. As I asked at the time: why do they call it a steering committee, then? That sounds more like a following committee.
Since then the library board selected an out-of-state architect over several local candidates, and the Lowndes County Commission rubberstamped that selection. Who are the library board, anyway? Their chairman, Kay Harris, who was reappointed by the Commission only a month before that architect selection, was prominently missing from the SPLOST VII kickoff meeting.
Now I’m not saying throw the baby (the many useful projects, especially water projects) along with the bathwater (the dubious library and auditorium projects). I am saying, as I said to several of the attendees, if we’d had an open public process for SPLOST VII project selection we might, for example, have broadband Internet such as the Industrial Authority and others have finally discovered is important for local economic development; we might have county-wide fast Internet access in SPLOST VII.
And as for the debate being over, in an open society the debate is never over, even if SPLOST VII passes, especially considering many of the project lists have not yet been decided, and even the library project doesn’t even have architectural plans yet. More on those things later.