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Our Views: Rush into change

New commissioners’ plan to move library may lead to division on board

POSTED: November 21, 2010 12:30 a.m.

One of these days, we hope soon, children will learn to read and students will study for projects in a new North Hall library.

Where that library will be, and what new detours will be taken to get there, are anyone's guess at this point.

Earlier this month, two incoming Hall County commissioners joined with Commissioner Ashley Bell to announce their intention to build the proposed library in Clermont. This despite the fact that the county has moved forward with plans to build the library on Nopone Road along with a planned park and recreation center.

The controversy over the library's location has raged for months since the commission first decided to build the library at the Nopone Road site. City leaders and residents in Clermont objected loudly, first in a series of public meetings, then by filing suit against the county over the move.

The contention was that Hall voters approved the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax with the express notion of putting the library in Clermont, despite the fact there was no such wording on the ballot. The plan was shifted to the park and community center site for cost efficiency reasons; the library could be built cheaper on existing county property than the 41 acre-site in Clermont.

Four commissioners, including Bell, approved the change, with only North Hall commissioner Steve Gailey objecting.

But now with the commission changing faces, newcomers Scott Gibbs, taking Gailey's seat, and Craig Lutz have joined with Bell saying they plan a vote to return the library to the Clermont site.

Meanwhile, the $9.73 million multifacilty project on Nopone Road is already moving along. A contract has been awarded and design work has been completed, all at taxpayer expense.

In a lawsuit brought by the town of Clermont, Hall County Superior Court Judge Andrew Fuller ruled in favor of the county, saying that no laws were broken or hard promises made in the library's site designation despite Clermont's claims. Clermont has now filed an appeal of that ruling, a move sure to tax the small town's budget.

As we have stated in the past, the Nopone Road site makes more sense for many reasons. Having a complex of county buildings together will realize economies of scale in both construction and operation. Geographically, the site is convenient to more county residents. Operationally, having a grouping of county services in one place is optimal.

We understand that Clermont residents feel misled by the county. But in reality, governments plan, suggest and propose projects routinely that later are changed in nature and scope for whatever reason. Part of that is because it often takes so long to bring such a project to fruition; what seems to make sense the first time an idea is considered may make less sense by the time it actually becomes a reality years later.

But there is a bigger issue at play here than the location of the library. For two incoming commissioners to promise to reverse such a decision, regardless of the cost of doing so, may prove to be attention-getting politics but not necessarily good government.

The library vote was not the decision of a "lame duck" commission. It was an issue planned, discussed and debated over a period of months, long before this year's elections. Just like Gibbs and Lutz, the four commissioners who voted to build on Nopone Road were elected by the voters of the county and empowered with the same responsibilities, except that their vote came after experience on the job.

In alliance with incumbent Bell, who clearly has higher political aspirations than the county commission, newcomers Gibbs and Lutz have let it be known they already know what the county needs to do and how, despite the fact that they have yet to sit in on their first commission meeting.

This potential trinity of power has made it clear in private conversations that they want to clean house from the top levels of county government, starting with County Administrator Charley Nix, Assistant Administrator Phil Sutton and Finance Director Michaela Thompson. To do so would be a major mistake, as all three have proven to be extremely competent in handling their respective positions.

The sort of political power play promised by the soon-to-be trio of commissioners is nothing new. Surrounding counties have seen the same thing happen — a new slate of commissioners sweeping out the leadership of the county bureaucracy to enact "change" in government. The end result is often instability in government administration, the opening of a revolving door of administrators that swings to and fro with each election, and the hiring of government officials more interested in appealing to a majority of the commission than overseeing efficient government operations.

Hall County residents have seen cliques on the commission before. Such divisions tend to create acrimony and get in the way of actual solutions. On a five-member board, the best strategy for all involved is to work together, not toward competing goals.

Before embarking on an agenda of wholesale change, the county's newest commissioners would do well to invest the time necessary for thoughtful, well-reasoned decisions based on their own personal experiences, not the perspective of those on the outside looking in. One need look no farther than the current administration in Washington to understand that change for the sake of change is not always a good thing.

We would encourage the new members of the board to put in some time on the job before making decisions that may have long-term negative impact on the county they've been elected to serve.

The incoming commissioners were elected by the voters based on their own ideas and strengths as candidates — not with the expectation that they would blindly march to disaster behind Bell, like the children of Hamelin following the Pied Piper.



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