District Attorney Spencer Lawton announced his decision to step down after a very lengthy tenure and that led to a very crowded race of 4 people. The July primary left two men standing, David Lock and Larry Chislom.
If I were asked to sum up the difference between these two candidates I would say this: David Lock represents the status quo and Larry Chisolm represents change.
I don't know but to me it seems that David Lock came out the earliest (April) and wrapped himself in the blanket of Spencer Lawton. He was perceived as the heir apparent to Spencer Lawton. He piled on his closeness and fondness for his boss and never missed the opportunity to espouse what a great DA Spencer was.
Well at this forum, that all seemed to be forgotten, no make that thrown overboard. Lock fidgeted with trying to explain how he had wanted to try different things over the last 10 years but according to Lock, Spencer "was the boss." What are we talking about here? We are talking about using a more modern approach to indictments and prosecutions. An approach with a filter that sifts out who are really worthy of full force prosecution and those who may benefit from alternative prosecutions. Who would be recommended for monitoring and who would not. Who would be given plea deals and who would not. That sort of attorney trial stuff.
At one point, Lock said Spencer just didn't want to do anything he (Lock) wanted to try. And at this point I had my doubts about working for anyone who stifles innovation and pushes back advances so doggedly to preserve the status quo. Personally, I'd find another boss or go it alone. I know one thing, I wouldn't be wrapping myself around the mantel of tired regime that keep me from achieving the changes I believed in.
Soft spoken and very articulate, Larry Chislom seems to want to do all the things that Lock wishes he had done but couldn't because of Spencer. Larry seems to get it. He knows that the schools, parents and business community all determine to some extent just how busy the DA will be. He gets it that those institutions play a factor in how full the jail is. And best of all, he wants them to be accountable for it. Now that sounds right to me. If this community had more accountability, criminal justice and public safety would be better off.
Pete Liakakis will tell you in an instant that he inherited a 5 million dollar budget shortfall 4 years ago when he and his "Team" took office. He blames me for that. He is correct in that prior years delinquent property taxes were mistakenly applied twice. What Pete won't tell you is that the budgeted amounts of revenue for LOST (5th penny sales tax which goes into the M&O budget) for the same budget year, FY04/05, was greater than what we had budgeted. Ironically or providentially (take your pick) the extra LOST money was almost exactly equal to the shortfall from prior years delinquent property taxes applied twice. I knew we had an excellent chance to have the budget balance because we were looking at the immediate prior quarters LOST projected vs actual (actual was outpacing projected very nicely) and thus we would end up either balanced or with a surplus.
Pete you see, ran with the budget shortfall story and raised taxes in 2005. This was something he felt he could get away with but it was something he had never done before. When the Certified Annual Comprehensive Report for FY 04/05 was released, sure enough the county had a surplus revenue in M&O of 6 million dollars. Presto. Shazam. Pow. Did Pete refund the extra money from his needless millage increase? No. He spent it on the CIP fund.
What Pete Liakakis won't tell you is now Chatham County is experiencing the worst budget crises in 70 years. And it's not going to get better for several years on the short side, and 4-6 years on the outside. We are not talking about 4 or 5 million we are looking at 30-40 million. The M&O shortfall will be around 15 million of that 30 million. That's what I said Tuesday night anyway and Pete would not comment on it except to say "things are tight right now."
That's like finding yourself in ICU and someone saying you're just having a bad day.
Meanwhile back at the DNA forum, I pointed out that in the past 4 years a few examples of Liakakis spending:
1) Commissioners flew to Hawaii for a conference
2) Pete approved $25,000 for a one night "cocktail party" on Hutchinson Island for INC Magazine
3) $75,000 for 32 county employees to have personal trainers, dietitians and 3 custom meals prepared for them each day to improve their general heath
Pete responded by pulling out a 1961 SMN article that reported his involvement with a Civil Defense Program for Chatham County. Ah, are we talking about the cold war? Indeed. I guess Pete's point was he has been around for a while "helping" the community.
When asked what we could do to adjust for the declining local economy, I said we should look at going to a 4 day work week, stopping take home car privileges for non emergency workers, using impact fees on new construction, and getting all the new homes constructed on the tax digest the year they are supposed to be paying taxes (while they are for sale) not the year they are sold to first time buyers.
Pete's only cost savings comment was that he recently drove by a county building at night and saw that the lights were on so he asked that a timer be installed. That's good Pete.
With regard to future SPLOST referendums, I opined that they were doomed to fail unless the county commission begins to put important and popular projects on the list. Things like a real county wide mass transit system, curbside recycling capital investments for unincorporated county residents, bike lanes and context sensitive design projects.
Pete pumped up SPLOST saying how fortunate we were to be able to put a new roof on the aquatic center this year (that would be the second roof in 10 years Pete).
I reminded Pete that the Truman Linear Bike Trail was a 1998 SPLOST project that was fully funded and was to be a 4 mile bike trail connecting Daffin Park to Lake Mayer and 10 years later the county had only managed to build 1/4 mile of trail.
All in all, Pete was Pete and I was my usual critical self pointing out the failures in county management and effectiveness. I did offer solutions but no matter how you slice it, whoever represents us for the next 4 years is in for one tough time. I just don't think Pete realizes it.
My bottom line is this: If you want the status quo for the next 4 years you vote for the incumbents. Maybe their records and intransigence is appealing to you. Maybe not. I personally believe we are seeing the start to the end of a dynasty - and the beginnings of the next epoch in public policy and leadership for Chatham County. The State of Chatham is beginning to thaw.