Saturday, October 18, 2008

The DNA Forum Part 2

Two nights ago at the DeSoto Hilton about 50 people showed up to hear what candidates for Sheriff, District Attorney, Superior Court Judge, and County Commission Chairman had to say concerning taxation and public safety.  Yesterday I wrote about two of those races and now I will address the other two.

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.


Anonymous said...

We are fortunate to have a man of your brilliance in our midst. You are indeed the king of all spectators. Some day you may have the chance to actually get in the arena with the real Wariors.

john mcmasters said...

Golly, that was either really kind or really sarcastic, I just can't tell which. Regardless, thanks for commenting. I get knocked around some and I have learned not to let it distract from the policy issues that plague us nor those that could better us.

Let me share something with you; since I had to stop surfing (2002 lower back problem) I kinda see that I have made this my new hobby. Believe me I would prefer doing the former but that's not possible.

There are many people in Savannah that go way, way, beyond my limited understanding of public policy. The only problem is they are smart enough to realize that getting elected is incredibly expensive because you have to use your own money.

The incumbents are flooded with other people's money. Voters have been conditioned to feel it's hopeless because "it never changes." Well, this election cycle just might be the perfect storm. Not for me mind you, but in other key races.

Time will tell on both fronts.

Anonymous said...

John, I tell everyone I know that you are the candidate for change, for doing the right thing, for recycling and for fiscal responsibility. You have my vote and everyone in my family.

Anonymous said...

Pete is a good guy and represents another era of Chatham County.

You are a good guy too and represent the future of Chatham County.

Unfortunately, there are special interests in this community who pull too many strings to allow Chatham to flourish in a way that in needs to. There version is one in which they control the players.

I already voted, and I voted for you based on the principle that you are shaking things up. I don't always agree with your tactics, nor with your ideas, but I admire the determination to shake up the status quo.

Anonymous said...

You are clearly the Peoples choice.
I just came back from Republican Haradquarters and they are already out of ypur yard signs a brochures.

Anonymous said...

Mr. McMasters
Do you support Gay Marriage?

John McMasters said...

No, they are not out of signs or brochures, didn't supply them with any. You must have swung by democrat headquarters and got confused.

john mcmasters said...

Gay marriages? Why not? What's Pete's position...

Anonymous said...

I see that you support M.Jones for sheriff.My wife and I were at the news debate and the D.N.R..We are considering your views for Chatham. BUT after seeing Mr. Jones at the debate and his lack of knownledge We have major concerns about your judgement.Unless you support him soley for your political gain you are not doing what is right for Chatham, If you were there rep. or dem black or white you would agree Mr. Jones does not need to be in the race.

john mcmasters said...

I was not at the forum at which Mr. Jones suddenly became ill. I have only read an article in the paper.

The candidate interview in which I made reference to the reporter that I agreed with many of Mr. Jones views was done in early September. I do not remember saying I "endorse" the gentleman. That has not happened so Eric Curl made an assumption there.

I believe that questions have come up over the incident and I would say we all should wait to hear from the candidate himself, in his own words what is going on.

I would appreciate having you and your wife's votes. My ideas are good. Pete has yet, I repeat, has yet to offer any solutions to the dreadful economy other than a huge property tax increase.

My advice to you is to vote in each race for the individual you feel can do the best job.

Thanks for blogging.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Listen to WSOK the other night. Man did Pete kick your butt.

John McMasters said...

Yea, didn't you like the part where Pete said there's never been a SPLOST project that went over 300% of original bid? Of course when I reminded him of Stephenson Ave (a $2 million project that finished at $9 million) he said, "well, that's one."

How about when Pete wouldn't say he was supporting Obama, or Chislom, or Gwen Waring? That was fun.

Or, how about Pete saying tourist pay 39% of SPLOST, the Chamber doesn't even stretch it that far.

Yea, ol Pete really kicked my butt and you think the world is flat.

Anonymous said...

Pete will get over 90% of the vote. You are the wolds biggest loser. Novemeber 5th will be the day for you to crawl back under your rock. You are the worst of the worst.

john McMasters said...

You don't get it, do you? I don't run to win, I run to expose the special interest attachment and failure of our local governments. I'm very satisfied with that progress.

If I hadn't run, Pete and those he actually advocates for, would only have been embolden thus deepening the core failure at the center local government.

I can't wait for the next election. Sharpen your pen and your thinking.

Anonymous said...

"I don't run to win." McMuffin you are the biggest loser there has ever been and you are proud of it. That not only shows that you are not only a loser but a pathetic person. You don't care about this community you only care about yourself. Like the old saying money can't by class.

john McMasters said...

You are entitled to your opinion but I must correct you; I do care about our community and that's why I run. What have you ever done to help our community except rail against those who are working to make a better government? Nothing I imagine, so in the relative scheme of things you are part of the problem. Your postings prove that to all who read them.

Anonymous said...

John, I think the
record should be set straight.

1. "No one has attempted to explain why the county has been sitting on
SPLOST money which was collected ten years ago to build a bike path to
connect Daffin Park and Lake Mayer. What are they waiting for."

In the 1993-1998 SPLOST, the voters approved a project called the
Truman Linear Trail (championed by Commissioner Patrick Shay during his
first term). With the funds, the County completed design for the 6-mile
trail and funded Phase I, which extends from Daffin Park to Casey Canal.
That's all the money the SPLOST funded. The Board renamed Phase I as
"Police Memorial Trail." No other SPLOST has specifically designated
funding for Phase II and Phase III. The County received a Congressional
designation for the project, but it would only pay for ½ of the
estimated cost. The County has completed the routing and property
identification. Because of the federal funding, the County will need to
obtain an environmental certification (the entire project must be
handled under the GDOT-required Planned Development Process, the same as
a road project with federal funds). This should be under way within a
few weeks. The balance of the needed funding remains a question.

2. "I learned recently that the County still hasn't paid its
membership dues and therefore hasn't been able to take advantage of the
membership benefits (of ICLEI)."

The County joined ICLEI (Local Government Sustainability) and paid the
membership dues. She can call Alycyn at ICLEI at 617-248-3979 x207 to