Tensions boil over again at county meeting

Tensions among some commissioners again boiled over at Thursday night’s Fayette County Board of Commissioners meeting. A long agenda would help cause the night to drag on until nearly midnight.
Returning to old business, the appointment of Lavonia Stepherson to the McIntosh Trail Community Service Board was met with opposition. The recommendation to appoint Stepherson came from commissioners Randy Ognio and David Barlow, but Ognio would end up voting against the appointment, saying he did not know at the time that Stepherson was also a member of the Hospital Authority board.
Commissioner Steve Brown also voted against Stepherson, saying, “I’m just not going to duplicate appointments,” owing to what he called a wealth of human capital in Fayette County.
Chairman Charles Oddo noted that Stepherson was the only applicant, so no other qualified candidate was being denied.
“She was the only one who applied for the position, so no one is being denied the opportunity,” said Oddo. “The policy is looking for the best person available.”
Ognio added that typically when only one application is received for a position, it would be re-advertised. Commissioner Charles Rousseau asked if that was policy or simply practice. County Manager Steve Rapson clarified that in such cases staff would return to the appointing committee for direction, but that they were told to move forward with Stepherson.
“We run the risk of manufacturing something that we want in practice and in theory, but is not policy,” said Rousseau.
The appointment of Stepherson would be approved 3-2, Brown and Ognio in opposition.
Commissioner David Barlow’s recommendation to work with The Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia on a pay study of county staff would also be met with opposition by Brown in particular. It was Brown’s belief that they should not undertake a study with whose methods he did not agree or under recommendation from a commissioner that will not be in office when any results would be returned, as Barlow lost in the primary election.
Rousseau was quick to defend the merit of Barlow’s recommendation.
“To suggest he shouldn’t bring it because he’s leaving would be a disservice, as he sits here and deliberates and votes on other matters before us with equal weight,” said Rousseau.
Barlow took offense to Brown, saying “He’s been very clear that he doesn’t care about the individuals that perform the services for Fayette County.”
Barlow’s proposal, which would study the pay of county staff members but not require any further action until any study is complete, was passed 3-2, Brown and Ognio in opposition.
Tensions heated up again over Brown’s proposal to change the hours for fishing on county lakes to sunrise to sunset. DIsagreements over what was being proposed, what was on the books, and the water committee’s policies would lead to both Brown and Rapson claiming they were being railroaded, as well as Oddo’s wife chiming in from the audience.
Oddo would call for a recess after the topic was tabled to the September 22 meeting.
At Brown’s request, the final agenda topic was to discuss Board of Commissioner appointments to the Fayette County Hospital Authority. Brown noted that the commissioners have always had some representation on the authority, first a former county manager, then Oddo. Oddo had recently been presented as a nominee to serve another term, but he removed his name for consideration to allow Lavonia Stepherson to continue to serve. Brown lamented that he did not find out from Oddo himself, instead hearing it at an unrelated event from another member of the authority.
“There is now an $85 million bond issue with the hospital authority, and we have no representation on the board,” said Brown, saying that they would not be privy to executive session should it be needed. “It’s paramount that we maintain representation on the board.”
Brown was rebuked by a representative from the Fayette County Hospital Authority, Vice-Chairman Darrell McKinney, who noted that in his 16 years as a member on the board since its inception that they had never held an executive session and all meetings are open to the public, along with meeting minutes. He pointed out there is no requirement that a county commissioner be on the board and that there are already ample connections to the county as it is, with them sharing the same legal representative and using the county clerk to record minutes for their meetings.
“We do not take lightly comments that cast aspersions on our authority board or authority work or our process,” said McKinney.
He also clarified that Oddo removed his name because he would have been up for vote against Stepherson for the same open spot. Oddo did not feel he deserved the spot simply because he was a county commissioner.
“We appreciated that Chairman Oddo recognized [Stepherson’s] value and removed his name from consideration,” McKinney said, adding, “I thought it was a classy act, and I stand by my statement.”
Oddo read a lengthy statement onto the record refuting Brown.
“Tonight, the integrity of this Board of Commissioners is called into question by the conduct of Commissioner Brown, and I cannot let that go unchallenged,” his remarks started. “Unfortunately, Commissioner Brown purports to use this official meeting for a discussion on appointments to the Hospital Authority, when in reality it is a thinly veiled personal attack on my character, that of our nominee to the Hospital Authority, and to the Authority and the hospital itself with his mantra of ‘backdoor politics’.”
Oddo said he felt Brown was attempting to manipulating the process himself by stating a “strong desire” to have a commissioner be on the authority to hospital CFO and others.
“The fact is, I looked forward to a full term on the Hospital Authority and was extremely disappointed I would miss that opportunity due to Commissioner Brown’s backdoor maneuvering,” Oddo said. “It is Commissioner Brown who implied that the preference of the BOC is for a commissioner on the Hospital Authority, when, in fact, that is his preference. The BOC has never officially had such a preference in my time here.”
He went on to say Brown pressured the authority to ask Stepherson to step down.
Oddo also pointed to Brown as the reason the meeting stretched till nearly midnight.
“This agenda this evening is another example of what happens when this board of commissioners, this group of five individuals, permits one commissioner to dictate the agenda,” he said. “Five items on tonight’s agenda were added by Commissioner Brown, and in not one case did Commissioner Brown seek staff input or our county attorney’s input. That’s not how this process works.”
Barlow would stand with Oddo, saying that Brown may be bitter he had lost his previous spot as chairman.
“You get beat up,” said Barlow. “The backstabbing that comes out of Commissioner Brown’s office is just tremendous. I’m sad that you have to put up with it.”
In closing comments, Rousseau mourned that relations among some commissioners had perhaps gotten so bad that it was time to think about a retreat including outside help.
“I think, as a family, we’re at a tipping point. I really would highly recommend that we bring in a third party to let us get some things out,” he said, adding that they tend to get bogged down in misinterpretation and lack of communication. “I don’t have any problem with us not agreeing. It’s how far we go in that disagreement that takes us away from our mission, our responsibility.
“For us to be true leaders, we have to take a critical look at ourselves. I think we’re at critical mass. This core body needs to really come to grips with where we’re at in terms of our professional and personal relationships,” he said, adding that a “come to Jesus” session is in order.
Brown agreed with Rousseau’s call for change.
“I agree with you wholeheartedly. It hasn’t always been easy [serving with different board groupings], but I feel like I’m stuck in the mud with this one,” said Brown. “You cannot be in one of these five seats and not have good communication. You’ve got my 250-percent backing.”
Oddo echoed their sentiments.
“Clearly communication is the key,” Oddo said.

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Christopher Dunn has been the sports editor for Fayette Newspapers since 2011, in addition to running Fayette Game Day magazine. He is a graduate of Fayette County schools, as well as a graduate of Georgia State University with a degree in journalism. Follow him on twitter @fayettesports.


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