An open letter to Fayette Co. citizens

Tue, 07/15/2008 - 3:13pm
By: Letters to the ...

[Editor’s note: This email was sent Tuesday, July 8, at 7:05 p.m., after The Citizen had gone to press.]

Over the last 18 months that I have been in office, I have avoided letter writing campaigns to the media outlets. Quite frankly, I have held firm the belief that your vote for me reflected your trust in my ability to serve as your representative and to make sound and informed decisions on your behalf; and this I have and will continue to do.

I am reminded of my mother’s philosophy that if “you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Unfortunately, our current political climate mandates that something be said, and not meaning to disrespect my mom, the “truth” needs to be told rather than the suppositions, personal opinion, idle rhetoric and, with all due respect, a total disregard for the time-honored tradition of political discourse within the bounds of propriety.

Many of you, I am sure, have read the recent politically self-serving, vicious attacks on your current Board of Commissioners and their purported total disregard for the fiduciary responsibility they pledged to hold sacred.

Let me state unequivocally that, as a body, your Board of Commissioners have taken this responsibility very seriously and have exercised our financial duties with due diligence, performing exhaustive research and accumulating necessary data to support the decisions that have been made.

The following are the facts; they are appropriately set out in official actions of this board, are systematically documented, and are available for your full review. It is time that you, the citizens, receive the facts and not the distorted, politically motivated, non-factual information with which you have been bombarded.

Recent headlines would have you believe that county employees received huge pay increases. The facts are that employees overall did not receive huge pay increases. Employees making between $20,000 and $30,000 received the lion’s share of pay increases. Employees earning over $50,000 per year got an average of 1.5 percent.

The Compensation and Classification Study conducted independently by the University of Georgia was the first such study conducted in more than seven years, and the resulting increases will be implemented over a 3-year period. The vast majority of county employees will see their pay increase by less than 2 percent per year over this time period as a result of the pay study.

Headline — Proposed employee pension plan will bankrupt the county. The facts are the average Fayette County employee has $36,000 in their retirement account and, according to two independently conducted actuarial studies, the majority of county employees will not have enough money in their accounts to retire.

The fact is that from 2000 thru 2006 employee turnover in Fayette County increased to 20 percent for the general work force and approached 30 percent for public safety employees.

The reason cited by the vast majority of employees for leaving Fayette County was, “Fayette County is not competitive with surrounding jurisdictions.”

You probably did not know that the majority of our work force resides outside of Fayette County. The fact is that due to this board’s actions over the last 18 months, our turnover rate has decreased dramatically from its all-time high in 2006 to its current level of 3.8 percent, saving the taxpayers millions of dollars in training and recruiting costs.

The fact is that the proposed retirement plan currently under consideration by the board will result in annual savings to the county of approximately $550,000 per year, provide a better retirement plan than the one currently in place and both can be accomplished with a risk factor of minimal proportion. This new plan will allow us to compete for quality employees both within and outside of Fayette County.

Headline: County budget reflects poor financial management. The facts speak for themselves. The county will not increase taxes this year, unlike many other jurisdictions; yet at the same time we will be able to maintain current service levels and have reduced the Fiscal Year 2009 budget by over 6 percent, representing a reduction in spending of approximately $4,800,000 – after implementation of salary increases.

One should ask how is it possible to decrease the budget, maintain current service levels and not increase taxes, given the current economy, rising fuel prices and increases in other operating expenses.

The answer is straightforward: cooperation in scrutinizing all spending, elimination of unnecessary expenditures and improvement of efficiencies in operations wherever possible. That is what we have done, and that is what I will strive to continue to do on your behalf.

It is an insult to suggest, as some have done, the department heads and constitutional officers, who so valiantly worked to reduced their budget in light of today’s economic challenges, would not do so without “pressure” from their superiors.

Beginning last year in anticipation of reduced revenues, the Board of Commissioners directed the county manager to freeze all vacancies that were not critical in providing services. Currently there are 23 positions that have not been filled, representing a cash savings of approximately $1,200,000.

We hired in-house legal counsel, and that alone has saved $400,000 in legal expense during its first year.

We bid out insurance contracts rather than using a previously used intermediary, resulting in savings of approximately $900,000.

We invested in sorely needed technology improvements, saving in excess of $100,000 in personnel costs.

These are just some of the initiatives that your Board of Commissioners has undertaken in order to balance the budget in these uncertain economic times. One constitutional officer wrote to us, stating: “In light of the difficult economic times this budget process was the most open and fair process that I have witnessed during my service of more than 30 years.”

There are many other issues that I as your chairman could address, such as: Why did the previous board provide a golden parachute for the former county administrator (who had zero prior experience as a county administrator) which consisted of 12 months’ salary and benefits plus paid health care coverage for the next 12 years at a cost to the taxpayers of approximately $100,000? Why is this county facing a federal lawsuit because the previous board purportedly violated a taxpayer’s first amendment right to free speech? Why were political contributions from those doing business with the county never disclosed? And, why did this county lose more than 16 senior managers during the previous board’s tenure?

The list of why’s is long, but that’s a discussion for another day. Suffice it to say that I am confident we have exercised our responsibilities with due diligence, ensuring a conservative fiscal philosophy on spending your tax dollars and a priority on an open government.

Those who profess that the state of the county is in shambles are nothing more than political fear-mongers making a feeble attempt to regain their lost power and influence by using distortions of facts, innuendoes and rhetoric to create a false sense of insecurity in those they prey upon.

I welcome your inquiries and will respond to any concerns or questions that you may have. Contact me at

Jack Smith, chairman

Fayette County (Ga.) Board of Commissioners

Fayetteville, Ga.

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Submitted by Vernon on Tue, 07/15/2008 - 6:30pm.

Thank you Mr. Smith,
I appreciate all you and the rest of the board (except Peter) have done to make my county a better place. Our employees deserve the best because they give their best. Keep up the good work!

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