SPLOST pamphlet causes stir among local opponents

By Trina Trice

A pamphlet given to parents at a school function last week has members of the local Libertarian Party up in arms.

They're ready to take the issue to the law.

The Libertarian Party plans to file a complaint with the Georgia Ethics Commission against Lou Hisel and interim school Superintendent Dr. William Chavis for violating the state code of ethics.

The problem began, said Doug Craig, member of the Libertarian Party, when the Recreation and Roads 2003 Committee gave Clayton County school administrators the pamphlets promoting the proposed 2003 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax to be voted on in the Sept. 16 special election.

The pamphlets were then given to schools and were distributed during various open houses at the schools.

How and where the pamphlets were distributed bring up issues of ethics, Craig said, because of the use of government employees, such as teachers and school administrators, and government facilities.

"We really would like for it to not have happened at all," he said. "But to make it right, they have to give us a chance."

The fair plan of action should have been to distribute all information pertaining to the SPLOST, whether in favor of it or opposed to it.

Libertarians oppose SPLOST because it would mean raising taxes during a recession.

"Senior centers sound nice, but you can't eat there," Craig said. "The commissioner who makes $100,000 can eat there, but why can't a mother of three take her children to eat there. It doesn't appear to be racism, but the demographics in the county have changed. Young black people have to pay for the SPLOST but don't get to use (the senior center). They're asking for money from people hurting the most in Atlanta."

Clayton County administrators confiscated the pamphlets to prevent further distribution. However, no further action has been taken.

School administrators did not return phone calls by press time.

Gary Sams, attorney for the school district, believes school administrators distributed the pamphlets because they thought they were from the county government.

"It was my understanding that they thought it was from the county government," Sams said. "It was brought to the school's attention that (the pamphlet) was a propaganda document and not from the county. Should we have let it out in the first place? No. It was an isolated mistake. We would have done the same thing for everyone (with opposing or favorable SPLOST views)."

Although they have been removed, the pamphlets are out there and that can't be corrected, Craig said.

"Just because they removed it, doesn't mean they didn't violate (the code of ethics)."

The Clayton County Chamber of Commerce recently released a resolution endorsing the SPLOST. Some have criticized the Chamber for getting involved in political affairs, such as demanding the resignations of four members on the Clayton County Board of Education.

Shane Moody, CEO and president of the Chamber, isn't concerned about crossing ethical boundaries.

"This is not political," Moody said. "The Chamber has to look at each issue individually. When it's good for business or bad for business, we have to take a stand. (SPLOST) is something that affects the Chamber. (The resolution) is us endorsing a business issue and a quality of life issue."

The $240 million that would be raised for the 2003 SPLOST would help attract business and encourage families to shop in the county, Moody said.

SPLOST would require an increase in the county's sales tax by 1 cent on the dollar.

If approved by voters, the tax increase would remain in place for five years or until the $240 million is raised, with proceeds going to a road improvement program and construction and renovation of recreation facilities.