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Matthews: Rec centers helped by ruling

By Justin Boron

Dexter Matthews, the president of the Clayton County NAACP, said a Cobb County ruling over laptops could help local residents get all of the recreation centers promised in a referendum almost two years ago.

The assertion is part of a running debate over the degree to which the county should commit to six recreation centers, which are outlined in an information packet for the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax program approved in 2003.

County Commission Chairman Eldrin continues to say at meetings that all six will eventually be completed. He also has pointed to progress on a center attached to the natatorium being constructed near the Harold R. Banke Justice Center.

But several community leaders contend that the commission is backing off a promise to build all six centers. Matthews said the natatorium and the senior center don't count because they are separate from six centers described in information packet.

He said his argument is backed up by the Cobb County ruling.

A judge last week forced the Cobb County school system to halt a technology program that planned to give laptops to all students in grades six through 12. The judge's order resulted from a lawsuit filed by former Cobb County Commissioner Butch Thompson.

Former Gov. Roy Barnes, who represented Thompson, said the laptop plan diverged from what was promised in a special, one-cent tax initiative approved by voters there in 2003.

The ruling, he said, sustains forthright government.

"I think what this case stands for is that candor is not an option when the government is dealing with citizens," Barnes told the Marietta Daily Journal. "There can be no slight of hand, no wink and nod. A promise made is a promise kept."

Matthews, who has raised the possibility of a lawsuit in Clayton County, said the decision cements his conviction that he and several other members of the community are right.

"I think we have a better case than Cobb County," he said.

Commissioner Wolé Ralph also said the ruling meant gains for the recreation centers.

"The case clearly and convincingly supports the position the community has taken with regards to six recreation centers and one senior center," he said.

Ralph, who is not an attorney, said he sees four significant points strengthened by the Cobb County case.

é The promotional or informational material distributed to the public for the Clayton County SPLOST is binding.

é The number of projects cannot be increased or decreased.

é Projects cannot be exchanged.

"The board is obliged to do six recreation centers as specified in the promotional materials," he said.

The county hasn't completed any centers. But Commissioner Virginia Gray said progress is being made.

Gray, whose district in northwest Clayton County is planned for the next center, said difficulties with land purchase have snagged its development for the time being. Nevertheless, she promised the centers would be completed.

"It is very easy for our detractors to come in here every month and bash commissioners for situations over which we lack control," she said in prepared statement. "Of course the crime rate has escalated but those who are pointing fingers are doing nothing to help solve the problem."