By Joel Hall
This week, the Clayton County Branch of the NAACP issued a statement opposing the new SPLOST the Board of Commissioners wants voters to support in a special election on Feb. 5.
If approved, the new SPLOST will provide an estimated $305 million worth of new infrastructure throughout the county. A new Juvenile Justice Center, along with three additional police precincts, headline a host of public safety improvements.
However, the president of the Clayton County NAACP branch says before voters say yes to another SPLOST, they should withhold their support until county leaders finish building all of the six recreational centers promised in the current SPLOST.
"We still have the same problem with the youth in the county not having any positive place to play, and two rec centers isn't enough," said NAACP president Dexter Matthews. "They have money in the bank, right now, to build those rec centers and they just won't build them, and that's a problem," he added.
The current five-year SPLOST, which began on Jan. 1 2004, anticipated $240 million, $40 million of which was supposed to go toward improvements in recreation within the county.
The improvements included the building of six centers in different corners of the county. So far, the county has built two -- the Carl Rhodenizer Recreation Center in Rex and the Virginia Gray Recreation Center in Riverdale, noted Matthews.
Matthews said construction of the centers was a major selling point of the current SPLOST and the NAACP will not support any new SPLOST until the promises of the old one are kept.
"When we started this process, we wanted them to do something to help these kids out, but now they come out with this new SPLOST where they focus on law enforcement," said Matthews. "We want them to focus some on the youth and the young people ... doing some preventative work ... not arresting somebody [after] they do something wrong."
Matthews also said he believes the planning process for the new SPLOST was "rushed," and that citizens were mostly kept in the dark during the decision-making.
A public meeting to approve the intergovernmental agreement between the county and participating cities in the SPLOST was set for Monday, but was canceled, and moved to Wednesday at 4 p.m. Matthews complained of the time change, saying many residents will be working and unable to attend.
Commissioner Wole Ralph echoed Matthews' concerns about citizen input in the proposed SPLOST. He said the first formal presentation of it was not introduced to the commissioners until Sept. 4.
"What I would have liked to do, would be to have a meeting in each commission district, so we could get input from the citizens on what they believe are the priorities of the county ... before it was brought to the board," said Ralph. "The process has clearly been rushed."
Ralph said that from the time he entered office, he advocated that the six recreation centers be completed quickly, "because if we didn't, it would start damaging the integrity of the board."
He said he encountered opposition from some fellow commissioners, regarding the remaining four centers.
While Ralph said he supported the new SPLOST, and believed the county should take advantage of it, he believes that "the first thing that the county needs to do is honor its commitment to the rec centers."
Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell could not be reached for comment.