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Time for new direction on DOT
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Forsyth County News

For the third time in less than two years, legislators representing the 9th Congressional district soon will be voting to select someone new to represent the district on the state Department of Transportation board.

We have a suggestion for them. Let’s try something novel and not appoint yet another former state lawmaker to the panel that far too often in the past has been a political playground for politicians and their pals.

After only a year in the seat, board member Steve Farrow of Dalton has resigned. Farrow is a former state legislator. He replaced Cum-ming’s Mike Evans, a former state legislator. Evans replaced Bill Hasty, a former legislator. You get the picture.

The beauty of the DOT board from a legislator’s point of view is that it provides the perfect political sandbox in which lawmakers can play. State representatives and senators from counties located in the 9th District get to select who serves on the board from the district, and they get to do it via secret vote.

It’s not just the lawmakers from the 9th Congressional district who like to reward their former and current colleagues with DOT board appointments. It happens all across Georgia. Farrow’s departure leaves two former lawmakers on the 13-member board, including one who resigned his legislative seat to accept the appointment, necessitating a special election in his district.

DOT Commissioner Vance Smith is also a former legislator. He, too, resigned his seat to take on his new job.

With a little more professional oversight and a little less political pandering, the DOT might not be in the financial mess it is today.

A report on the agency earlier this month led the governor to liken the DOT’s financial record keeping to that of the infamous Enron Corporation, and the federal government has frozen funds coming to the state for mass transit projects because of the agency’s financial management problems.

A particular problem with DOT finances revealed by earlier audits is that the agency has for years promised and started construction projects which it did not have the money to complete. We can only wonder how many of those projects were initiated to help some local politician.

Former state House member Stacey Reece of Gainesville is actively seeking appointment to the DOT board. Reece served four years  and earned the favor of House Speaker Glenn Richardson, who ap-pointed him as a powerful “hawk” to help push the speaker’s position on legislative issues.

Reece left the Capitol under a cloud of suspicion for ethical misconduct after he allowed lobbyists to host a bridal shower for him at an upscale Atlanta club. Many of his colleagues in the General Assembly were quick to distance themselves from the potential conflict of interests inherit in such a situation, but Reece never saw a problem with it.

Richardson supported Reece in an earlier bid to defeat Evans for  the DOT post, and when that failed  subsequently appointed him to serve on the State Road and Tollway Authority.  Gainesville Rep. Carl Rogers now is championing Reece again, largely because he is from Hall County, which apparently is more important than questions about personal integrity.

Is yet another former legislator with more than his share of questionable baggage the best we can do?

We have to believe that within the 15 counties that comprise the district, including Forsyth, there are others who can bring to the DOT board the fresh vision that it needs to gain control of the agency and make it efficient.

Other districts of the state have learned that DOT board members without legislative legacies can be just as effective and successful, if not more so. It’s time for us to give it a try, but it’s only going to happen if local legislators think the voting public cares enough to make it an issue.

Please let them know you do.