Citizens demand accountability

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 14, 2004

With news of recent retail developments, funded in part by the city of Greenville, a local, grassroots organization has formed to deal with what they consider to be &uot;politics as usual.&uot;

The organization, Greenville Taxpayers for Honest Government, is an unincorporated, non-profit group that formed with several goals in mind.

The group officially organized two weeks ago and became an unincorporated entity, but the idea came to bear a while back.

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&uot;We’ve been talking about it unofficially for some time, but we formally became an unincorporated group just recently,&uot; group President Gerald Johnson said.

&uot;We drew up our bylaws and we’ve had attorneys look them over.

We don’t want to be a backroom organization.

This group is for anyone who is concerned about city government.&uot;

The group lists the following goals they would like to see happen:

n Give voters a viable option in elections.

n Eliminate using public money for private organizations.

n Assure that all developers pay their own way.

n Promote truthfulness and full disclosure in government.

n Eliminate backroom politics.

n Eliminate special favors for friends of elected officials.

n Promote the competitive bidding of professional services as well as contracts.

n Eliminate basing budgets on projected revenue.

n Eliminate the micromanagement of government employees by elected officials.

n Eliminate the practice of boards hiring elected officials.

n Repeal the new one-cent sales tax.

Three of the purposes listed, Johnson said, refer to the city’s handling of the Wal-Mart Supercenter venture and the plan to lease the old store for just over $2.5 million over the next 13 years.

Charles Oswald, secretary/treasurer of the group said he got involved after he learned the city agreed to lease the old Wal-Mart store once it is vacated.

He is also angry over the $600,000 the city pledged to build the access highway.

&uot;It is the fact that we had to pay for this supercenter to come here,&uot; he said. &uot;I don’t think the city of Troy paid for theirs, the city of Jackson, Ala. didn’t

pay for theirs and Selma didn’t pay for theirs.&uot;

Oswald also said he doesn’t understand why the city has to pay anything since a Supercenter was the next logical step.

&uot;They were in contact with other property owners so they were on their way here anyway,&uot; he said.

&uot;I don’t see why Greenville paid it unless it was to speed up the process. That is the only reason why we would have committed this money.&uot;

Oswald reiterated that it is not that they don’t want a Supercenter, they just don’t think the city should have to obligate itself.

According to Johnson, anyone who pays taxes in the city of Greenville, whether they live in the city or not, can join.

Johnson said they have 20 confirmed members and about 50 supporters.

Oswald said support grows as the word spreads.

&uot;I have yet to find anybody who has told us we were stupid for opposing this,&uot; he said.

&uot;Everybody is happy about the Supercenter coming until they find out that we had to pay for it. We want people to call their elected officials and ask them why?&uot;

Another issue Oswald said seems to be in the background is traffic.

&uot;We think most of the people who are from Greenville are not going to cross the interstate to get out there,&uot; he said.

&uot;They will turn onto Manningham and cut through.

We’re going to see a lot of disgruntled people in that area.&uot;

Oswald said he believes traffic will &uot;bottleneck&uot; at the bridge.

&uot;The plans are just stupid,&uot; he said. &uot;Businesses out there are going to struggle because once you stop there once, you’re never going to stop there again because you can’t get back on the interstate.&uot;

He said he believes a light placed at Cahaba Road will cause traffic to back up on the interstate.

&uot;If they have the traffic coming in there that a store that size is supposed to have it is going to be backed up,&uot; he said.

He said one way he knows he can change things is by being involved and work in the next election year.

&uot;I would like to find out who exactly is responsible for this and see that they are no longer in their position after the next election,&uot; he said.

Oswald said the group is quite diverse with people from all different backgrounds and those interested can find out more at the meeting. Annual dues for the group are $5. Meetings are held each Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in the old Greenville Academy building on Academy Drive.

Attempts to reach members of the Greenville City Council to react to this group’s formation were unsuccessful.

Councilman James Lewis said he would have to learn more about what they stand for before commenting.