I’m deeply concerned by news reports regarding Bear Creek Reservoir and the lack of action by the Board of Commissioners to publicly address these developments. Commissioners Nancy Schulz and Lanier Sims called for a public meeting to discuss the situation, but Chairman Keith Ellis has taken no action as of this writing. Commissioners Levie Maddox, John Douglas, and J.C. Henderson have remained silent, suggesting willingness to let the costly and self-serving actions of County Attorney Tommy Craig continue.
From news reports and commissioner comments, it’s evident Ellis and Craig withheld from the board and citizens a damaging August 28 letter by the US Army Corps of Engineers, while Ellis allowed Craig to respond on Newton County’s behalf without giving commissioners and the public a say. This is unconscionable and terrible leadership by the Chairman.
I’ve read both the letter from the US Army Corps of Engineers and Craig’s response. The latter only deepens concerns raised by the former:
1. The Corps letter is damning acknowledgement of how little Craig has accomplished, while spending an incredible sum of money ($22M at least) in the process.
2. The Corps letter and Craig’s response are clear evidence the County Attorney has become an impediment in our relationship with the Corps. His comments about the Newton County Water & Sewerage Authority (NCWSA) are likewise disturbing and unlikely to foster the kind of teamwork we need in this county.
3. Nowhere in Craig’s letter, nor in public comments from Ellis, have they properly addressed valid questions raised. None of us has a crystal ball, so I don’t view the answers as clear-cut. I respect Craig could differ with the Corps. But, when the Corps of Engineers, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the NCWSA, multiple engineering firms, and numerous citizen groups raise serious and legitimate questions about the wisdom of proceeding, it is troubling to see Craig resort to attacking questioners, rather than responsibly seeking truthful answers.
4. Craig lost all credibility as an objective consultant when he deliberately and knowingly mislead commissioners about the existence and findings of the 2009 safe yield analysis performed by Infratec Consulting. I would have been fired for similar deception on my job. It is unfathomable the same did not happen to Craig last December when this was first revealed. Yet, he was reappointed by this board in January. Commissioners, what were you thinking!?
5. I am deeply concerned by Craig’s stated intent to move swiftly forward, increasing our commitment and spending on the project. In his own words, he admits no urgency exists for this project, and yet his letter states: “Newton County's proposed approach allows engineering to proceed parallel to implementing environmental mitigation." He is hell-bent on accelerating the commitment. The Board of Commissioners must stop this madness.
I’m not qualified to assess the need or timing for this reservoir, but many who are have raised serious doubts. I am imminently qualified to say Craig’s actions prove serious conflicts of interest and show he is unfit to provide objective counsel on a project of this magnitude. His failure to secure a permit – despite repeated assurances we were “almost there” suggests incompetence. Considering the vast sums of money we have paid, he is clearly not a wise investment – something other counties have already recognized and taken action accordingly.
Commissioners face a tough January vote with significant political consequences regarding Craig’s reappointment as County Attorney. But, this can’t wait. Whether the Chairman will lead or not – and, clearly he won’t – the commissioners must demand a meeting. Someone must make the motion and call the vote. Commissioners, show you are something more than what most have come to think of you. Do the right thing.
Remove Tommy Craig immediately as a consultant on the Bear Creek Reservoir and any other water-related projects. We can’t afford to wait.