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Lewis Penland, chairman of the Macon County Planning Board, to commissioners:

First off, I would like to thank Chairman Beale and the commissioners for meeting with us jointly tonight. And thank the planning board members, the comprehensive plan subcommittee members, and the safe slope development workgroup members for attending. And thank you to the public in attendance. We can see from the attendance that many people care about planning in Macon County.

Our work is important for so many reasons. We hear over and over during campaigns and we read in numerous surveys and studies, that planning is the most important issue in Macon County. And it’s not an issue divided between Democrats and Republicans, liberal or conservative in the true sense — because we believe in looking smartly at the way this county develops in an effort to conserve resources for the future, to build a strong stable economy and to protect property rights and the quality of life and heritage that has drawn and kept so much investment in this county.

Another indication that this work is so important is the fact that our board and subcommittees are made up of volunteers. Every member of our board has a family and obligations, yet they volunteer countless hours with the hope that their time will make a difference for future generations. I keep hearing how we need a different voice on the planning board or how we need diverse opinions. Well, if you’ve ever been to a board meeting, you would know that we have that covered. We disagree on almost everything, but in the end we come to consensus. And we agree on the basic principles of planning for the future of the county. And none of our volunteers, no matter how much he or she might disagree, works actively against the board, as was the case with Mr. Goodman. We agree to disagree and then we get down to the hard work.

Among the most active of our volunteers is Al Slagle. Al comes from an old Macon County family that has a long history of public service. Al has been working hard over the past year with our safe slopes workgroup. He has put together one of the most diverse groups of people and built a consensus among them. On the workgroup with Al, who is a retired geologist, is Paul Shuler, a grading contractor, Susan Ervin, a planning board member, Reggie Holland, a building and developer, Stacy Guffey, former county planner who now works on preservation and economic development, Barry Clinton, a scientist from Coweeta Lab who studies the forestry and hydrology of our mountains, and John Becker, a local real estate agent. This group of volunteers, appointed by the planning board, have developed a set of reasonable recommendations to guide us as we develop safe slope-development practices. And along the way, they have helped build a consensus among their family, friends and peers in their professions; so that we can now say we have tremendous support in the community for addressing slope development issues. This is the reason we cannot afford to lose Al Slagle as a planning board member.

Like the rest of the nation, our local economy is in bad shape. We need investment and we need jobs. The way we get those is through smart planning that creates a safe environment for investment that will lead to job creation. But that’s not what Macon County offers right now. What we offer is a “caveat emptor,” “buyer beware” atmosphere. For example, if I buy a used car down at the local lot and the brakes don’t work on that car, then, we come to find out, the salesman knew that all along, but he wanted to make the sale, so he didn’t disclose. Well, a couple of things are going to happen. First of all I will never buy a car from that individual again. Secondly, I’m going to tell all my friends “don’t buy anything from that car lot because you don’t know what you’re getting.” The same thing is happening right now with our county.

People who’ve invested in property here only to see that property affected by slides or erosion and runoff on their on property or their neighbors’ property. They in turn are telling their friends.

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Over the long term, that’s going to hurt us. People will invest in areas where they know that their investment, not only in the monetary value of the property, but also their expectation of quality of life, will be protected. And some people will say that this can all be settled in court. Is that what we want for our county? A litigious county? Does that look good to potential investors and property owners?

Let’s be straight here. The reason people move to this county and stay in this county and invest in this county is because of clean water, the small-town atmosphere, the slower pace of life, fresh air, farmland, open space, and the most beautiful mountains in the world.

As a developer, I can say that we were well on our way to destroying those very things before the economic downturn. Now is our one and only chance to get things right, to protect our assets like any smart businessperson would do, and to build a strong stable economy for future generations.

We have sat by as people from faraway places have promised us the moon if only we would stay out of their way and let them develop. Well that promise has come and gone and we’re left with unstable roads and house sites, unlivable homes, and hundreds of foreclosed lots burdening our banks.

Folks, we’re looking at two choices — the vision that you can already see on our mountainsides, a vision that will bring short-term profit to a few. Or a vision built on our local sensibilities that works hand in hand with developers, property owners, environmentalists, long-term families and newcomers to create a strong stable economy that honors rather than destroys our way of life.

This is a critical time and that’s why we need dedicated members on this board who put personal interests aside for what’s best for the future of this county — members like Al Slagle.

I respectfully request that you remove Mr. Goodman from the planning board and appoint Al Slagle in his place. I also request that in the future, as has been the tradition, the planning board be consulted on any appointments to the board and that appointments be based on qualifications, not on political affiliations, and further that these decisions be deliberative and not on the spur of the moment because these appointments have long-term effect. I fully understand that the planning board serves at your pleasure, but it is important to our functioning as a board that we be consulted on any changes. We have to have a cohesive board in order to be effective. And finally, I would like to request that the board of commissioners and planning board communicate on a regular basis so that we can build a better understanding between the two boards.

On a personal note. At this point, I’d like to take the opportunity to address in public something I’ve been hearing that’s going around. There are some folks, and I’m pretty sure I can guess who they are, that have been spreading the rumor that Al has been working on these recommendations with the aim of (I quote) “creating himself or his family members a job.” I have known Al for many years and I can tell you that is not just a lie, it’s a damn lie. And I think such a lie speaks to the level that some people will stoop to and to the fact that when some people run out of constructive arguments they will resort to attacking good people. If you have an issue or constructive input to the work we’re doing, then please offer it, but personal attacks are just morally wrong and will only serve to undermine your argument.

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