Letter to the Editor: End of an Era

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Until three years ago, like most citizens in Lee County, I’d never attended a Lee County Commission meeting.
I’ve found failure to participate in this duty places all of us at risk: to protect the rights of the public, we must be aware of what the Commission is doing before it adopts policies, then we do everything we can to ensure those policies and processes are uniformly enforced. Dialogue is critical. If one does not participate in our political process, only the press can save us.
The press is specifically protected by our Constitution because its role is to inform and educate the public.
The average common man is not wealthy or politically connected and therefore has little voice. Fred Woods covered the County Commission meetings for many years and took this responsibility seriously. He encouraged participation in the process and gave voice to the common man.
Years ago, the County Commission failed to apply its Access Management Policy (AMP) and allowed East Lake Subdivision to connect to CR 106 without making the improvements mandated by the policy. After two or three failed attempts to urge the Commission to enforce the policy, it almost persuaded me that my “interpretation” (as all but one of the Commissioners said) was wrong. However Fred, who I’d not known, approached me after one meeting and told me that he’d driven by CR 106 and agreed that AMP was not followed. His comment gave me the courage to press on; he gave my voice back to me.
Fred and the Opelika Observer later published several of my letters to the editor. No action to enforce the AMP was ever taken by the County Commission but some of the Observer readers were made aware of Commission failure to enforce the policy. Fred took his role seriously and truthfully reported the news as he saw it. He told me when he thought I was right, when he thought I was going about it the wrong way and when he thought I was simply wrong. What more could a citizen ask for?
It has been more than three years since the connection to CR 106. During this time, the developer’s $100,000 performance bond was allowed to expire when the County generated a study “finding” a VPD less than even the developer’s. A subsequent legitimate Auburn study of 150 VPD proved the AMP improvements should have been made. CR 106 has become a construction entrance to East Lake and its condition is deplorable.
Still no action by the Commission. Fred’s efforts/confirmation prompted me to press on and uncover this practice in Lee County, especially against mostly black churches and rural citizens.
Having subscribed to the Observer for several years, I know it allows the citizen to express an alternate view; it is not simply the mouthpiece of the rich and powerful. I understand advertisements and classifieds keep the press rolling, not subscriptions. This is what made Fred’s actions all the more heroic. Fred believed in printing the voice of the people and supported the democratic process. I’m sure publishing my letters to the editor was a liability for Fred, but he did it even though he often disagreed with what I was saying or the way I said it.
I will sorely miss Fred’s commission reporting and aware or not, so will the citizens of Lee County. I couldn’t help but notice the absence of the OA News at the Aug. 27 County Commission meeting.
Res Ipsa Loquitur.

Peter Byrd

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