I thought by now you’d realize. There ain’t no way to hide your lying eyes.
— The Eagles
I don’t know if Atlanta businessman Steve Chiariello knows Lee County auto dealer Darrel Finnicum. But the two should meet.
Finnicum and Chiariello may not hit it off as buds, but they can at least commiserate on the politics of special interest over public interest, Albany style.
People in the region remember all too well how Finnicum, who owns one of the region’s most popular and successful auto dealerships, sought to locate a satellite dealership in western Dougherty County — where he grew up — only to have first the Dougherty County Commission and then the Albany City Commission turn him down when a prominent citizen — who obviously had more pull than Finnicum — complained that the “light pollution” would have a horrifying impact on the nearby neighborhood. (Even though she herself didn’t live close enough to be impacted ... but still.)
Well, Chiariello may be able to do Finnicum one better.
As one of the principles of Atlanta-based Inman Solar, Chiariello saw his company’s efforts — and money spent — to bring a solar field into Albany wasted when the Albany City Commission denied a rezoning request because — get this — members of a nearby neighborhood group were concerned about the “noise” made by solar panels and the “encroachment on the peace” in their part of the world.
As Chiariello tried to explain that there is virtually no noise associated with solar fields, that there would be no “constant coming and going” for a business that would need to be visited only eight to 10 times a year, and that the “setback” required by the city’s own ordinance would be exceeded 10 times over, I felt a bit sorry for him. His words were falling on deaf ears.
And Finnicum could have told him that no amount of common or business sense matters when special interest trumps all when it comes to the Albany government.
Ward IV City Commissioner Roger Marietta, who asks how high when members of the neighborhood group complaining about the “encroachment” of the solar field (which would have been in a wooded area of 25 acres farthest away from the neighborhood in a 70-plus-acre tract) says jump, accused Chiariello of not fully answering questions at a neighborhood watch meeting at which the matter was discussed. He also made the statement, “Coach Hamp Smith voted against it (as a member of the Albany-Dougherty Planning Commission), and that’s good enough for me.”
A more cynical person might have wondered why Smith was voting on a matter that he said directly impacted him and why the vote to approve the zoning request was 7-1, his the only vote against. Of course, a more cynical person might also have asked if this was the same Hamp Smith who verbally and physically (watch the video sometime) accosted African-Americans who were holding signs of support for Chad Warbington at a polling precinct when Warbington unsuccessfully challenged Marietta for his Ward IV seat.
It’s indeed a sad day when officials elected to represent the best interests of the people of Albany — and having a Finnicum Motors dealership and an Inman Solar array paying tax dollars in a community that is struggling to find new income to pay for faltering infrastructure is certainly in the best interest of the community — hold up progress with phony excuses that are nothing more than paying off political debts or succumbing to the pressure exerted by people with lots of dollars lining their pockets.
On the day after the vote, Marietta posted this on Facebook: Re the solar zoning near Country Club Estates: it is not close to this watch group but since it was brought up I wanted you to know the truth. Planning director recommended M1 Industrial Zoning which is against our current land use policy. They tried to table it, but I insisted on an up and down vote and we defeated it by a vote of 5 to 1. It would have been 6 to 1 but (Commissioner Tommie) Postell had to leave early. Bob Langstaff and one other tried to table it to allow the neighborhood to languish in uncertainty. We defeated the motion to table. It is a victory for the residents.
Yep, it was a victory for a select few whose reasons for opposing the solar array were laughable. And it was a victory for Lee County ... and Terrell County ... and Colquitt County ... and Tift County ... and other smaller communities whose leaders have the business sense to know a good thing — a valuable thing — when they see it.