City Manager Alfred Lott steadfastly refused a citizens committee’s request in December for an explanation and information regarding irregularities that have occurred during the planning stages for the city’s proposed downtown bus transfer facility. But in a prepared statement to the City Commission on Tuesday night, Lott responded to criticism of the city’s role in the project expressed on television by Albany Journal Publisher Kevin Hogencamp.
In his statement, Lott suggested that the criticism is misguided because the project is state-driven and not city-driven. And he colored his statement with a Nazi Germany reference, adding that Hogencamp’s sentiments are motivated by his “hatred for the city.”
“Normally, I would have ignored the comments of this person,” Lott said in the statement. “However, since he was allowed to use Viewpoint, people might assume there is validity to what he said. In the words of General McAuliff, when surrounded by the NAZIs at Bastogne, ‘NUTTS.’ There is absolutely no validity to his comments.”
Lott, who has repeatedly denied the Journal’s requests for information and perspective about the federal government’s withdrawal of funding for the $2.3 million-turned-$9 million-plus project, deflected criticism Tuesday to the state Department of Transportation. However, while Lott says that the state is administering the project, public records show that the project is City Commission-driven and that Lott has designated city transportation staffer David Hamilton as “project manager.”
“The city manager’s comments tonight attempting to discredit me are eerily similar to those he made when we broke the Don Buie scandal,” Hogencamp said after the City Commission meeting. “Our reporting in that case not only was accurate, the mismanagement and criminal activity that occurred on Alfred’s watch, and that was initially defended by Alfred, were much worse than what we uncovered. In that matter, public scrutiny of Albany city government resulted in a public corruption conviction and three plea agreements.
“I stand by my reporting and subsequent analysis and trust that the circumstances involved with the planning of the bus station project will also be investigated.”
Lott says that his statement to the commission was intended to correct misinformation aired by Hogencamp on WALB-TV’s Viewpoint segment. The city manager did not, however, address numerous news stories and editorials — some of which revealed additional scandalous activity on city hall’s part in its pursuit of federal stimulus funding for the bus station project — published on the same topic in the Journal.
The bus transfer facility is being planned in the Sandy Bottom area of downtown; it would replace the facility on West Oglethorpe Boulevard. As the Journal has reported, a new bus transfer facility is not contemplated in the community’s extensive transportation improvement plan.
Here are Lott’s claims in his statement to the commission followed by facts reported in the Journal.
1. Lott: “The project is being managed and primarily funded by the state with additional funding by the Federal Transit Authority.”
In actuality, the federal government says otherwise – that the project would be funded almost exclusively with federal stimulus funds.
2. Lott: “The project was to be executed two phases, Phase one, $3.2 million included the bus bays and transit offices. Phase II included the bus bays and retail shops. However, because of stimulus availability there was an opportunity to step up the process and combine the phases.”
In actuality, according to public records, the project was initially planned to be a $2.3 million bus transfer facility. Additional amenities include accommodation for passenger rail transportation that is not contemplated by state transportation planners.
3. Lott: “Because of complaints by adjacent property owner and an unnamed resident, FTA rescinded its approval of the environmental assessment that had been approved and sanctioned by GDOT. To accommodate FTA and possibly take advantage of the stimulus money, GDOT is conducting another EA to be accompanied by public hearings (two) March 2010. Additionally an environmental justice outreach session focused on minorities will be conducted on Feb. 25th.”
Public records show that federal funding was pulled because the city and state failed to follow the procedures outlined in the applicable environmental regulations and had obtained federal funding based upon an inadequate and flawed environmental assessment.
In addition to environmental regulations, the project hasn’t passed National Historic Preservation Act muster, either, as adjacent property includes a structure that was built in 1885. Meanwhile, the public’s concerns about the bus station project not only were ignored during the approval process, transportation officials lied by saying that no public comments were received, records show.
Also, state and local transportation officials deliberately and erroneously claimed that a transportation facility would not be on property severely prone to flooding, public records show.
4. Lott: “The city was accused of attempting to cheat the FTA. That is categorically a false, nonsensical and absurd statement. There is not a shred of evidence to support that claim. May be the details are too complex for some to comprehend – but I do not think so. We should consider that this project would bring sorely needed jobs to Albany. I hope that the accuser will set aside his hatred for the city for the greater good.
When city hall falsified documentation to make its case for a so-called “multi-modal” transportation center to be built downtown, the federal government pulled its “stimulus” funding for the project. But the city and state continue to pursue federal funding for the project by saying that this time they will produce, at taxpayer expense, an accurate pre-assessment of the project.