Site preparation on the proposed soap box derby park in Lithonia has been halted by the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners—pending approval by DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis.
In a 6-0 vote June 12, commissioners passed a resolution requesting Ellis to stop preparation work on the 11-acre site adjacent to the Bransby YMCA on Rock Chapel Road in unincorporated Lithonia.
The resolution, introduced by Commissioner Elaine Boyer, states that “no county funding previously appropriated by the county was intended for construction on or the site preparation of this property as only the commission is authorized to prioritize capital improvements.”
“The board has the authority to prioritize capital projects and we never did that,” Boyer said. “ [Ellis] ignored the Organizational Act that says we prioritize capital projects. The law is the law. And he disregarded it.”
“When you have a clear directive from six commissioners, that’s a full vote,” Boyer said. “[Ellis] needs to pay attention.”
The proposed $1 million soap box derby facility, located at 1253 Rock Chapel Road, is being funded by a 2001 parks bond.
The derby park would have a building for supplies and cars, a classroom, concession stand, finish-line pavilion and grandstand.
Commissioners have expressed concerns about how much use the proposed 890-foot, two-lane derby track would get.
The resolution also requests Ellis to “prepare a financial report to the commission reporting all expenditures and estimates of expenditures concerning the development of this property.”
The stop work resolution remains in effect until January 2013 or until further action by the Board of Commissioners.
In response to an open records request by The Champion, county officials provided records showing that the county has spent $91,819 clearing, grading and preparing the site for the proposed soap box derby facility.
The resolution comes after DeKalb County commissioners asked Ellis’ administration to provide the specifics of all costs incurred in preparation of the derby track.
A memo by Morris Williams, the Board of Commissioners’ chief of staff, stated that this was an “informal request for information to clarify” a May 24 story in The Champion that “indicated that county workers have begun work on preparing the proposed soap box derby track in advance of approval by the board.”
Ellis he was disappointed to hear about the board’s intent to stop work on the project after the commissioners’ vote.
“I would have expected that, in the spirit of transparency and communication, the board would have at least let me know that they were going to do that,” Ellis said following the vote.
“I just received this minutes ago,” Ellis said about the resolution. “I’m going to read it and then I’m going to follow the law.”
Ellis said that Boyer, the resolution’s author, should have knocked on his door and said, “I need to talk to you about this before I put it on the agenda.
“It also [raises] the question: Why is the sole Republican on the Board of Commissioners controlling the [parks] projects in District 5?” Ellis said. “Why is Elaine Boyer controlling projects in Lee May’s district? It’s a very unusual action.”
May said Ellis’ comments were unacceptable.
“He’s playing politics,” May said. “He talking Democrats and Republicans and we’re talking about the fact that [he’s] clear-cut 11 acres of land without Board of Commissioners approval.”
May is the commissioner who brought to light the administration’s work on the site.
“We were told by the administration that they were prepping the land,” May said. “Little did we know that prepping the land means clear-cutting 11 acres of land.”
Ellis said that the soap box derby track was approved by the Board of Commissioners initially on March 22, 2011.
“It was subsequently approved for the design work,” Ellis said. “It was specifically approved by the Board of Commissioners. And we began the work in accordance with that approval. I don’t know that today’s action has defunded that project, so I’m not sure what the next steps are.”
Ellis said the board’s action “may mean nothing.”
“It may mean that we continue to work because it may continue to be budgeted. It may mean that we have to stop the work,” Ellis said. “Obviously we will follow the law.”