On Monday night, the United Peachtree Corners Civic Association (UPCCA) hosted a final candidate forum for those competing in the run-off election for Peachtree Corners City Council. Judge Warren Davis moderated the event which was composed, at least in part, of audience questions to the candidates. Here is my assessment of how it went, who did well, and who missed the mark.
David Proud and Alex Wright are contending for the Post 3 seat representing District 3. Unfortunately for these gentlemen, the questions presented to them were not very demanding and sometimes just silly. Mr. Wright made jokes about his wife in an attempt to liven up the evening and counter the silliness of questions like how “squeaky clean” his background check might be and what to do if a vendor vying for a contract tried to buy lunch. Mr. Proud answered most of these questions more earnestly but to the same result. They had similar answers to questions about their vision for the city and whether they support a city-manager form of government (which the city has per the Charter so once again a silly question). But at the end of the day, the questions left little ability for the candidates to sink their teeth in or differentiate themselves.
Jeanne Aulbach and Robert Byars are in a run-off for the At-Large Post 4 seat. They both sort of bumbled over the first question about what sort of ethics policy the city needs, each declaring themselves ethical people – whew. And on the second question about being accessible to voters they both answered similarly, ready to hand out their phone numbers and email addresses to any and all. They both declared themselves against building a city hall. Ms. Aulbach seemed forever against it and Mr. Byars seemed only against it for now. When asked about a plan to widen 141, Ms. Aulbach showed more command of the subject. She understood the desire to alleviate traffic, but declared the current plan deficient because it does not address bottlenecks such as the intersection at the PIB-141 split. The other complex question presented to this post asked whether the new city should annex additional properties and about property rights for owners. Byars stated that he liked Peachtree Corners as is. Aulbach agreed that she sees no reason for Peachtree Corners to expand. Neither candidate referenced the Charter nor how it limits the city council actions on any of the topics presented. Overall, Ms. Aulbach showed more thought and answered most of the questions more carefully than Mr. Byars. The caveat is that Ms. Aulbach is very closely aligned with the UPCCA and I can’t say whether she had any forewarning about what some of the questions might be.
Post 5 At-Large is contended by Lorri Christopher and Gray Terry. The first question asked whether they were in favor of TSPLOST (special purpose tax to support mass transit in our area) They both support this initiative, which left me baffled. They both sited bad traffic as the reason, but neither talked about who they expected to ride the new transit and to where. Both seem to have a sort of “build it and they will come” attitude about it. Gray Terry cited that MARTA is poorly run but seemed sure that folks north could somehow run a government transit system well. They were also asked about implementing an early warning system for tornadoes. Once again, they both jumped out in support, declaring that Peachtree Corners needs emergency warning and communications systems. They were asked about animal control for the deer population. They both declared a love of deer but that something must be done to prevent their take-over of the city. Terry suggested using a spray on your yard or a 12 gauge. Christopher said she built a fence to keep them out. Neither ever mentioned the Charter and that the three services included are limited to garbage, code enforcement, and zoning. These two are both ready to expand services at any moment. Keep your eye on whoever wins this post. They both have big vision for all the things that can be run, fixed, paid-for by the new city government. Post 5 has a four year-term so the winner can be patient with their plan. I sincerely hope that one of them is way more conservative than they appear. I invite them to back-off some of their current rhetoric. But we’d all be wise to guard our money; I think they have plans to use it.
Finally Weare Gratwick and Brian Stickney are competing for the Post 6 At-Large seat. Overall, these gentlemen fielded the most difficult slate of questions. The first question asked the candidates how they feel about imminent domain and how it might be applied in Peachtree Corners. Mr. Gratwick talked about local representation and planning and support of property rights. Mr. Stickney stated that no power of Imminent Domain is granted by the charter to the city and it should stay that way. The candidates were asked how they will stay informed about what is going on in the region. Both mentioned working with the county government and chamber of commerce. Mr. Stickney went further and emphasized the importance of understanding what is happening nationally. He sees more people moving to the South and to our area in particular for jobs or for retirement to nicer climates and that has to be considered to accurately plan. The next question asked for a vision for zoning for undeveloped parcels of land. Mr. Stickney took umbrage with the question stating that is was just too generic to answer well. Undeveloped parcels are in different parts of the city and each would have its own issues for traffic, surrounding residents and businesses etc. The moderator narrowed the question to the land across from the Forum. Mr. Stickney pointed out that the land there is already zoned by the county. The city can hope to work with the land owner and to control how traffic and density is managed at the site. Mr. Gratwick agreed, adding that the city would need to hire professionals to consult on the master plan.
Overall, I give the night to Mr. Stickney in Post 6 as having the best performance. He was the only candidate who consistently invoked the city-lite concept and the 3 services outlined by the charter in his remarks. His closing statement called attention to the fact that many candidates seemed willing to add services in a blink, but he understood the limits of the Charter. If you are going to declare yourself a fiscal conservative you have to say “no” most of the time. You cannot see government as the solution to so many issues. He acknowledged that people don’t like to hear “no” when they want the government to solve their problems for them, but that is what a responsible political leader needs to do. Bravo Mr. Stickney.
Be sure to vote on April 3rd.