Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Peachtree Corners City Council Candidate Debate – How Did They Do?

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.  

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Run-off Elections in April

Three posts were secured on Tuesday night.  Mike Mason, running unopposed, was confirmed as Mayor.  Phil Sadd will represent District 1.  Jay Lowe will represent District 2.  The other posts are expected to have run-off elections in early April.

Post 3 - Run-off between David Proud and Alex Wright
Post 4 - Run-off between Jeanne Aulbach and Robert Byars
Post 5 - Run-off between Lorri Christopher and Gray Terry
Post 6 - Run-off between Weare Gratwick and Brian Stickney

Congratulations to all the candidates for running great campaigns.  The Peachtree Corners Ballot Committee appreciates how well you engaged with us on the issues.  We hope that Scott Ehrlich, Brent Johnson, and David Leader  will stay as engaged in the City and the issues as they were during their campaigns.  We look forward to seeing you on our Facebook Page and at future city meetings and events.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Peachtree Corners Ballot Committee – Preparing to Vote

On Tuesday March 6, the voters of Peachtree Corners will go to the polls to elect their first city council.  The field is diverse.  A couple candidates seem to view a position on the council as a first step on their checklist to higher office.  One or two seem more focused on resolving their own personal issues with zoning or code violations.  Many are connected to the UPCCA and achieving what they were not able to achieve with volunteers through government dictate instead.  Some talk a lot and we are not sure what they mean.  But many seem genuine, un-political folks who really want what is best for the new city.  
Where does the Peachtree Corners Ballot Committee stand in all this?  We are committed to being a watchdog group.  We want to make certain that the mayor and city council follow through on all the promises made during the campaign for cityhood.  We want to see the promise of the Charter fulfilled – 3 services, limited government, minimal taxes, open and transparent.  And above all, we want the city protected from special interest and “I know what’s best for you” politicians that usually run away with our various other governments.  
You see, the Peachtree Corners Charter is protected from change, expansion, added taxes by the need to go to the voters in a city wide referendum.  We saw last week that quiet action by a politician or two and the Georgia State House can circumvent the Charter, dismissing our right to a vote.  The PCBC is committed to drawing attention to those that threaten the integrity of the Charter.  We will use all our tools – our writing, emailing, cartooning, blogging, Facebooking, calling, etc. to get voters and political leaders to take notice.  We are not afraid to employ a little snark and sarcasm as well if it helps get voters and council persons to pay attention to the implications of their actions.
So far, we have gotten most candidates to answer a slate of questions on the issues and posted those, unedited to our website.  We have engaged the candidates in a Facebook debate focused on several topics including:
  • Should Peachtree Corners build a multi-million dollar city hall? 
  • As a city councilperson, will you commit to only put referenda that expand city services or increase taxes on major election ballots: i.e. presidential and mid-term November election dates only? 
  • Would you support a mandate that all actions relative to the formation of rules, regulations and other be reviewed by the citizens of Peachtree Corners for a period of no less than 30 days for comments before a definitive vote is taken by the council?
  • What are your comments on the secretive land swap that just occurred between Berkley Lake and Peachtree Corners?  

Many candidates engaged and provided thoughtful answers.  Some we agreed with and some we challenged further.  Some candidates have decided not to participate.  They have ignored emails inviting them to engage and dismissed personal invitations to join in.  Visit our website and our Facebook page.  Read what those who want to reach the 43% who are skeptical about what this new city will bring and discern who thinks that group is not worth their time.
The Peachtree Corners Ballot Committee will not endorse specific candidates due to our status as a ballot committee.  We have challenged the candidates on the issues important to our small government, fiscally conservative, skeptical of the new city constituency.  Based on who participated in that dialogue and how they answered the questions presented, we believe voters can get a good feel for who will be focused on preserving the right to referendum and the small government, low tax promises the Charter attempts to ensure.
Vote on March 6!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Is the Peachtree Corners City Charter a Sham?

Many in Washington look upon the Constitution as an ancient document written by a bunch of old guys with almost no relevance to today.  It is ignored or circumvented when working within its bounds is deemed too cumbersome or inconvenient.  The Peachtree Corners City Charter is the city’s “constitution”.  It describes the boundaries of the city, how the city will function, how it will add services, elect officials and collect taxes.  It clearly states that the charter may only be changed by a referendum of the city’s citizens.  But a small group of politicians just changed the charter without any such vote by the citizens.  
These politicians, including mayor-to-be Mason, the Berkeley Lake Mayor Salter and State Representative Tom Rice, met together, decided that a stretch of land along Peachtree Industrial would go to Berkeley Lake despite being ratified in the Charter as belonging to Peachtree Corners.  Bill 956 was passed by the State House on February 27, 2012.  It amended our charter by legislative fiat.  No citizen referendum.  Poof! 161 businesses are no longer in Peachtree Corners because a group of politicians banded together to go around the city’s “constitution.”  Promises were made during the vote for cityhood.  Those promises have already been broken.
Now, I believe that if a group of residents or businesses want to secede from the City, they should be allowed to do so by following the rules in the Charter and State Law.  What is shocking is how quickly Mr.  Mason and Mr. Rice directly circumvented a referendum because they saw the need to do so.  Mr. Rice has offered all sorts of “I know what’s best for you” reasons.  But rather than explain those reasons and let the citizens vote per the charter, he used his political power to simply act.  What else do these politicians think needs action and going to the voters is just too much trouble?  What do they think we need next:  Perhaps a police department, a big city hall, more tax revenue, more, more, more.  But we certainly need no votes by the citizens.  That is just too inconvenient and the voters won’t understand anyway.  They need the superior intellect of us politicians to tell them what is best!  Yikes folks.

In November, we didn’t vote to become a city because we wanted to write 'Peachtree Corners' on our return address- we voted to adopt the charter. The charter defined our boundaries. The charter was sold to all of us as having protections built into it that no other city had- it could not be changed without a referendum.  By legislative fiat, Tom Rice and his cronies just changed the charter without our vote.  This isn’t an issue of whether I pay the legal fees to fight Berkeley Lake annexation attempts, it’s much more fundamental than that.  The city we voted on in November will now no longer exist.  Is the charter still a legally binding document or not? And if it is, what good is the supposed requirement for a referendum if Tom Rice and his buddies down at the statehouse can sit down over a glass of bourbon and a good cigar and do whatever the hell they want to do anyway?  Remember that cities exist at the will of the legislature, so political friends there will allow quick changes to our Charter whenever it is convenient for them.  And the rights of we the citizens are just so much lip service.
Be sure to vote on March 6.  Be sure to pick people absolutely dedicated to protecting your right to referendum laid down in the Charter.   Do not surrender this city to the elitist “I know what’s best for you whether you like it or not” politicians.  Mike Mason looks to be that kind of politician.  Figure out who his friends are and who is a thorn in his side and make sure we have a council that will stick up for us.  Candidates, show us if you have any thorns please.  Post your comments on our Facebook Page.