Sunday, May 22, 2016

City Council Post 2 Candidates Answer PCBC Questions

The Peachtree Corners Ballot Committee submitted questions to the candidates for city council post 2 - Stephen Peet and Eric Christ.  The unedited responses to each question are
Stephen Peet
listed below exactly as the candidates submitted them.  The election is Tuesday May 24th.  Those that live in Post 2 must go to city hall to vote for the Post 2 candidate.  If you are uncertain what post you live in, check the
map here.  Post 2 is highlighted in yellow.
Eric Christ

1. City officials now admit there is no such thing as a 'city lite' even though they sold that very idea to voters back in 2011. What do you think the city can/ should do to try and live up to the spirit of that idea?

Peet - According to Georgia law every city must provide a full set of services. A ‘city-lite’ must directly provide a minimum of 3 services with all other services provided by some government entity. Peachtree Corners directly provides only 3 services: 1) planning and zoning, 2) code enforcement, and 3) solid waste management. The other services are provided by inter-governmental agreements (IGAs) with other government entities. The service of public works is provided by Johns Creek and the remaining services are provided by Gwinnett County. Peachtree Corners is ‘city-lite’ and directly provides services that allow the residents to have the greatest local control (planning and zoning) while keeping costs low by taking advantage of existing county services.
The detailed background for those interested: Georgia has only one type of city according to Georgia law. The law also allows a county to provide services like a city. Since Gwinnett County was (and is) providing services, such as zoning, planning, solid waste management, police, and fire, this created a conflict with all Gwinnett cities that also provide those services. A three year court case culminated with a decision in February 2012 followed by negotiations between the county and each city. The court decision resolved what could be used as income for the county versus a city. It also created Service Delivery Strategy (SDS) areas which allow cities to contract with the county to provide some of these services, such as police and fire, while receiving a reduction of the property tax millage rate for services provided directly by the city.

Christ - My understanding of the "City Lite" concept at the time of the vote to become a City was that, while every city in Georgia is required to provide the same sixteen services (fire/safety, parks, public works, etc.), the charter would limit Peachtree Corners to directly providing just three of those services (land use planning and zoning; code enforcement; and waste management). The other 13 services are provided indirectly through inter-governmental agreements with other city or county governments. Before the City could start providing any of those other 13 services directly, city residents would need to approve that through a referendum. For example, we currently receive police services from Gwinnett County. Before the City could directly provide police, that would need to be approved via a referendum. As a member of the City Council, I will consider carefully any proposal to provide additional direct services and respect the outcome of any referenda.

2. What is your position on the pedestrian bridge over 141?

Christ - While my opponent has stated that if a vote were held today on the bridge, he would vote yes, I am not ready to vote on a bridge, tunnel, or other connector across 141. Before I consider a vote, we need to have more community input. After knocking on 350 doors across the district, it is clear that there are many residents who feel that they have not yet been heard on this important issue. Also, while not the only reason for a connection, the Town Center development would be a key driver of potential usage of any connection. That development needs to get underway before I would be ready to vote. And finally, before voting, I would need the final cost of the connection on a prioritized list of other transportation projects. When I listened to residents on the west side of the side of the City, they ask when something will be done on the Holcomb Bridge corridor to improve traffic and increase walkability. Other residents ask about improving the intersection of Peachtree Corners Circle and Medlock Bridge, street paving within their neighborhood, or the proposed walking trail system. Building a bridge or tunnel creates an opportunity cost that takes funds away from these other worthwhile projects.

Peet - I believe more communications from the city to the community, and feedback from the community back to the city needs to happen. There seems to be too much misinformation circulating in the community about this issue. I have seen polls for and against the bridge. I need to know not just what the community in general wants but what do Post 2 residents want.  I hear the community asking about more information on a tunnel instead of a bridge.  I’ve heard requests for a referendum vote.  Furthermore, we need to move the discussion of the pedestrian bridge into the context of the plan for walkability and pedestrian connectivity. It is not just a way to cross the street from the Forum to the new town center, it is part of the larger multi-use trail system for all of Peachtree Corners.

3. Do you think that the city has handled the 'roll-out' of the bridge proposal well? If so, how? If not, how?

Peet - I think the city made a good faith attempt to communicate the bridge proposal to the residents through the January UPCCA meeting. However, I think that the size of the response after the UPCCA meeting and the emotion involved was unanticipated. The second meeting in March was another attempt to get information from the community, but there were complaints about the format and the questions. I have heard that the city plans to have additional meetings for community input, but do not see anything planned on the city calendar. At this point, the city should publish the dates for these additional meetings and reviews.

Christ - I don't think the City has done as good a job as it could have of gathering input on on the proposed bridge. Many residents feel that it has been presented as a "done deal." As a member of the City Council, I would advocate for more town halls and opportunities for community input on this major project. Neither the City Council nor the City Staff has a monopoly on good ideas and I would welcome additional feedback from residents.

4. Recent town halls have revealed a strong sentiment among residents that the city is not doing a good job communicating with them. What would you do, or do differently, to address these concerns?

Christ - I applaud the City's recent initiatives to communicate more on Facebook, Next Door Neighbor, and other social media venues. Additional initiatives I would propose as a member of the City Council are:
1. Livestreaming City Council meetings so that all residents can see the council in action.
2. Creating a document repository on the City web site where all studies, surveys, meeting minutes, and other material related to a Council agenda item can be easily accessed by residents.
3. Requiring all applicants for rezoning to hold two community meetings, with at least one in the district where the property is located, before they can submit an application to the Planning Commission for its review. This would provide five opportunities for resident input on any rezoning - two community meetings, a Planning Commission hearing, and two City Council meetings - before a vote is held.

Peet - The city has a number of ways they communicate: through the website, the printed and e-newsletter, press releases, and city council minutes. But we need to utilize these communication channels in a better way. I will promote to folks in Post 2 to take advantage of these.  Alex Wright has a monthly e-mail on Post 3, and I plan to do this in Post 2.  Some of the council members have had town hall meetings, and I’ve attended one recently in Post 2, and in Post 3.  I think we should do more town hall meetings especially in neighborhoods that are interested in having one.  I’ve recently been reading the more than 400 posts on just one topic on Nextdoor, as well as posts on other topics.  I’ve responded to many resident questions thru Nextdoor and will continue to utilize social media as a communication tool.

5. The city has more than $20 million in cash on hand due to accumulation of franchise, permit, business license, and other fees and fines. What do you think is the best use of these dollars?

Peet - The city should have a reserve and/or a minimum level of cash on hand for unexpected expenses, litigation, and emergencies, just like individuals. Once our reserves have been reached the next area of focus should be the studies and projects. When they are prioritized I will work with my fellow council members to allocate funding and ensure their successful and efficient implementation.

Christ - As of March, the City has $23.9 million in cash reserves. Of this total, $9.4 million is in our SPLOST account and is restricted to transportation initiatives. (When the City negotiated the SPLOST sharing agreement with the county, we stipulated that our SPLOST allocation would be spent on transportation.) There is also $1.4 million in our Solid Waste Management Services account. That leaves $13 million in our general reserve account.
The best use of the SPLOST funds is as stipulated - transportation initiatives that improve and maintain our City roads and sidewalks. Projects should be prioritized based their impact on all residents. For the remaining $13 million, I support a conservative budgeting and appropriations process that keeps expenses below revenue, supports our low property tax, and maintains a significant "rainy day" fund.

Post 2 residents vote for one of these candidates on Tuesday May 24th at City Hall.

State House Candidates Hilton and Lowe Answer the PCBC's Questions

The Peachtree Corners Ballot Committee submitted questions to the candidates for state
Jay Lowe
Scott Hilton
house district 95 Scott Hilton and Jay Lowe.  The unedited responses to each question are listed below exactly as the candidates submitted them.  The election is Tuesday May 24th.

1. What is your position on Campus Carry laws?

Hilton - When elected, I will support the campus carry bill passed this past session. I do not believe that our Constitutional rights end once you step foot on a college campus. The legislation which passed last session addressed many concerns that opponents had of the bill.  Only those who were over 21 years old with a weapons carry permit would be allowed to carry on campus, and firearms would be banned from fraternities and sororities, dorms, sporting events, etc. I would join with legislative leaders and the Governor in reaching a compromise that would keep students safe on campus and maintain our Constitutional rights.

Lowe - I support it. I am disappointed in Governor Deal's veto and he is wrong. Our students have 2nd amendment rights just as any of us and it should not end on campus. Students (over 21) who have concealed weapons permits should be allowed to protect themselves and others.  As a father I feel my children should have that right.

2. What is your position on Religious Freedom laws (i.e., the Christian baker refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding, etc)

Lowe - I do not believe the government should be used as a tool to discriminate against people of faith. 

Hilton - My position has been consistent since the beginning of this race - I would have supported the religious liberty legislation passed by the General Assembly this year. I believe religious liberties must be protected while ensuring that absolutely no one is a victim of discrimination. I would be supportive of taking up the Pastor Protection legislation that was originally proposed that would prevent pastors and religious organizations from being forced to perform services and religious ceremonies when it compromises their faith. This piece of legislation enjoyed wide public support and likely would receive the Governor’s signature.  While religious liberty is a very important issue.  My focus as your State Representative will be on growing our economy, improving education and addressing transportation.

3. What is your position on transgender bathroom laws?

Hilton - First, the recent mandate from the Obama Administration is an example of federal overreach at its worst. The federal government has no place in this issue and should not be forcing our schools to allow members of the opposite sex to use a bathroom or locker room if they claim to be transgender.  Second, as a public servant my role would be to create an environment that enhances the safety of all Georgians.  This is a common sense public safety issue. The world is dangerous enough for our children already, and the government should not be creating yet another way to put our children at risk.

Lowe - The government should not force any private company or organization to change its bathrooms to fit its policy.  It is the duty of the government to provide safe public bathrooms for boys and girls.

4. What should the State of Georgia's response be to recent threats from the Federal govt to withhold education funds from states that refuse to allow transgender students in 'opposite' gender bathrooms, locker rooms and showers?

Lowe - It is none of the Federal Governments business and they should stay out of it.

Hilton - The state needs to stand firm against federal overreach and exercise our 10th Amendment right.  The Federal Government possesses only those powers delegated to it by the United States Constitution.   All remaining powers are reserved for the states or the people.  We need to join with other states in drawing a hard-line on this issue. 

5. What should the role of State Government be in our current political climate?

Hilton - My vision for State Government is that we collaborate with other states on policies that have enjoyed success in communities across the U.S.  We should then implement those policies in an effort to make Georgia the #1 state for families and business. In this process, I believe that the role of our state government should absolutely be limited and adhere to its Constitutional functions—education, transportation and public safety.  Additionally, the state should continue to stand up to federal overreach and radical policies coming out of D.C.; it is the state’s role to hold the federal government accountable. The state must also continue to find ways to reduce taxes and regulations to encourage business to flourish in Georgia.

Lowe - Simply put to actually get things done.  I am an entrepreneur that has started, owned and operated numerous companies locally.  Knowing how to make decisions and how to handle mistakes is paramount to running a company.

6. What issues should the State House take up in the coming session?

Lowe - The Georgia Fair Tax. I believe it is time we fix our state tax code and let working families keep more of their money. 

Hilton - After knocking on over a thousand doors across our community, I have a clear understanding of the issues on the minds of voters.  I have presented a vision for our District that will address three important issues which include:
1.) Growing the Economy - I will use my experience in the private sector working with small businesses owners to push free-market reforms to encourage innovation and attract jobs to our District. 
2.) Education - we are blessed to have excellent schools and educational options in our community. From a statewide standpoint, I believe we need to remove testing and bureaucracy from the classrooms and allow teachers to teach.  Spending more money is not the answer to improving educational opportunities.  Any education reform package should include school choice where parents are allowed to choose the educational path that is best for their child whether it is a public school, a charter school, home school, private school or a virtual school.
3.)   Transportation - I believe we need a conservative transportation plan that considers all options from traditional roads to other alternatives, including rail.  As a fiscal conservative, transportation plans should not place an additional tax burden on Georgians.

7. What should the State government stop doing or cease to be involved in that it is involved in now?

Hilton - In the State House, I would support legislation that was passed a few years ago that would set up a Sunset Review Committee that would be responsible for reviewing every function and budget item in state government and identify programs to eliminate. This would allow us to identify duplicate or unneeded programs to reduce the size of government and further cut wasteful spending.

Lowe - We as state need to learn to be independent.  Our state depends on the federal government financially – This needs to stop.

8. What actions will you take as a State representative that will directly impact the welfare of District 95 residents?

Lowe - I will work to bring jobs to the community and help Georgians save money by passing the Georgia Fair Tax.  I will also work to rid ourselves of the Ad Valorem tax.

Hilton - Our District has all the tools and resources we need to be one of the central job hubs in Georgia.  My vision for District 95 is to bring high-paying, quality jobs to our area – truly creating a live, work, play community.  This is accomplished through supporting Mayor Mason’s Business Incubator for Peachtree Corners.  In Norcross and Duluth we have wonderful small business districts in downtown areas.  We should remove regulations, red-tape, and lower taxes, allowing those businesses the opportunity to succeed.  In Berkeley Lake and Johns Creek we have dozens of entrepreneurs who live in those communities and take advantage of all that Georgia has to offer from the Atlanta airport, technical colleges, and coastal ports.  Better jobs translate to improved educational opportunities at home – a true win-win.

The election will be held Tuesday May 24th.  Go to your regular polling place to vote!

Friday, May 6, 2016

To Bridge or Not to Bridge? That is the Question

Survey Results for the Peachtree Corners Ballot Committee Survey on the City's Proposed Pedestrian Bridge to Span 141.

The city is considering a large, meandering pedestrian bridge connecting the Forum to the shops on the other side of 141.  City officials refer to the bridge as "innovative and remarkable".   It is to be an iconic structure to rival the Eiffel Tower or Washington Monument.   After an open house at city hall regarding the bridge provided no chance for residents to voice their concerns and opposition, citizens took to social media sites including Nextdoor and Facebook to vent their frustrations and opinions on the city's plans.   The Ballot Committee constructed a survey with the help of a survey and marketing professional who volunteers with the group.  Our goal was to aggregate resident opinions on the bridge and the city's adherence to their promise of "city-lite".  The plan is to share the results with city officials to ensure citizens are heard.

The Results

As of Monday May 2, 2016 more than 500 people had taken the survey.   96% of respondents indicated that they live in the city limits of Peachtree Corners.  Here is how those residents responded:

Did you vote in favor of forming the city?

 Of those that answered "yes" to the question above, we asked: Do you believe the city is living up to the promise of city-lite?

We asked that same group of original "yes" to forming a city voters:  Knowing what you know now, would you vote for the city today?

Then to all residents, we asked a few questions about the proposed bridge versus other options for crossing 141.

To walk across highway 141 at the Forum shopping center in Peachtree Corners to stores and the new development being built across the street , which would you prefer?

Assuming the bridge were built and the restaurants, shopping outlets, townhomes etc, were in the new development across from the Forum, how many times per month(round trips) might you use the bridge:

  We also asked Peachtree Corners residents what post do you reside in:

We have a few take-away observations from the data collected here:

1.  It is not just the "no city" voters that are opposed to this bridge or who are critical of the city.

2. Most of the "yes city" voters believe that the city is failing in their promise of city-lite and as a result, a quarter of them would not vote for the city again if the vote were held today.

3. The majority - 64% - do not want any kind of bridge. 

4. Most people have no idea what post they live in.  With an election for a city council rep for Post 2 just weeks away, voter turnout will be very low if this is not remedied in a hurry.  Given the current state of knowledge, we predict that there will be more respondents to this survey than there will be votes for the winning candidate for the Post 2 seat.

We appreciate everyone that responded to this survey.  We will send a copy of this report to all the city council representatives.  We wonder if they will listen to it or dismiss it as they have other feedback.  We hope they adhere to the ideals originally expressed about local control and a real voice in government rather than continue to go their own way without regard to how their constituents feel about the bridge and the drift from city-lite.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Peachtree Corners Bridge Survey

The Peachtree Corners Ballot Committee is hosting a survey on the Bridge.  Please take the survey here and tell your friends and neighbors to take it. We will publish the responses on Facebook, on our blog, and share them with the city council. The more people we get to respond, the better.

Click Here to take the survey or paste the link below into your browser

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Bridge from Citylite to Big Government

It was barely four years ago Mike Mason was the president of the United Peachtree Corners Civic Association on the campaign trail to sell us all on a new concept in local government that he branded "city-lite".   As the story went, this was a brand new form of government.  A city chartered for only 3 services - trash collection, code enforcement, and planning and zoning.  He touted a financial study that said the whole thing could be run for $750,000.   It was all very simple.  He promised local control of whether and where apartments would be built and cheaper trash.  That was the mission and the cost of the proposed city of Peachtree Corners a mere four years ago.

Here we are four years later.  Mason is now Mayor.  The city has a budget nearing $10 million dollars, debt nearing $20 million*, a cash slush-fund of $22 million, and a series of residential zoning approvals that include hundreds of new apartments.  The city owns two large tracts of land including the property across from the Forum and a stake* in the old Simpsonwood retreat.   And now they are planning a monstrosity of a pedestrian bridge to span 141 and connect the Forum to the strip mall across the street. 

City employees give lofty presentations that this bridge will be an everlasting, iconic structure to rival the Eiffel Tower and Washington Monument.  It will reflect Peachtree Corners mission to be "innovative and remarkable".   It will last the ages.  It will bring businesses and jobs.  It will inspire your twenty-something kid to get out of your basement and into their own apartment.  I would not be surprised if it solved world hunger and made Iran really and truly America's friend.   It is a wonderful, magical bridge... that connects Sprouts to Belk over a busy four-lane highway.

Gone is all the talk of a small, un-ambitious, fiscally minuscule, little city government.  No one utters the word city-lite anymore.  No one refers to or remembers the city charter with its three little services.  The talk of a $750,000 budget was abandoned before the last vote for the first city council was counted.   The cost of this magical bridge between two shopping malls has yet to be disclosed.  The city represents that it will be funded by a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax - SPLOST.  They intimate that this funding mechanism somehow means it is free and that SPLOST is a permanent endless supply of dollars rather than a tax that must be approved by tax-payer vote.

The idea of city-lite was a great sales pitch to convince a citizenry skeptical of politicians and sick to death of big government to vote it into existence.  It turns out this was just marketing.  After all, who wants to be mayor of a city known for cheap trash pickup and not much else.  Now the city is to be "innovative and remarkable."  We should accept that apartments are not really apartments if they are labeled "millennial housing".  And that a giant, meandering pedestrian bridge spanning a busy highway is some magical conduit to higher property values and better paying jobs. 

So is this a bridge to some glorious future or just another tribute to government expansion and political ego?   Is the marketing of the bridge as a necessary feature real or just a way for six-figure salaried city employees to justify their existence?  Is there any way to bring back city-lite and the lofty promise of something so small and unobtrusive?  Or are we doomed to watch the government grow ever-larger and ever more deaf to the desires of the citizens that brought it into existence? 

A poll on the Bridge is available here:  Send a message by choosing "No Bridge".

Visit/Like our Facebook page for ongoing updates.

* Update 4-12-16 of clarifying points: The city's debt is currently about $12 million.  This is a result of the purchase of the land across from the Forum.  The council voted late last year "By a 5-2 vote the Council voted to authorize $15.25M in bonds for the DDA to use for projects related to the Town Center project."  This is authorization to issue debt, but is not yet actual debt.  Additionally, although an AJC article referenced here led us to believe the city purchased a stake in Simpsonwood, members of city hall have informed us the $2 million was a "gift" to the church to make the deal with the county happen.  No ownership interest was purchased for those dollars.