A new Peachtree City mayor and three City Council members will join holdover Councilman Doug Sturbaum tomorrow night in the first of a series of meetings that will set new directions for the city. I voted against two of the new officials but recognize that the election is over and it is time to move forward.
Mayor Don Haddix threw quite a few hand grenades at the establishment during his two years on the City Council. He is now the leader of a new establishment with an obligation to offer positive, cooperative support as council and staff work to maintain and improve the quality of life in Peachtree City.
Haddix has my support and best wishes for success, but I reserve the right to oppose his idea of privatizing management of the Kedron Fieldhouse. Implementation of this proposal will make the failed grass-cutting experiment look like a monumental success.
Some political observers were surprised that Realtor Vanessa Fleisch, running on an anti-growth platform, soundly defeated Les Dyer. Her honesty and sincerity resonated well with the voters and she should be a moderating force on the new council.
Kim Learnard did her homework during the campaign and demonstrated in-depth knowledge of the issues facing the city. I don’t like her idea of a commuter rail connected to MARTA; however, she is highly competent and I vote her the “most likely to succeed.”
Eric Imker admirably fought his way through a crowded field of good candidates. He opposes tax increases and will be a thorn in the side of the tax-and-spend politicians who seem to surface after every election.
The new City Council members now represent the entire city, which includes citizens who voted for them as well as the followers of their opponents. The council also represents the apathetic 79.6 percent of registered voters who didn’t vote.
The bottom line is that approximately 85 percent of registered voters didn’t vote for the winners in each of the four elections. Their 15 percent mandate from the public is meager.
Regardless of the scope of the mandate, new players are in place and the stage is set for an eventful four years featuring budget cuts and a highly controversial property tax millage increase. It will be no bed of roses.
Key issues that did not surface during the campaign must be addressed from a fiscal standpoint. For example, Peachtree City has too many quasi-independent authorities and commissions that fragment cohesiveness of purpose and absorb too many taxpayer dollars.
Taxpayer funds support a Tourism Association, Recreation Commission, Airport Authority, Water and Sewerage Authority, Library Commission, Development Authority, Planning Commission and a whole host of committees and boards. There is need for consolidation and better budget oversight of these entities.
The most obvious place to begin is with the elimination of the Peachtree City Tourism Association. We simply don’t have enough points of interest to attract large numbers of tourists. The association was established during former Mayor Steve Brown’s tenure specifically for the purpose of taking the operation of the Fred Brown Amphitheater, the Peachtree City Tennis Center, and a big chunk of hotel/motel tax revenue away from the Development Authority of Peachtree City.
Lauren Yawn, director of the Tourism Association, did not effectively operate either of the facilities because her background is tourism and not venue management. The operation of the amphitheater was transferred from the Tourism Association to the city and is now guided by the steady hand of the more experienced Nancy Price.
The Tennis Center was eventually taken from the Tourism Association, privatized and leased to the Canongate Group. These actions resulted in a Tourism Association with little to do except distribute grants from the hotel/motel tax and operate a Visitor’s Center that has few visitors.
A bold and necessary step for the new council would be to disband the Tourism Association and assign its remaining responsibilities to the Peachtree City Development Authority. Such an arrangement would be a good fit because of the direct link between tourism and economic development.
What about the future of the dedicated volunteer members of the Tourism Board? Chairman Bill Bexley should be appointed to the first vacancy on the Development Authority of Peachtree City. He has a solid background in economic development, excellent contacts at the state level and would be an asset to any development authority.
Other volunteer members of the Tourism Association board should be given serious consideration, depending on interests and skills, for future openings on other boards when vacancies arise.
The tourism association is not the only entity that needs review. The Peachtree City Airport Authority will be featured in a future column. Taxpayers should know who benefits from the complicated network of land leases, hangar leases and subleases.
An aviation facility valued at almost $20 million should return much higher profits than reflected in recent reports. The airport is a privatization opportunity that makes sense and will be much more lucrative than the Kedron Fieldhouse!
A few unrelated and irrelevant thoughts:
Georgia’s former Speaker of the House, Glenn Richardson, weeping in the well of the House after resigning amidst accusations of potentially serious ethical violations was shameful. Republican leaders made a mistake when they permitted him to speak during the caucus to nominate his successor.
The big question about the Richardson fiasco is why, despite widespread publicity, the name of the AGL Resources lobbyist having an alleged extramarital affair with the speaker never surfaced. This disclosure is pertinent to the public because Richardson was pushing legislation beneficial to AGL Resources. Who is protecting this lobbyist and why? A better question is: Who is protecting the public?
There will be more publicity about corruption at the state Capitol. There are rumors of questionable no-bid contracts, lobbyist deals, and more. There is also a federal investigation of the Nathan Deal “business deal” with the state. The ethics problem will spill into the state senate and eventually into the race for governor.
Ethics reform is badly needed but don’t hold your breath! Token election year ethics legislation will pass, but the fox will continue to guard the chicken house. The State Ethics Commission simply will not be given the power or the budget to oversee the General Assembly.
[Scott Bradshaw, a resident of Peachtree City, is a real estate broker and residential real estate developer. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]