A difference of opinion devolved into a brief shouting match Thursday night between Peachtree City Mayor Don Haddix and City Councilman Eric Imker
in the middle of a council meeting.
Once all the verbal hysterics and other calm, reasoned discussion came to an end, council voted 3-2 to hire an economic development coordinator as a contract city employee with an estimated salary of about $50,000. This new employee would be part of the city’s Community Development department.
Council also voted 3-2 to cut the funding of the city’s development authority from $35,000 to zero, leaving it with roughly $15,000 in reserves to spend for the coming year. Imker said the authority can “exist” by spending as little as $7,500 a year.
Imker said the authority’s budget reduction will require it to come to city council for any funding above and beyond its remaining reserves.
The new hire and development authority budget cut were approved by council members Eric Imker, Kim Learnard and Vanessa Fleisch and opposed by Haddix and councilman Doug Sturbaum.
Imker contended the Haddix/Sturbaum proposal to increase the authority’s funding to $150,000 had far too much overhead built into its budget. He also said the authority, once given the $150,000, had the legal capability to spend that money however it chooses, and that’s a risk he was unwilling to take.
“I will not turn over huge lump sums of our tax dollars to an independent government agency that we have no control over and that may or may not use it for their intended primary mission,” Imker said.
A short time later, Sturbaum suggested that if council had a problem with the way the development authority was operating, it should give guidance to the authority. The 3-2 vote from council gave no such direction but gave the council direct power over all the authority’s budgetary matters.
“Don’t cut them, guide them,” Sturbaum suggested. “We were elected to be leaders of the community. Instead of sitting here arguing with one another and cat fighting, we need to put it behind us.”
Imker, during his presentation, said though there has been much talk about the DAPC attracting retail to the city, the city should be pleased that some 90 percent of its stores are occupied. Likewise Imker challenged the notion that there are too many vacancies in the city’s industrial park, which he said were down to nine buildings.
Then Imker went on a tirade questioning why the authority didn’t mail letters out in an attempt to lure some 19 potential companies to the city because they are suppliers to the under-construction Sany Corporation heavy equipment manufacturer due to open by the end of next year.
“That’s the development authority’s responsibility,” Imker said as he pounded his fist on the dais.
And that’s when Haddix interrupted Imker.
“You’re out of order, you’re done,” Haddix said, complaining that Imker was unfairly chiding city volunteers. None of the authority members are paid.
Imker later got in a few more words, contending that while he doesn’t intend any disrespect to the authority’s volunteers, “their mission needs a major overhaul.”
Imker said he wanted measurable goals for the authority to achieve, and he thinks the city will get that type of analysis from the newly-approved economic development coordinator.
The 3-2 council vote to hire the coordinator included a proviso that the employee’s budget will be determined by council after the employee is hired and can make a subsequent budget recommendation to council.
The clash between Imker and Haddix was the most contentious exchange between city elected officials in the past 10 years at least.
Both men put City Attorney Ted Meeker in the position of referee, as he had to settle whether Haddix had the power to hush Imker. Meeker confirmed that as chair of the meeting, Haddix had the power to withdraw “the floor” that had been given to Imker.
At the end of the meeting, Imker apologized for raising his voice during the heated exchange.
Haddix admitted fault too.
“I snapped a little bit too but you’re right, this is an issue, and it’s not personal,” Haddix said.