It’s time to chart a fundamental new course in PTC

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Three candidates are running in the upcoming election for two available posts on the Peachtree City Council. George Dienhart is unopposed for the post being vacated by Doug Sturbaum and his election is certain regardless of his political views or vision of the future of Peachtree City.

There are early indications that his views are more in line with Mayor Don Haddix than with other sitting members of the council.

Political novice Steve Allen is running against incumbent Eric Imker in the only contested city election. Both candidates have attempted to connect with voters by presenting campaign platforms through the media and a variety of scheduled political forums. The contrast has been sharp.

The 2011 campaign rhetoric is similar to recent elections in Peachtree City when council and mayoral candidates hoodwinked voters with a “motherhood and apple pie” platform.

They promised to oppose tax increases and reject annexation except in instances where it will benefit the city. They pledged allegiance to the village concept and promised to create an environment conducive to attracting new business and industry.

Candidates frequently claim to possess the extraordinary management skills needed to make the city operate more efficiently. Some even make wild promises to reduce the city budget without reducing services.

Absolute rejection of big boxes and promises to control development are also popular platform planks. The centerpiece of almost every platform in recent years was a promise to follow the original vision of Peachtree City and maintain the excellent quality of life.

These promises always resonate with the public and have consistently won elections; however, council behavior during the past few years has been inconsistent with campaign rhetoric. There are too many broken promises, too much bickering, censures, and other controversy between political factions and voting alliances.

There will likely continue to be a 3-2 philosophical and political split among council members regardless of the outcome of the election next Tuesday.

Mayor Don Haddix is dug in like a junk yard dog in opposition to Eric Imker, which means Steve Allen is his preference. Vanessa Fleisch and Kim Learnard frequently oppose Mayor Haddix and need Imker’s third vote to control the agenda.

The big question to be decided in this election is: which faction will control three of the five votes for the next two years? It will be decided in the Imker vs. Allen contest, which will likely set the stage for more controversy and another predictable 3-2 voting bloc.

The emerging problem on the Peachtree City Council appears to be one of elected leaders whose personalities don’t connect. This writer initially held this view but recently realized that Peachtree City has a governance problem which trumps the personality problem.

The future of Peachtree City government is at a crossroads and fundamental change is needed. Change should begin with extensive review of the city charter.

The existing charter was passed by the General Assembly in 1959 when there were less than 300 residents in our city. The document has received a few minor revisions since incorporation but there have been no significant changes in the past decade.

Peachtree City is now the 18th largest of 525 cities in Georgia with a population in excess of 34,000. Operation of the city is more complex than in 1959 and the issues considered by council are understandably more controversial.

The most important element of any city charter is the form of government established by the charter. There are typically three forms of city government prevalent in Georgia.

First, there is the council-manager form in which the entire council appoints a city manager to be responsible for the executive function of managing the staff and budget. The city manager serves as chief operating officer (COO) under the direction of an elected mayor and council members who share the chief executive officer (CEO) duties.

The second form of city governance prevalent in Georgia is known as the weak-mayor government, which operates similar to the council manager form with the mayor having limited executive responsibilities such as presiding over meetings, signing legal documents approved by council, and calling special meetings. The city manager still has several CEO-type bosses with equal authority in the weak mayor approach to governing.

The third approach to managing city government is known as the strong mayor government where the elected mayor serves as the city’s sole CEO and has full responsibility for daily operation. Charters that establish strong mayor cities typically permit the elected mayor to select a city manager to carry out the daily responsibilities of managing budget and staff. The city council determines the budget, develops ordinances, establishes policy and has veto power over decisions by the mayor. The city manager (COO) reports exclusively to the mayor (CEO) in the strong mayor form of governance.

Peachtree City’s charter clearly established a hybrid of the council-manager and weak mayor form of governance. The hybrid structure was appropriate for the fledging new city in 1959 and has been highly successful until recent years.

It is now time to review the charter with an eye toward a slightly stronger mayor form of governance. Future mayors should be given more responsibility for overseeing the daily operation of the city and city council members should have a greater voice in determining the budget, establishing operating policies and writing ordinances. A clarification of roles is in the best interest of all concerned and will benefit the citizens of peachtree city.

How is a city charter changed? Substantial changes must be approved by the state legislature. There are several ways changes can be accomplished but typically the city council studies the issue extensively, submits proposed changes to the local legislative delegation which introduces local legislation to be acted on by the legislature. Proposed changes would not likely be effective until after the next mayoral election.

Until such time as roles are more clearly defined through a revised charter, the city will be operated by five CEOs who may or may not be headed in the same direction.

Enough said! [Scott Bradshaw, a resident of Peachtree City, is a real estate broker and residential real estate developer. He may be contacted at rand5474@bellsouth.net.]