Time running out to early-vote before election day; Hwy. 54W traffic, mayor’s lawsuit, ‘civility’ key issues in PTC campaigns
Friday is the last day for early voting at the Peachtree City Library in advance of the official Election Day Tuesday, when Peachtree City residents will pick a mayor and three of four city council members and weigh in on a proposed county-wide sales tax.
With five in the field for mayor, it’s highly unlikely that any one candidate will get the required 50 percent or more majority, and in such a case a runoff between the top two vote-getters will be conducted next month. So in this case, a second place finish wouldn’t be the worst thing.
The five-candidate mayoral field includes sitting Mayor Don Haddix, former Mayor Harold Logsdon, city Councilwoman Vanessa Fleisch, former city Councilman George Dienhart and local businessman Ryan Jolly.
Haddix suffered swift fallout last year from his decision to seek recompense from the city’s liability carrier to pay for his legal defense and settlement on a defamation lawsuit filed by Logsdon. The suit was based on an email Haddix sent to a city staffer that claimed Logsdon was “part drunk” at city council meetings.
The lawsuit was settled and Logsdon won an apology and a $3,000 settlement. The suit was filed against Haddix in his personal capacity instead of his official capacity as mayor.
At a later date, the City Council voted 4-1 to effectively dock Haddix’s pay to cover the nearly $10,000 in legal fees it cost the city to defend the lawsuit. After Haddix threatened a lawsuit over the pay matter, council retreated and restored Haddix’s pay in full and recompensed him for the several months his official salary was withheld.
Dienhart made waves prior to leaving office in August by accusing his fellow council members of favoring an additional traffic light on Ga. Highway 54 West at the intersection of Line Creek Drive. He attempted to get them to vote in opposition of such a light despite the lack of any formal or informal request for the city to approve such a light. Dienhart even insinuated that as soon as he left office his council members would vote to approve the light; no such vote has taken place to date.
Fleisch also has made a campaign issue out of traffic on Hwy. 54 West, advocating for a city-funded corridor study which is necessary before the Georgia Department of Transportation could proceed with any new construction in the area to improve traffic. Dienhart has opposed spending city money on the study, saying it is GDOT’s responsibility.
Fleisch turned the issue around, getting council to sign off on a letter asking GDOT for help with the traffic, an effort that paid off when GDOT announced last month that it would install a new timing function to the traffic lights on Hwy. 54 stretching from the county line to Willowbend Road in an effort to make traffic flow better. GDOT officials cautioned, however, that there is little extra capacity on the roads so the improvements from the new timing may be limited or hard to notice.
The new timing function would allow for sensors in the road to detect higher traffic volumes and begin using a specific timing pattern for those lights to maximize throughput, officials said. But a full corridor study is needed not just of Hwy. 54 but also along Ga. Highway 74 near the intersection in order to come up with longer-range improvements to the area, GDOT officials have urged.
With another way to alleviate some Hwy. 54 West traffic, Logsdon has pledged that one of his top priorities is to revive the extension of MacDuff Parkway. He contends that with Pinewood Studios coming to Fayette County, the annexed areas east of Hwy. 74 and north of the current terminus of MacDuff Parkway in Wilksmoor Village are ripe for development. The catch is that part of the annexation agreement requires both developers to build the MacDuff extension prior to receiving a certificate of occupancy for any dwelling on either parcel.
In other words, it will require some heavy financing on the front end of the development, which is not a sure thing following the burst of the housing bubble locally and nationwide starting in 2007.
One of Jolly’s main platforms is bringing civility back to council meetings, but he also has advocated a need for creating room in the general fund for road and cart path repair and maintenance instead of funding them through a special local option sales tax. However, doing so will require an estimated $1.5 million a year to be carved out in the city budget through cuts, a tax increase, perhaps an uptick in property values or a combination of all three.
Beyond the mayor’s race, what has set political tongues a-waggin’ this campaign is the presence of Haddix’s wife Cathy as the only opponent for the Post 3 council seat being sought by current office-holder Kim Learnard. Everyone wants to know if a majority of Peachtree City voters will elect both to office, which would almost certainly be a first in the recent history of Fayette’s political scene.
Mrs. Haddix has said she would support her husband’s policies including the reactivation of the former Development Authority of Peachtree City, which they say is necessary to help lure smaller businesses to the city.
There are two other council races to settle at the polls for city residents, as they must pick a Post 4 council member from between former Peachtree City Police Captain Terry Ernst and web developer Stephanie Franz.
There is also the matter of the shortened Post 2 seat, which comes with a term of just over two years because it was the seat Dienhart had to abandon when he declared to run for mayor. Seeking that seat are Vietnam veteran and retiree Mike King, Recreation Commission Chairman Shayne Robinson and political newcomer Austin Chanslor.
The winner of that seat will take office upon winning election, meaning they will be able to take office in November. The winners of other council seats will have to wait until Jan. 1 to take office because that’s when the terms of the current office-holders expire.
Chanslor has hurt his chances for office by missing both candidate forums hosted by local organizations to help residents ask questions of those seeking office.
King has advocated for saving money in city elections by switching them to coincide with the county elections, which also would improve turnout at the polls, particularly during the presidential election years.
Robinson has said the city needs to capitalize on its village concept to lure more young families to town, in large part by using its amenities in parks and recreation.
Depending on how things shake out, the lone holdover councilman, Eric Imker, could potentially find himself working with four newcomers on council once the general election and runoff election come to a close.