Taking a look at Peachtree City mayoral candidates

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I’m writing to comment on the upcoming Peachtree City Mayoral election. Now that candidates have declared and we know the slate, I’d like to offer my perspective. I’ve lived in Peachtree City for 17 years and been in Fayette County and Coweta County for 20 years. I’ve followed local politics for most of that time and have voted in just about every election.

I’m not going to discuss individual hot-button issues because the candidates are largely aligned on those. All want to improve traffic at the 74-54 intersection. None want to open TDK Boulevard to Coweta County. None want wholesale construction of new apartment complexes. My focus is on who has the right temperament, can get elected, and has solid ideas and can implement them.

The past eight years of Mayor Fleisch and council have been successful from two standpoints. First, lots of road and cart path maintenance that just didn’t get done in past administrations has now been largely recovered and the maintenance to keep Peachtree City an attractive community happens regularly.

Second, the conflict that defined past administrations is, thankfully, a thing of the past. The last thing we need when people consider a move to Peachtree City and do a Google search is to see conflict at City Hall as well as Letters to the Editor where some council member disgruntled about a vote that didn’t go his way discusses why he’s right and everyone else is wrong. Council should thoughtfully discuss and even have passionate, principled disagreement, but when the vote is done, everyone should get behind the decision.

In other words, City Council must thoroughly discuss and debate where the city should go at their public meetings, but out in the greater public sphere, they should be collegial and have forward-looking, positive messages.

With this I’d like to go through my thoughts on each of the candidates. Before I do this, I’d like to extend my appreciation to all the candidates for wanting to enter or continue public service. It is not an easy job, and they face criticism sometimes no matter what they do; some of it is unfair and unwarranted.

Mayoral candidate Don Haddix is running to be mayor again. In 2013, as an incumbent he lost his first mayoral re-election attempt coming in fifth in a field of five with 5% of the vote, a stunning loss for an incumbent. In 2016, running for a Fayette County Commission post he came in fourth of five candidates winning 8% of the vote. Additionally, his campaign website lists his platform but does not give his qualifications to run while Mr. Imker and Ms. Learnard’s websites do so even though they’ve both been on City Council.

Given these facts, I have two observations. First, Mr. Haddix is a serial office seeker yet he doesn’t seem to reflect on why he loses elections as his approach never changes. This kind of self-reflection and self-awareness is essential to be effective at governing.

Second, I believe the reason he decisively lost in 2013 was because his administration was marked by unnecessary conflict, and even if Mr. Haddix wasn’t completely responsible for the conflict, he was the mayor.

Recently when Mr. Haddix posted a list of priorities online including reinstating the opening prayer at council meetings, I suggested not reinstating it because Peachtree City is a religiously diverse community. His reply was a mini lecture on religion and that “no one is forced to take part.”

We’re in campaign season, and he should be seeking the broadest possible appeal, but this answer is incredibly tone deaf and, again, shows a striking lack of empathy for someone who wants to be a political leader.

A more insightful candidate would have replied, “Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the issue, but I feel it’s best to have a Christian prayer to bring the council together and recognize our creator before a meeting.” This one incident writ large would explain why Mr. Haddix keeps losing elections.

Mayoral candidate Eric Imker served six years on council in the past and is running on a platform of cutting taxes, but all I see is that services will be cut or substandard. We’ll go back to the day of paving not getting done, and then when it is done, it costs so much more because routine upkeep wasn’t done along the way.

I’m certain Mr. Imker doesn’t intend this, but with City maintenance, you can pay now or you can pay more later. I live in an average home in Peachtree City. Of my property taxes, $890 went to Peachtree City, and based on what I spend that has local sales tax, I paid no more than $200 in SPLOST to Peachtree City, so a total of $1,100 to support all the good things in Peachtree City: cart path and road paving, extensive recreational opportunities, and quality police and fire protection.

$1,100 is less than my family’s annual mobile phone bill. Even if taxes could be cut, how much could they be cut and not sacrifice services? Not a meaningful amount. Given all this, Peachtree City is a bargain. I pay so much more to the Board of Education, State of Georgia, and the US Federal Government.

Personnel is one of the biggest budget costs in Peachtree City, but we’re an affluent community, and personnel should have benefits and pay commensurate with our status. I want our police officers and firefighters to be satisfied working in Peachtree City because they feel they receive competitive pay and benefits.

I appreciate mayoral candidate Nick Ferrante’s platform and approach. He’s young and energetic, and his platform of making the villages arts and entertainment hubs is the right direction because our village centers right now are simply shopping centers. The concept seems to be allowing open container in conjunction with extended hours at the village centers and then development in the form of unique and diverse businesses will come. It might work; I think it needs more fleshing out, review from shopping center owners, and buy-in from the developers.

The challenge I have with Mr. Ferrante’s candidacy is it seems like he wants to jump straight to being mayor. Does he know how to get things done in the city? My suggestion is to serve on a local board or two; volunteer to be on a citizens’ advisory panel; get to know folks at some larger civic organizations and the Fayette Chamber of Commerce and participate in their Leadership Fayette program; run to be on Council first and develop a track record; and then run for mayor. This is the long view, but this is how local politics works.

Candidate Terry Ernst has completed two terms on council and now seeks to be Mayor. His service has been strong, and he’s part of what has been keeping council on the right track, but my concern is that his candidacy so far has been just a Letter to the Editor and a Facebook page. He doesn’t have a website, which in modern politics is a requirement as it gives a way to give platform details, centralize information, and distribute campaign updates.

Not everyone is on Facebook; I know my voting age kids aren’t. Mr. Ernst is more than qualified to be mayor, but winning an election first is how to get there, and I just don’t see that drive.

Candidate Kim Learnard has also served two terms on council, the last of which ended four years ago due to term limits. She is as qualified as any candidate and will keep the good things council is doing now on track. She won’t be a source of controversy and knows how to get along with people. For the mayoral race she is “in it to win it.”

I’m a member of a local athletics and recreation-based civic group, and she showed up at our last monthly meeting and let us know how she’d support us as mayor since a major portion of her platform addresses recreation. We’ve never had a political candidate attend a meeting that I can recall, and I’ve been a member almost 10 years.

I expect Ms. Learnard will continue to show up at various civic groups and community activities through the election and even beyond. Since being on council she has worked as Director of LINC, the fledgling path system in Newnan and has arranged meetings with Coweta civic officials to promote the paths as vehicles for recreation and economic development.

Ms. Learnard knows civic and business leaders throughout the region. Much of the challenge with 54-74 is traffic coming from Coweta County looking to go north to I-85 or continue east. This is something we need to convince Coweta County folks they need to help address, and Ms. Learnard has the relationships with the right people.

Additionally, Ms. Learnard’s platform includes ideas for attracting young families to Peachtree City, redevelopment of properties such as the old Kmart building, and preservation and protection of green spaces. Ms. Learnard has proven she can get along with others, has the ideas and connections we need, and can get elected and implement her ideas.

Municipal elections in Georgia are non-partisan, which means we get to choose the best candidate regardless of party affiliation. Peachtree City will have an exciting future if we make the right choice in this election. Be sure to vote November 2.

Paul Schultz

Peachtree City, Ga.

15 COMMENTS

  1. Eric Imker did a fantastic job in his first term on council. He truly is a genius with numbers. His capabilities were sorely needed when he came on board. Eric did great things with the budget. Additionally, with Don Haddix as Mayor, Eric was a needed presence… he stood up to Don and called him on his irresponsible and costly shenanigans.
    But Eric got too big for his britches and took a page out of Donnie’s playbook which he didn’t need to do. His criticism of council was rude and condescending publicly; worse privately. I served on the SPLOST committee a few years ago where each neighborhood had a representative to voice the needs of their area. Eric was representing – as a citizen – the Golfview area. He came to one or two meetings and at one point stood up and told the rest of the group his plan and how this show would be run. When the rest of us didn’t bow down and accept his instruction, he took his marbles and went home. I think Eric made it to one more meeting after that. Golfview didn’t have a representative on the panel because Eric doesn’t play well in the sandbox with others. He has good ideas and knows how to work a calculator but doesn’t entertain anyone’s ideas but his own.

  2. Don Haddix:

    Give it up. You had one chance at being Mayor and you were so horrible at the job that the voters ran you out of office like a horse thief. As I told you years ago Don, your greatest downside is you are incapable of ever admitting you are wrong; to yourself or anyone else. You have a chorus here telling you that your approach with people turns them away. When you meet someone who cannot take responsibility for their actions do you respect them more? Has anyone ever walked up to you and said, “Don, I am voting for you because you are the best at blaming other people and passing the buck. I admire people that can do that.” Probably not. Your whole campaign is based, not on what you can do for the city, but what others have done wrong. You try so hard to win battles all the while losing the war.

  3. Thank you for the recommendation Paul. I do have my FB page Terry Ernst for Mayor and have written a couple of letters to the editor. I understand the importance of social media but I am more of a hands on person. I am always available to talk to citizens and do so daily as I travel through our city. It might be the grocery store, the hardware store, a restaurant, the park with my Grandson or the golf course. As a retired Peachtree City Police Captain I have had the opportunity to meet so many of our citizens over the years. If you recall when I ran for office the first time in 2013, we had a City Council that did not get along at all. Mr. Haddix was the Mayor and Mr. Imker, Mrs. Learnard and our current Mayor, Venessa Fleisch were all part of that City Council. During my campaign I made a promise to do my best to bring a Council together that could work together for the betterment of our city. I feel we were successful in that effort over the past eight years. It is my goal to continue working together for our citizens if I have the honor of being elected as the next Mayor of Peachtree City. I will be doing an interview on the Mike Crane show very soon and a number of other interviews and forums between now and the election.

  4. Hello Paul, Please contact me on Facebook or my Website, http://www.ericimker4ptc.com
    I’d like to have a quick discussion to share thoughts about the future of PTC.

    BTW – I was the biggest champion of the SPLOST tax 5 years ago knowing we needed it and the money it would bring into the city for road and cart path maintenance. You need to realize the huge budget hole we were in when I got on council in 2010. Yes, maintenance suffered but we had to dig our way out of the hole.
    Once I accomplished what I wanted to do, i.e. return to a balanced budget without tax increases or use of city reserves, I decided not to run again and let someone else have the honor and privilege of being a city council member. I stepped aside and Mr. Prebor won my seat. Name anyone else on council recently who has ever stepped down willingly. You can’t.

    Did you know this last SPLOST year ending 30 June 2021 (year 4) PTC was anticipating $7,638,091 and we actually got $10,068,254. You’re welcome. Now, do you know where that extra money went?
    Oh how I wish I were on city council these days.

    • Hi, Mr. Imker! I met you at the boat docks when my son and I were running in the evening a few days ago. I also sent you the question on outsourcing of city services. I agree you’ve done some good things- thank you! Please look the 9/2/21 council meeting minutes and the discussion on millage. It was very thoughtful and deliberate. Given the budget projection and inflation considerations but also the need to maintain reserves and actually doing maintenance, I’m not really sure how millage can be reduced more than the 0.189 mills being proposed this year and have more done next year based on your campaign promise. A comment in the minutes is “best practice is millage rate stabilization,” and I agree. Of course if reserves get too big that should come back in the form of tax decreases- assuming all maintenance work is done, but changing the millage rate year to year is like chasing a ghost- while property values normally go up gradually, in the past 10 years that has not been true. I don’t know how to address your comment of the $2.4-million difference in SPLOST forecast vs actual, but I don’t think Mr. Salvatore has a hidden pocket somewhere. Here’s what I really want. Riley Field has an all weather 400 meter track that has been in need of resurfacing for a decade- chunks of the surface are peeling off and some intact sections are no longer adhered well to the concrete base. It will cost $200k-$300k. The track is used for all kinds of good things. The local Christian schools hold track practices and meets there given they don’t have their own facilities, and they pay to use it- a substandard facility. I suspect there are lots of things in the city that need some attention paid to them so before candidates get excited about cutting taxes, I’d like there to be an exhaustive list of things to fix with that list prioritized. Ms. Learnard has pledged to get things fixed. (Mr. Destadio would like to see flush plumbing installed in more parks- I agree with this also.)

      • One comment here. A balanced budget is not based on the millage rate. If your tax bill goes down from the previous year it is a tax cut regardless of what the millage rate is. If it remains the same that is a balanced budget. If it increases that is a tax increase. Fact is the 2022 budget is the first year a tax increase has not been passed since 2010, because it is an election year. Every year a tax increase hearing has occurred because property value has increased thus increasing your tax bill over the prior year.

        Another fact is that we did not have a balanced budget. Georgia law requires cities to pass balanced budgets. For us, we were in recession from 2008 to 2013. Passing tax increases during recession is foolhardy.

        • Hi, Don! Pulled out my tax bills from 2018, 2019, and 2020, and the amount I paid to PTC was $886, $850, and $890 respectively. I think this was after the SPLOST was effective so it is an apples to apples comparison. In 2018 there was some City bond amount I included, which seems to be no more as it is no longer on the tax bills in following years. Also the 8/19/21 meeting minutes mention zero millage on the M&O bond. I actually did see a $36 decrease from 2018 to 2019 as the FMV went down, and I suspect I wasn’t the only person that saw that. Given an absolute change of $40 between the highest and lowest amount over three years, I’m not going to cry in my beer. Nor do I think council has been fiscally irresponsible; I don’t expect my experience is an outlier.

  5. Hi, Don! Thanks for responding! My handle is takatsu5 but this is Paul Schultz. Let’s review two facts and one judgement:

    I looked around your website for your qualifications- still nothing. Under Home is your Platform, Issues, Signs etc., Pictures and Videos. Platform is just a page. Under Issues seems to be individual takedowns of your opponents. I used the Search function for “qualifications” and several variations. Nothing came up. Maybe create a page dedicated to qualifications and put it at the root so people can find it easily- like your opponents have done.

    I pulled out my property tax bill. $890.18 to Peachtree City. I characterized all my spending over a year period. If I add up all expenses I had except insurance premiums and other taxes but still include items I know are not subject to sales tax such mortgage payments or spending outside Fayette to estimate high, I get $78k. Of our 7% sales tax, 4% is for the State, and 1% each for Local, ESPLOST, and SPLOST. Let’s say for sake of argument that ALL of the 1% Local goes to PTC so $780. Of the SPLOST, about 1/3rd goes to PTC so $260. This gives a grand total of $1930- remember estimating everything high. The portion of property tax bill for schools is $2,697. 2020 State Tax: $7.9k. 2020 Federal tax: $22k. This was an exercise in contrast. Let’s say $1930 is correct, how much could be realistically cut? Let’s say 30% so $579. When compared to $78k expenses and other taxes that’s chump change. I’ll stand by my original number of total tax paid to PTC of $1,100 as being very close to reality.

    The point on the prayer was not the prayer itself. It was about your tone deaf response. Let’s say we had a tornado that goes through PTC and causes a lot of destruction. You’d show up and say, “Tornadoes are formed when cool, moist air converges with warm air in an updraft causing a rotating cloud wall to form. They are very destructive. Deal with it.” A mayor suited to the job would stay, “This is a terrible disaster, and I know many citizens are affected. My heart goes out to those who’ve had losses. As mayor I assure you I’m doing everything I can to support the City. We’ll get through this together.” You dismiss empathy, but it matters.

    • 12. Traffic: the unfortunate reality is that we have no real solution to traffic congestion. Tyrone wants nothing to do with routing traffic through their city. Coweta has never been willing to assist Peachtree City. They have always wanted to dump their traffic through us. GDOT is not going to take any measures for us.

      Many changes to 74/54 have been proposed. But none of them do anything to reduce traffic through Peachtree City. In fact, they make it worse. One proposal that will help somewhat is to connect Fischer Road to 85, but Coweta is not interested, leaving building a skyway from the east side of the city into Coweta with no ramps. Ambitious yet unattainable.

      Traffic Solution

      I have no idea what GDOT will say or what the cost will be. The $9 million for the wasted intersection could be transferred to the solution. This solution will improve traffic flow, reduce stress on sidestreets, improve sidestreet left turns, reduce landscaping costs and not create a developer corridor.

      From at least Line Creek to at least the bridge by City Hall add one lane between the four existing lanes. Make the new five lanes reversible, three or four for morning rush-hour and then reverse them for the afternoon rush-hour. Make the sidestreet turn lanes dual turn lanes with left turn on green.

      This solution works and does not consume a ton of private property, if any at all. No other proposal made to date is viable. Neither Tyrone or Coweta has any interest or reason to cooperate in a bypass. No improvement to the intersection improves traffic flow through the city.

      I have had more and varied experience in areas relating to government than any of my opponents. Worked in Naval Intelligence with a top-secret, crypto and codeword clearance covering Vietnam, China and Russia. So I saw parts of our government very few have ever seen and thus am a very conservative independent.

      Been a supervisor in a steel mill and a business owner. Been landscape chairman, board member and president in two HOA’s. Been a Boy Scout leader and the founder of a 4H program. Worked with engineers to help design portions of the initial stormwater program. Further, been a Councilman, Mayor, Board of Health member and state arbitrator. My ordinances helped stop businesses from building up against streets and highways and defeat Great Wolf. Ordinances that require berms, trees, landscaping and setbacks to separate homes from nonresidential use. Worked with our development authority until three councilmembers dissolved it thus stopping economic development in our fair city.

      SPLOST is collected county-wide and so distribued. PTC gets about 32%. Do not mix prayer with other issues. That is bait and switch. Empathy does not rule legal and reality.

      Titles from the Citizen:
      Learnard reading from the NAACP playbook
      Learnard to county, BoE: Drop the appeal
      King: In defense of Kim Learnard
      ‘Insanity’? Learnard does the same thing
      Learnard’s attacks tarnish Fayette, PTC
      Haddix gone but Ms. Learnard quarrels on
      DAPC debacle: With ‘friends’ like Learnard, who needs enemies?
      Learnard: Imker is a ‘budget genius’
      What a letdown: PTC’s Learnard, like atheist, wants to stop prayers
      Brown: PTC Council’s censure of Haddix’s free speech is troubling
      PTC settles with mayor; restores salary and $2K back pay
      PTC Council action revealed as illegal

      • Don, hi! Thanks for the response! So when you interact with your constituents in times of distress showing empathy is not a job requirement? If I listen closely I hear the sounds of dirt being shoveled on your campaign…

        You said I was untruthful when I pointed out your qualifications are not listed on your campaign website, and I showed they are not. You responded by listing them in this chat. I frankly don’t care. If I had to rank the other candidates, you’re #5. Unless you can show your qualifications are on your website, my initial observation stands.

        You indicated my figure of $1,100 that I pay in taxes to PTC is dishonest. I broke that down and got no response from you except that PTC gets 32% of the SPLOST, which I KNOW. Do you know how much you spend in taxes to PTC?

        Let me reframe: Mr. Ernst ran unopposed in 2017 as an incumbent so he must have been doing a good enough job that nobody decided to run against him. Mr. Imker won 31% of the vote against Mayor Fleisch’s 43%, which is a good showing against an incumbent. If Mr. Thompson hadn’t run, Mr. Imker might have been mayor. In 2013 when you were voted out as mayor garnering only 5% of the vote, Ms. Learnard was re-elected. All your current opponents had a second life after you. So I have to believe one of two things: 1.) Either you were completely the victim of a problematic council and 95% of the electorate didn’t see it, or 2.) You had some responsibility in terms of council not getting along and 95% of the voters agreed. I think I’ll go with #2.

        • Of course I care. You need to listen better. The sound you hear is dirt being shoveled on this council. The survey clearly rejected everyone on the current council. On Facebook you hear poster after poster rejecting them.

          And think again, I copied and pasted from my website, from Facebook posts, my Facebook page and materials I have submitted to two organizations answering their questions. And you better look at the website again. My qualifications have been in various places for over two years.

          My point regarding taxes is you are tax and spender focused on recreation and entertainment, not on economic development and the welfare of the city. You approve of urbanizing the city when the city does not.

          Running unopposed meant apathy and no hope of changing the Council majority. It did not mean he was that good. But now that the majority can be changed and it will be.

          You have yet to say where my agenda is bad.

          • Hi Mr. Haddix,

            I was going to remain silent, but is silence the best approach to your tone deafness? Maybe additional voices are what’s warranted. I want to acknowledge that you’re doing more than me. You’re putting yourself out there and running for office. So, good for you.

            “Of course I care. You need to listen better.” Is that your best, and do we deserve better? Perhaps personal responsibility is best, when a constituent tries to find the information. You could say, “let me look at my website now and make sure my qualifications are front and center. Thank you for letting me know they’re hard to find. I’m trying to get my message out!”

            “Do not mix prayer with other issues.” Does religion inform your choices? This issue is important enough to make part of your campaign platform. You could say, “I view prayer at council meetings as a vital time of quiet reflection for each member of the council to pause and consider that they serve their community, and each member should embody the ideals of their own religion as we meet to discuss the issues that effect us all. While I acknowledge the majority of Peachtree City is Christian, there are different points of view even within Christianity. I will try to make sure this time of reflection illustrates the diversity of religious practices within our community, including the beliefs of our community who don’t engage in formal religion.”

            You attempt a distinction between “tax and spend” and “economic development and welfare.” Both activities take revenue generated from taxes and direct them towards the community. The question we have is, would recreation and entertainment do more to stimulate economic development? In Fayette County, I see economic development happening in downtown Fayetteville and Trillith/Pinewood Forest precisely because of the recreation and entertainment options. That may not be your preference, but it’s tough to deny the power of the economic development that takes place when compared with a focus on recreation-and-entertainment, within the same county.

            Don — your vision of Peachtree City is absolutely one that we should consider on November 8th. However, your “my way or the highway” approach may find limited support. You know, because our highways aren’t the best.

  6. Paul, since your submissions went negative on me let me address your issues. First, noy all focus on the 54/74 intersection. Two recognize the intersection is not the center of the problem, the 74 and 54 corridors are the problems. I am the only one with a solution that will actually work. My solution was the one that ended the TDK the issue.

    You talk about temperament, what those you praise for their temperament worked to violate the First Amendment, violate the village concept with the LCI plan creating a city center nobody wanted, redeveloping Huddleston which the owners said no to and the Council has no power to enact without voter approval. Fact is after this election none of those that were the source of the conflict will be on council if I and the two council member candidates I expect are elected.

    You failed to mention that all the paving you praise was due to tax increases in the simple fact we had just come out of a recession. But you call 10 consecutive years of tax increases success. And you’re talking about a collegial relationship simply tells me you have no knowledge of the facts of what went on council.

    Yes, I lost my reelection bid and you make that sound like something that disqualifies me from running again. I call your attention to Reagan losing an election and Biden losing three elections. As for my website donhaddixdotcom not listing my qualifications is untruthful. Go read. In example I have been a business owner, Councilman, mayor, Board of Health member and state arbitrator and more. More qualifications than any of my opponents.

    As for the opening prayer everything I said was true. And yes, I know what your religion is. Pleading empathy avoids reality.

    While the survey said taxes were too high you find $200 or more for SPLOST acceptable. And to say you only spend $1,100 taxable dishonest.

    As for Learnard not being a source of conflict, you have not paid attention. Search the Citizen. And note on Facebook if you are not a friend you cannot post on her page. Same with Ernst. And her agenda does not address economic development at all. Only a development authority can be active in job recruitment and redevelopment, but she and Imker were two of the three that voted to dissolve ours hence once the projects I was working on with our authority finalized there has been no new economic development. Retail and residential are not economic development.