The early voting is off to a vigorous start with waiting lines and voters even braving morning 40-degree temperatures. This election is a fight for the sanctity of our system at the local, state, and federal levels.
Several people wanted more of a deep dive into the local candidates beyond what was in my previous column and to explain the state constitutional amendments and referendums on the ballot.
In a sign of the times, I was accosted in the local Publix the other day by an outlandish and irrational woman who thought it a good idea to loudly shriek, screech, and squawk at me in front of a store full of people because of my political beliefs. Fellow citizens, if you don’t think that more acts of public political intimidation are coming to Fayette County, you had better think again. The rules have changed, and you need to vote accordingly.
Leftist groups like We Push Progress and Black Hammer are headquartered in Fayette County. They are firmly locked onto socialist philosophy, and we have already seen violence from one. Beware of any candidate supported by these groups. Unfortunately, they work behind the scenes, and most times you will never know who they are assisting.
In the state and federal races, we have distinctly different choices on the ballot. The local Peachtree City Council race does not have the exposure and the names are not familiar. Likewise, only two council candidates listed a political affiliation on their candidate qualification paperwork. Clint Holland and Phil Crane are both listed as Republicans.
In case you missed it, The Citizen asked all the council candidates a series of questions and you can find their answers on this website by clicking here.
Candidate Kevin Madden has an actual City Council voting record, a really bad one, as part of the Fleisch Administration ruffians who continually disrespected the constituents.
Annexations have consequences
Let’s start with the candidate question on annexation, the process by which a municipality expands its boundaries into adjacent areas that have not been incorporated. This is a very important issue because significant consequences must be considered.
Expanding the city’s boundaries means expanding all city services over a wider area. Public Works will have more area to maintain, and more roads and paths to pave. Police and Fire must respond to more places at a greater distance. Guess who pays for all the municipal service expansion?
For example, the city taxpayers are having to fund a new fire station in the southern part of the city because of annexation and it will cost millions of dollars for the building, equipment, and multiple shifts of personnel. That is millions of dollars that cannot be used to maintain and upgrade the current city facilities we all use now.
Annexing land to build more residential units makes little sense as the costs outweigh the benefits, but the city has done it recently. Candidates Kenneth Hamner, Holland, and Crane made this same point. Candidate Mark Gelhardt, Sr. gave an ambiguous answer.
Hamner said he supported the past annexations, but he had to admit that the annexation of the Governor’s Square area in east Peachtree City piled on an “additional 94 houses crammed on top of each other … great for the developer, but it was bad for our traffic and crowded school system … and placed high-density housing in areas specifically designated for low-density.”
So, the local taxpayers got sacked for a significant loss because something (makes you wonder what) triggered the Fleisch Administration, including current council members Mike King and Phil Prebor, to make an atrocious decision on Governor’s Square.
Never annex property without designating the specific zoning and uses as a condition of the annexation. King, Prebor, and their previous council comrades cheated us.
Sleight of hand with the comprehensive plan
The city government has played cheaters poker with the citizens over the last several years. The council members, Frank Destadio being the exception, have pulled every type of double-crossing, double-dealing scheme possible to force-feed more multi-family housing complexes to the citizens over their furious objections.
The City Council finally hid a pathway to more apartment complexes in a vote that modified the city’s comprehensive plan. Destadio was the only vote in opposition. Candidates Hamner and Gelhardt support the sneaky change in the plan. Crane gave a half-hearted non-committal reply.
Hamner and Crane actually defended the government process for allowing more stacked multi-family complexes. Observers wonder how anyone could have watched the deception (see link above) and conclude the City Council and planning director are acting above board.
Holland is the only candidate who committed to voting on reversing the changes including multi-family complexes in plans, saying the changes were “a very sore point for me because this was the area that I most disagreed with and this topic drove me to run for City Council.”
Holland knew the process was deceptive and as a member of the city’s comprehensive plan committee called out the city’s planning director on the misleading committee findings. He stated, “I fought to keep urbanization and mixed-use housing out of the plan. I witnessed a poorly designed and executed survey of PTC citizens. The survey set-up had no real input from the revision committee, so we received only 581 responses out of 38,000 people.”
Holland continued, “From that flawed data the committee made rash decisions that I was totally against. The committee told the citizens that urbanization and mixed-use was wanted in PTC. When I questioned the survey and went through the data of the 581 responses, we were told that the committee had enough responses to get answers.”
Candidates cannot have it both ways
Holland, Crane, Hamner, and Gelhardt all said or inferred that they wanted to protect the village concept, but Crane and Hamner both approve of radical changes in the built environment, wanting multi-story, mixed-use apartments over retail shopping. Gelhardt refused to reverse the recent changes in the official plan allowing more apartments.
The mixed-use development is a fad in suburban areas, generally in cities wanting to create more of an urban environment. Real estate developers make a lot of profit off mixed-use development, but most are “flipped” into real estate investment trusts (REITs) and local ownership disappears and upkeep and management wane, creating a huge liability for the city in later years.
Many such mixed-use structures are inexpensively made of wood framing and do not age well. Additionally, those developments are subject to the divergent market forces of multi-family rental units and retail leasing, meaning, depending on the market, one or the other can pull the development into financial distress.
Unless there are stringent restrictions in ordinance form on what retail uses can go in those spaces, residential tenant issues can arise. Pet grooming, nail salons, dry cleaners, restaurants, and other uses can emit volatile odors. Restaurants and bars in the spaces cause a lot of noise, odor, and food-related trash in rear dumpsters and cooking oil bins that the residential tenants will not tolerate. Imagine the 6:00 a.m. dumpster truck waking you up twice a week.
Conversely, developers will say restrictions on retail uses often cripples the marketability of leasing the space. It’s a City Council-created conundrum.
Parking battles often ensue in mixed-use buildings between the residential and retail which impacts the businesses. Our city would most likely have to give away our traditional green buffers and setbacks to accommodate the additional traffic load and parking requirements as the City Council was willing to do during the livable centers initiative (LCI) plan.
Holland was the only candidate who opposed the stacked apartments over retail and said he would vote to reverse changes in the comprehensive plan. Nothing wishy-washy here, Holland made it clear, “I am against any mixed-use developments, either suburban-style or urban-style along with any urbanization in PTC … PTC has been a nationwide award-winning planned community for about 45 years. In my mind, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it!”
Your money or their money?
Holland and Gelhardt both definitively said not to raise taxes in a bad economy with high inflation. Hamner said he would consider options. Crane was fine with the tax increase.
I found it interesting that not a single candidate suggested taking a deep dive into the government’s budget, eliminating nonessential processes and duplication, asking department directors to find waste, reorganizing systems, terminating low-performing employees, and developing a laser focus on citizen expectations.
Raising taxes annually appears to be the norm now. Elected officials need to remember that it is their poor decisions that create the need to take more and more cash out of the taxpayers’ wallets.
Now it’s up to you
Early voting downstairs at the Peachtree City Library is in progress (9:00 – 5:00) with Saturday voting on October 29 (9:00 – 5:00). Voting at your precinct on Election Day is November 8 (7:00 – 7:00).
There are two ballots in Peachtree City. If you did not vote on the city ballot because of the lines before, you are allowed to go back and vote on the municipal ballot.
Clint Holland easily graded the highest on my scale and he will be receiving my vote for City Council, Post 3.
To speed you up at the voting terminal, here is the skinny on the two state amendments and two state referendums on the ballot.
Amendment 1 stems from the past bad behavior of statewide elected officials who were indicted but received full pay until a court ruled them guilty. Instead of suspending pay, I would prefer that the official return the pay from the point of the indictment to being found guilty. That way, innocent officials would not be unfairly penalized, not being able to pay their attorneys and other personal bills.
Amendment 2 allows local governments to grant temporary tax relief to certain properties that are damaged or destroyed due to a disaster. On its face, the amendment has merit. However, there is significant potential for abuse.
Referendum A creates an ad valorem tax exemption for the timber industry. Why approve of state lawmakers hand-picking tax exemptions for specific existing industries? These efforts usually reflect self-interest and political patronage. This is not an incentive for attracting new industries to the state.
Referendum B expands an ad valorem tax exemption for merged family-owned farms, with an expansion to include dairy products and eggs. I do not support blanket statewide tax exemptions for hand-picked existing industries. Self-interest and political patronage are concerns.
[Brown is a former mayor of Peachtree City and served two terms on the Fayette County Board of Commissioners]