Election Day, November 8, has arrived. Many have voted early, and of those, some chose not to vote on the second ballot for the Peachtree City Special Election. So many of our long-term residents are eager to vote, knowing the local government has allowed some of our valuable civic assets to erode.
A city worth defending
A significant number of the “passionate voters” in the Special Election tend to be residents of 15 years plus. Those voters are casting ballots in the hopes the city will stop abandoning the civic qualities that caused Peachtree City to reach national prominence.
Peachtree City has always been different in the most positive ways. Multi-use paths, large protected greenspaces, aesthetically refined development standards, and a location away from the typical bulky and dense development along the interstate highways was a powerful enticement for people in neighboring counties wanting something better as well as out-of-state residents.
In June of 2005, Peachtree City received international attention as the focus of a study conducted by the University College London. The study examined the city´s extensive multi-use path system. The study´s author, Dr. Ruth Conroy-Dalton, whom I met at Georgia Tech, described Peachtree City as the “blue-print of a ‘protopia,´ presenting a principle by which American suburbia could be transformed into sustainable communities.”
Dr. Conroy-Dalton also pointed out that the multi-use path system has several social, economic, and environmental benefits that make Peachtree City an example for other urban areas to follow, see the study here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/32885649_An_American_prototopia_or_Peachtree_City_as_an_inadvertent_sustainable_solution_to_urban_sprawl.
Many newcomers do not know that in 2005 our city was ranked as the eighth best place to live in the United States and the only southern city in the top 10, see: https://money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/bplive/2005/. I provided the tour for the Money magazine writers with about 10 minutes’ notice. As an elected official who studied the city for years and was in love with the community, the assignment of presenting the tour was effortless.
Peachtree City wins awards on nearly every platform. We are one of the best places to raise a family and one of the best places to retire. We are one of the healthiest, most well-educated, and most civic-minded cities in the state and nation. The city has attracted businesses from around the nation and the world.
As I showed the Money magazine writers, the city provides tremendous benefits at a remarkably low cost of living. In 2005, Peachtree City had a lower sales tax, auto insurance premium, and average home price than the average of the 100 best cities across the nation.
Success in jeopardy?
There were two factors I recognized 20 years ago before running for elected office that could punch serious holes in our magnificent ship: radical development shifts and internal politics.
A long time ago when the city’s founder Pete Knox, Jr., and his fellow real estate investors began acquiring the farm and forest land that is now Peachtree City, the vision was one of creating an urban center nestled in the green countryside, a mixture of a southern factory town and the British “green cities” movement.
Knox and his colleagues eventually sold the land to another large developer, and, by the grace of God, they went bankrupt, and a new version of Peachtree City was born, building slowly at first and at well over 200% annually at the peak.
It was not until the city’s fourth mayor, Howard Morgan, that the multi-use path system came into being. It was a cutting-edge idea borrowed from this up-and-coming vacation spot called Hilton Head Island. Like the path system at Hilton Head Island, Peachtree City developed to be different, setting our city apart from the other cities in the state. It was the key to our success.
In the late 1990s, the corporation serving as the master developer was running out of real estate to sell, causing a development melee between most citizens who wanted to keep the strict and successful development standards versus the development community and their political allies wanting to cash out big as they exited. The philosophy was to build it big, profit, and run, leaving it to future city governments to handle the consequences.
The “big box” developers wanted to break in and they did with the help of developer allies on the city council. It was a major historical line of demarcation on the city’s timeline, creating a “time before big box stores” and an “era afterward with mass commercialization and regional shoppers” on our streets.
Awareness of probable future traffic issues on GA highway 54-W went all the way back to the 1980s, but the city council allowed over-building in the corridor anyway against mass citizen complaints.
The out-of-town, fast-buck apartment developers came to town in the 1990s. The citizens rebelled and a moratorium was installed.
Fast forward to 2021 and the Fleisch administration including current Councilmen Mike King and Phil Prebor as well as Planning Director Robin Cailloux attempted an act of forced development debauchery, a malicious assault on our master-planned community through the Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) plan (see: https://thecitizen.com/2020/11/01/lci-meeting-insult-to-peachtree-city-residents/), literally wanting to plaster high-density multi-family residential complexes around the city and “urbanize” areas with the least traffic capacity. The citizens rebelled again.
How to crush a city’s soul
Since the day I first set foot in Peachtree City with a wife, toddler, and newborn, I have been thoroughly impressed with the unity of purpose among the city’s residents. We all could have afforded to live elsewhere, and no one moved to Peachtree City to be close to anything, a sacrifice we were willing to make for living in a special place.
Citizen participation has been the soul of Peachtree City’s success. Our citizens have shown intense community pride, they volunteer, promote successful local endeavors, and create intense opposition to government officials who attempt to change our award-winning paradigm.
So, if you want to force radical urban change in a city like Peachtree City against the will of the citizens, you must crush the city’s soul and eliminate the opposition. It’s as clear as the city’s adult softball field with no games being played.
We used to call City Hall and get a trained receptionist who could answer and direct nearly 98% of all citizens’ inquiries with politeness and efficiency. It was unbeatable customer service, and it was constantly cited by residents. Today, you get an automated call system and most likely a voicemail.
In 2010, the city council disbanded the city’s citizen library commission. There was no bad intent and the library’s oversight duties were handed over to the city’s citizen recreation commission. The library was the 19th most active library in all of Georgia when the oversight duties were transferred.
Unfortunately, the Fleisch administration secretly eliminated the city’s citizen recreation commission, no announcement, no vote, poof — gone. So, the citizen library commission’s authority was transferred to the citizen recreation commission, and it was stealthily terminated.
No one should wonder why the city council does not care about the library and its patrons (see: https://thecitizen.com/2022/09/26/mayor-council-choke-off-public-use-of-excellent-library/).
Adult recreation patrons have come to me asking why the city ignores them. The city has a wonderful adult softball field with parking and a restroom. Sadly, the once successful adult softball program cannot play because the city council refuses to replace the old wooden light poles illuminating the field (adult softball plays at night after work hours). They would go to the citizen recreation commission to support their cause, but the city secretly axed the citizen commission.
Go to a city council meeting and ask Councilmen King and Prebor why they have allowed the softball field to remain empty. It stands as a symbol of their leadership.
Mayor Kim Learnard in her first year has proven to be as self-centered as her predecessor. For nearly two decades, citizens have been asking to replace the stinky port-a-potties at the very popular Battery Way Park with a real restroom.
Learnard pulled the restroom project from the top tier of the SPLOST list and moved her pet project up, a new pickleball facility (see: https://thecitizen.com/2022/09/19/mayor-pickle-ball-says-battery-way-park-bathrooms-can-wait-while-local-taxes-skyrocket/). Instead of making a significant improvement to a highly used existing park, she wants to build her low priority pet project that the city cannot afford to maintain without raising your taxes.
When the city’s citizen planning commission began objecting to projects that did not match the city’s plans and development pattern, King, Prebor, and the rest of the Fleisch administration removed all authority from the commission (see: https://thecitizen.com/2021/02/25/demoted-planning-commission-can-no-longer-protect-residents-from-bait-and-switch-apartment-rezonings/).
When the local citizens began to publicly criticize the horrible performance and destructive practices of the Fleisch administration, the city council created a measure to allow the city government to sue local taxpayers with their own tax dollars to shut them up (see: https://thecitizen.com/2019/04/23/governments-stop-silencing-your-citizens/).
Public speech has been so restricted in city council meetings that a giant stopwatch is projected on the meeting screen to buzz them when a citizen’s 52 seconds is up (see: https://thecitizen.com/2022/07/04/local-elected-officials-routinely-ignore-and-violate-part-of-1st-amendment/).
If the citizens complain about the city council or demand justice, the answer appears to be forcibly and completely quash them and remove every avenue of representation they might have.
It’s vote carefully, or lose it
Tuesday is upon us. Go vote. Make an informed vote.
After examining the candidates’ responses to the questions offered by The Citizen, here is my conclusion, see https://thecitizen.com/2022/10/24/examining-peachtree-city-candidates-positions/.
Go make a difference and save the city’s assets and qualities that brought us all here.
[Brown is a former mayor of Peachtree City and served two terms on the Fayette County Board of Commissioners]