OPINION — With almost no warning, the Peachtree City Council is set to vote Thursday night to zero out one of the significant democratic (small “d”) rights of Peachtree City citizens.
As a resident of Peachtree City, you have a lawful right as described this way by new City Manager Robert Curnow: “The current ordinance allows for anyone to place an item on the agenda.” Yes, you can place an agenda item on the City Council agenda, and they can’t refuse to let you do this. Until tonight.
Wow! That’s an amazing right that has been used extremely rarely by any resident of Peachtree City.
So resident Suzanne Brown exercised that right and placed an item on this Thursday night’s council agenda. It’s under Public Hearings: “02-03-06 — Redistricting voting precincts county-wide.” It’s about the Fayette County Board of Elections — an unelected body — moving toward shrinking countywide voting precincts from 36 to 19 and moving most Peachtree City voters into newly combined precincts.
Why did an ordinary citizen have to draw attention to this significant voting change rather than our elected officials? Good question, which you may ponder as you discover what happened next.
The council vote to cancel that right is on the agenda immediately before Brown gets to present the shrinking voting precincts issue to the council and to the public.
Could this look any worse?
Yes. Here’s City Manager Robert Curnow’s explanation of why this citizen right has to be slapped down and abolished immediately:
“This does not always provide council members the opportunity to fully understand the item being requested or presented. The change to the ordinance would require the public to submit their items to the mayor or at least one council member, creating the opportunity for dialogue with residents and/or the requester. One or more members of council may then choose to have the item added to the council meeting agenda.”
You got that? If a council member or members did not want your item on the agenda, they would simply refuse to add it, and you would have no recourse except to go to a council meeting and be allowed a short, strictly timed objection.
It’s not like citizens are adding items to the council agenda all the time. In fact, it’s the first time in my memory that this has happened. I have not been present at all council meetings since my first one in 1982, but I’ve been at a lot of them. This has not been a contentious issue in 40 years of council meetings. So why now?
Because maybe Mayor Kim Learnard and one or two other council members don’t like that right being exercised by the public that elected them. (Control, control, control.) And when a local gadfly has the audacity to actually exercise the right provided by city ordinance, some council members want to stomp it out of existence — immediately, the same night.
I’ve observed that the council loses its collective mind on average about once every three or four years. Remember Great Wolf, a commercial water park pushed by the city staff and council to be located on Aberdeen Parkway next to residential neighborhoods? An overflow crowd from all of the city’s villages reminded them that was a bad idea.
Remember the council’s attempt to have the city insurance pay for council and city staff to sue citizens who dared to criticize them? Another overflow crowd — ranging from an ACLU official to a guy in a MAGA hat — urged the council to drop this bone-headed idea.
This canceling an existing right — clearly to prevent embarrassment to council members — is similarly bone-headed. So they don’t “fully understand the item” being presented. So what? Discuss it and postpone action until the next meeting. DO NOT take away this important right from Peachtree City residents using such a flimsy excuse.
And what about that Elections Board? We’ve had more than two dozen voting precincts for the past 40 years and our population has increased greatly. What is behind this attempt to inconvenience tens of thousands of Fayette voters?
The Election Board members — ironically — are appointed, not elected. But here are members of the County Commission that controls the budget of the three-member elections board, and these guys are elected:
• Edward “Edge” Gibbons, District 3 (Peachtree City), cell 678-708-1262, EGibbons@fayettecountyga.gov
• Lee Hearn, District 2 (eastern Fayette from Fayetteville to Brooks), cell 678-708-1262, Lhearn@fayettecountyga.gov
• Eric Maxwell, District 1 (Fayetteville west to Tyrone), cell 678-684-7094, Emaxwell@fayettecountyga.gov
• Charles Oddo, District 5 At-Large (all of Fayette County), cell 770-401-0088, COddo@fayettecountyga.gov
• Charles D. Rousseau, District 4 (northern Fayette County), 470-217-2214, CRousseau@fayettecountyga.gov
Call or email any or all of them and encourage them to rein in this Election Board that wants to crowd even more voters into just over half the number of precincts currently operating, in the process reshuffling thousands of voters. Might shrinking the number of voting precincts be viewed negatively by many taxpaying voters? Is there any convincing logic underlying this move? Why haven’t we heard this logic?
Also join the Peachtree City Council Thursday night and encourage them to leave untouched this seldom-used citizen access to the council agenda. Otherwise the council will deliver a potently symbolic slap in the faces of thousands of city residents.
If that happens, maybe the mayor will allow you 53 seconds to object during the strictly timed public comment period at the next meeting.
[Cal Beverly has been editor and publisher of The Citizen since 1993.]