OPINION — Mayor, council taking us in direction we won’t like


OPINION COLUMN — In August of 2020, when then-Mayor Vanessa Fleisch announced to the common folk that things were going to radically change in Peachtree City (see: https://thecitizen.com/2020/08/23/mayor-fleisch-peachtree-citys-village-concept-is-changing/), most of us did not take her seriously. Well, we are quadruple-shot expresso wide awake now.

It’s been unbelievable that the citizens in a successful and thriving community like our Peachtree City would have to constantly be combatting our local elected officials who want to silence the citizens and convert the city to some kind of metropolitan Atlanta homogenized development style.

First, it was bare-knuckle brawling over the city council wanting to plaster the city with apartment complexes (see: https://thecitizen.com/2020/11/01/lci-meeting-insult-to-peachtree-city-residents/). So far, the taxpaying citizens have been able to hold Mayor Kim Learnard and Councilmen Mike King and Phil Prebor back.

Next, it was the intentional campaign to prevent taxpaying citizens from having any legitimate input on local government affairs. One of the hallmarks of our successful city has always been an active and vocal citizenry. Obviously, that frightens the elected officials and jeopardizes the Fleisch-Learnard plans for radical changes.

Insignificant, meaningless, and useless

The latest ploy from a militant city council is about as vicious a slap in the face of the constituents as I have witnessed. As they neuter and cancel every available option for citizen input, they are using the muzzled citizens’ hard-earned tax dollars to pay for an algorithm application to decide what the citizens are thinking (see: https://thecitizen.com/2023/03/15/opinion-letter-will-peachtree-city-be-spying-on-you-and-will-you-be-paying-for-it/).

For free (that’s zero dollars and zero cents), the city council could have reinitiated a functioning citizen Planning Commission insuring good development, a citizen Recreation Commission insuring our youth and adult recreation opportunities are the best possible and provided ample time at public meetings to hear the comments and ideas of one of the most well-educated constituencies in Georgia, but they chose to pay $64,000 per year to let a foreign tech firm’s algorithm take the place of public participation (see: https://thecitizen.com/2023/03/20/publics-agenda-right-lives-for-another-month-city-hires-social-media-monitor-service-for-64k-a-year/).

You just cannot make this stuff up, no one would believe you.

You are no longer needed

Yes, you have been overridden by a foreign algorithm that desperately scours the internet for information on you and your family, attempting quantification of opinion from qualitative and unstructured textual data posted on social media.

Don’t worry, the algorithm is smarter than you are, says the city council. Don’t worry about systematic selection bias and the way the algorithm was instructed to interpret your posts. Don’t worry about the algorithm company having your location tagged or who they might sell your personal information to in the background.

The city council does not need your participation, just your money.

Seriously, trust the government?

Of course, the city government only gets the results, so they cannot verify the data, authenticate a broad representation of the citizenry, or work around the censorship and account termination issues posed by social media companies. They will have to “trust the algorithm” and those who wrote the code.

At the same time, the Department of Justice is investigating TikTok for spying on journalists and ruining our children, the Department of Defense is using partisan tech scans on the internet of military personnel causing alarmingly low recruitment, and the “Twitter files” show the government was actively involved in identifying and terminating public speech based on political bias, our city council is using the same technology to justify their premeditated plans (the ones we have been rejecting regularly since 2020) based on unsubstantiated subcontracted interpretations which the general public will never be able to corroborate.

The council members are saying this was the new city manager’s idea. I have a difficult time believing he could be so overconfident just a few months into the job to pull something like this. I am now left to wonder whether Mayor Learnard and crew hired Robert Curnow because he has the same anti-constituent attitude as they do.

Where are the life rafts?

When I was mayor, our city was rated as the eighth best place to live in the entire United States. We had more ways for citizens of all ages to engage and participate in local government than any other city, and we were proud of it. That’s gone.

You are now less than a citizen. You are nothing more than an algorithmic interpretation based on code created in another country.

On the flip side, Councilman Frank Destadio suggested allowing 10 citizens to speak in the “public comment” section of the meeting agenda for three minutes. It used to be 10 citizens who were allowed to speak for two minutes. Modest victory, I guess, like being offered a Band-Aid after getting hit by a car.

Mayor Learnard wanted the public comment moved to the last item on the agenda because she could care less about what you have to say.

There are two city council posts up for election this November. Let’s see how much more damage they can do until then.

[Brown is a former mayor of Peachtree City and served two terms on the Fayette County Board of Commissioners. You can read all his columns by clicking on his photo below.]


  1. I wish Mr Brown would take a look at what is happening in Fayetteville. The Fayette Development Authority ( created by whom?) is pimping out the city to the highest bidders. Trilith and the QTS data centers are destroying 600 acres of forest and the city council, planning commission, and county commissioners don’t want to hear anything from the taxpayers. No transparency until deals are done and another chunk of the city becomes a part of an extended Atlanta. No planning for traffic and infrastructure beforehand and a slap in the face to legacy residents.

  2. In reference to the $64,000 algorithm…how about the city, FOR FREE start groups (open to the public) on Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram allowing people to comment? Then the powers that be who wanted to be in charge of this great city can read what folks have to say FOR FREE!!!! If you really want to know what people think, let them speak at council meetings or set up a “round table” event to let them speak FOR FREE!!!! Is this really that hard??? Next time, An elect is up for Mayor, if she (he) won’t declare which party she (he) is running for…someone divulge into some serious research…BEFORE election time! She is exactly why (as a woman) I will NEVER vote women into any political office! High five to the days of 1980’s Peachtree City, Frank n Fries, A&P, Big Star, Hardee’s…etc!

  3. Steve wouldn’t be able to code a hello world in python if his life depended on it, yet he understands “the algo” a service provider would use to do the most basic analysis on publicly available info? Sure, that checks out. Zencity is nothing but a spruced up website crawler that tells us if people are saying negative or positive things, and at what rate. The concept that this is detrimental to the constituents of this city just shows his ignorance on the subject.

    Then to claim that using basic google searches about a person before recruiting them into the armed forces has an impact on recruitment is simply mind boggling false. Anyone who seriously looks into that issue would realise that recruiment always struggles in good job markets, which we have been in for some time. Unemployment is very low, so desperate folks – which make up most of the military’s recruiting pool – don’t need to enlist to get by. I would know, I was in the military and MOST folks will tell you they didn’t join for some patriotic reason, but that is was the best job offer they could get.

    Also the idea that we don’t and have not always existed in a homogenized city is simply peak head in the sand-ism. Do you see the same structures I see? All the houses look the same, all the commercial real estate lacks any character, and if you wanted to be unique, our building regulations would prevent you from doing so. This is the same across all of suburban America. We have the same silly strip malls, stick frame housing and car centric development model almost every suburban city in the US has.

    Last I checked, we have about 30 christian churches in PTC. Yet, anytime we have someone try to build affordable housing – even for our elderly who cannot or do not want a SFH – people show up out of the woodwork to stop it. As a predominantly Christian city, you would think we would be doing more to support our downtrodden fellow Americans, yet just the mention of building apartments gets people in a pizzy. I don’t know, seems like people are not interested in living the values the 30 churches here preach, which is a fair greater travesty than any action the city council could take. Jesus would absolutely be ashamed at how we treat the poor in this city.

  4. I just want to say thank you to Steve Brown for his wonderful columns. You have helped me so much with understanding the government of PTC. Everything you say is exactly how my family feels. Please don’t stop writing, we need your insight for sure!

  5. You are so confidently incompetent. Trying to scare people with your description of a service that will help the city understand what citizens actually think and need.

    Fortunately, yours is a dying breed, using scare tactics to accomplish your agenda. It appears to me that the city manager and the city council are trying to move the city into the future. Most people have no idea how far behind folks like you let us get.

  6. Excellent summary of what’s been going on the last few years. It’s a shame. We had a choice in November 2021 and chose the wrong candidate. 195 votes the other way and we have a city council that would actually listen to the citizens and not cut them off so rudely in mid-sentence, “Your time is up.” How insulting.

    Council is there only twice a month and they can’t be bothered to hear the citizens lest it cut into their after council pow-wow time at one of the local pubs. Council should allow citizens time to talk during public comment. Talk without repeating themself, talk without being disrespectful, talk while staying on subject. So what if the meeting goes to 10pm. Twice a month for an extra few minutes isn’t that much to ask. If not, why did we elect them?

    Apologies to new council members Destadio and Holland. I’m sure they would not want to be part of any citizen supression. I’m sure they can’t wait to get two new council members who will challenge the mayor (going on 12 years on council and undoubtably wanting 16) and make motions to allow citizens to continue talking.

  7. They’re doing a fine job. We do need more representatives that are actually employed though. In jobs.

    The “put anything on the agenda” statute is a worthless waste of time to get items on the agenda without supplying any real information to discuss. I’m going to start going to meetings to make y’all listen to stories about my turtle being lost every single meeting until it’s out the door. Enjoy it.

    The social media data stuff has a very clear and abundant purpose: most people complain about stuff online all day without picking up the phone and calling the city for a real answer. This allows them to do their job better. It’s astonishing how many citizens complain all day long without taking the 30 seconds to notify the city to resolve an issue.

  8. One of the problems with local races is that it’s just too hard to find information about candidates. I wish candidates were more open and honest about their governing philosophies and their views on specific policies, and that they published this information clearly on their campaign websites. Too often candidates campaign on generalities while almost hiding their positions on topics that might drive away potential voters. We’re then left trying to hunt down information about what candidates actually want to accomplish (The Citizens has been a great help in his). It seems like there’s got to be an easier way of avoiding the election of politicians who might push using high amounts of public funding for niche sports facilities, or who might propose cutting off popular lakeside cart paths to the general public.

    • When successful business people run for office they never get elected. We always vote for politicians with no resume and then wonder why everything is a cluster. We continue to vote for the same people who have said for the past 16 years they are going to fix traffic but never address the solution. You get the government you deserve.