OPINION — Last week, I warned you to never trust the government at any level (see: https://thecitizen.com/2023/05/23/demand-transparency-and-accountability/). I promised a peek at the exploitation and dysfunction in Peachtree City that should have your attention.
Government officials who do things the right way are not the ones avoiding transparency. There are plenty of examples of why you should always demand transparency and accountability.
The FBI leadership, for example, has gone rogue and thoroughly disregards the law to the extent of endangering our democracy. Between the Special Counsel John Durham Report (see: https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/justice/special-counsel-john-durhams-final-report) and the Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz Report (see: https://thefederalist.com/2021/09/30/inspector-general-finds-damning-widespread-fisa-failure-after-fbi-director-dismissed-concerns/) there is no doubt of violating the law and undermining the U.S. Constitution.
Handling problems at home
Obviously, the government can be damaging, but it’s more a matter of whether we are willing to do anything about it.
People have asked me to write more about what is going on in Fayetteville.
I like Fayetteville and I wish them well, but the mayor and councilmen have made some generational mistakes. There was no defiant rally from the constituents when their government overbuilt multi-family complexes in the city. They allowed the city to gamble with their quality of life, and in 15 to 20 years, as that cyclical stacked housing owned by out-of-state real estate investment trusts begins causing municipal rot along with increased traffic and declining schools, they will wish they had shown up when needed.
Tyrone, Brooks, and Woolsey are slow-growth, larger lots, and single-family residential enclaves and will age well.
Ever since Vanessa Fleisch began her second term, her administration triggered a renewed battle for Peachtree City’s long-term success. In 2020, the brash mayor defiantly declared things were about to change whether we liked it or not (see: https://thecitizen.com/2020/08/23/mayor-fleisch-peachtree-citys-village-concept-is-changing/). She declared an end to our traditional development, our award-winning land planning, one of the most successful development movements in Georgia’s history, and the reason we all chose to drive far away to live here.
We in PTC are willing to fight
In the late 1990s, we began to see out-of-town real estate firms wanting to overload Peachtree City with apartment complexes during the Bob Lenox administration. The citizens rebelled and the Lenox crew aptly responded with a moratorium on apartment complexes. The moratorium and the philosophy behind it stood for over 20 years. I gladly defended it during my administration of the city.
I know a lot of real estate agents and people in the development business. I love them and hope they experience success, but I never vote for them to be on our city council. In that peer-pressure-filled line of work, it is too much about short-term gains and not enough about long-term community success.
Developers came calling again around 2018 wanting big-money Peachtree City apartment projects and our real estate agent Mayor Vanessa Fleisch was all too happy to give them everything they wanted. Fleisch proclaimed that we were “being stuck in our ways,” and that our ultra-successful community needed to heel to her friends in the development industry. They even proposed a large multi-family complex at the end of our local airport runway.
Fleisch along with current councilmen Mike King and Phil Prebor summoned the gods of dense urban planning and developed the most detrimental land development and redevelopment scheme (LCI plan) in Fayette County’s history (over 6,000 of your neighbors read this and got motivated: https://thecitizen.com/2020/11/01/lci-meeting-insult-to-peachtree-city-residents/). Peachtree City residents fought back!
History of our mayor
Next, former City Council member Kim Learnard was elected mayor with a diluted, nondescript campaign platform. It was all smiles and babble about how much she appreciated all the good things in Peachtree City, at least until she got elected.
Back when Learnard was a council member, she was always feuding over senseless stuff with then-Mayor Don Haddix. She continuously expresses her dissatisfaction with Haddix over things he would say. Many believed Learnard, but she has been so dismissive and abusive to her colleagues when running city council meetings as mayor that it appears she might be the point of conflict. She cuts off any elected council member who disagrees with her.
Then-Council Member Learnard carried the developer torch and kept pushing for a large Kohl’s department store on Highway 54 West where Michael’s and RaceTrac are today. She had total disregard for the traffic snarls or making the situation worse (not to mention that Kohl’s is in a tailspin and would have most likely left a huge empty box on the site). Fortunately, she lost. Unfortunately, the next city council decided to still go with retail there.
Learnard’s only significant effort was spending years on creating a “college and career academy” in Fayette County. This was a bizarre endeavor because she was on the city council and not the board of education.
The board of education made it clear they were not interested in creating such an academy and had other plans that were less costly, but Learnard persisted and kept pushing the project anyway. She even created something akin to a political advocacy group to force the issue against the will of the board of education.
Going even further, Learnard confounded political observers by formerly incorporating “Fayette College and Career Academy” in the state of Georgia, without the consent of the board of education. She made herself the CEO, and this is when many of us came to realize it was all about her, appearing to want to merge from her council seat conveniently into the six-figure directorship of the new academy in a power move to override the board of education. She ended up losing that battle too and the board of education installed their program.
Our current situation
In her run for mayor, Learnard was heavily supported by the real estate developer front group Plan for PTC and the leader of the far-left political action committee We Push Progress.
Since the LCI failed under the Fleisch administration, the sneaky trio of Mayor Learnard, Mike King, and Phil Prebor decided to alter our future land use plan through the state’s mandated comprehensive plan review process to include more apartments in various places all over the city, placing us in legal jeopardy when a developer applicant files a plan that adheres to the new plan as approved at the August 18, 2022 city council meeting.
You need to see for yourself. Go to the video of the August 18 meeting at approximately 1:27, https://livestream.com/peachtreecity/councilmeeting/videos/232581734. Apparently, Learnard was not as happy with our successful land plans as she claimed during the election campaign.
To make matters worse, Learnard wants to build lots of stacked multi-family housing complexes on Huddleston Road, right in the heart of our abysmal daily traffic jam. She does not really care if such projects make things substantially worse for our quality of life.
The mayor has decided to proceed with an intersection plan for Highways 74 and 54 that admittedly does nothing to mitigate the main problem: east-west traffic.
Learnard recently approved moving forward with annexation plans for another dense residential subdivision, further stretching the demand for our city services. This site is next to the new Booth Middle School, so be ready for school redistricting battles in the future. There is very little upside to supporting such an annexation, but she does not care. We will all be asked to pay for those service extensions, but she does not care about that either.
Did you get your property assessment in the mail? We just experienced a 17% tax increase and gave the city millions of dollars in the recent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) at the same time our cost of living has risen sharply. Watch for the mayor to reject a full rollback of the millage rate and impose yet another tax increase.
Following the last sharp tax increase, the mayor told the news media that her considerable across-the-board pay raise plan along with generous bonuses and immense increases in the city’s retirement funding obligation “won’t cost taxpayers a cent.” Either she is incompetent or just thinks her constituents are incredibly stupid.
Do you think Mayor Learnard cares about you when she attempts to prevent local citizens from requesting that a pressing matter be placed on a council meeting agenda? Do you think she cares about you when she restricts your ability to speak in public meetings?
The mayor supported spending nearly $70,000 annually on a company with an algorithm that we have no access to in order to cull data off of social media sources that we also have no access to so she can formulate the “public opinion” needed to approve whatever she wants to do rather than accepting your spoken opinion in the public meeting. Then, and you cannot make this stuff up, the first thing the algorithm company, Zencity, does is create a rudimentary survey with poorly crafted questions that the city government could have created at little or no cost.
Mayor Learnard just needs to come out publicly and tell us what type of multi-family complexes she wants to cram down our throats. Once again, we will have to rebel against (at least three of) the officials who were elected saying they love everything about Peachtree City, but now want to change it.
Please do not forget that we have a municipal election this October-November. You should plan to vote for the sake of your family.
[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.]