OPINION — October is the month that the “battle for the majority” begins in Peachtree City. I genuinely hope that you all are paying attention.
The great irony of electoral politics is the voters can make the most significant difference at the local government level, but a majority of the registered voters do not participate in local elections.
Local elections can be precarious and uncertain
Of the few voters who do vote in local elections, many have knowledge of the incumbents and what they have done over their tenure. That makes it easy to get rid of an incumbent if necessary, and the 2021 election was pivotal for that reason (see: https://thecitizen.com/2021/07/22/council-members-ernst-and-madden-get-thumbs-down-for-4-more-years/).
The much more difficult part is evaluating the candidates with no political track record. Many times, new candidates have never led a stand on an issue of importance or even attended a city council meeting. Of all the candidates in the two Peachtree City races, only one has a political voting record on the city council.
So how can a voter select a candidate who will not be the next one we need to eject from office in four years?
Maybe start with this:
• Never vote for someone just because you think the candidate is a nice person. Every elected officeholder who screwed things up was once thought of as a nice person.
• Do not vote for someone just because they are a member of your club, church, or other organization.
• Review the responses to the candidate questions in The Citizen (www.thecitizen.com) when they become available. If you see people hedging their responses, go on to the next candidate.
• Read the commentaries on the significant issues and the candidates (see: https://thecitizen.com/author/steve-brown/).
· If the candidate cannot give you a firm position on the issues of concern, and so many of them avoid this, do not cast a vote for that candidate. Is their literature and website full of happy cliches that are so broad it could mean anything?
In 2021, Kim Learnard gave some of the most nebulous responses to the candidate questions. She was elected anyway. Her first two years have been extremely tumultuous, leaving many taxpaying citizens distressed. Likewise, current Councilman Phil Prebor ran on good feelings and no positions, and it has been a fiasco.
There are also cases when the candidate simply does not tell the truth. Current Councilman Mike King labeled himself “Mr. No” during the campaign, telling the voters that he would stand up to the real estate developers wanting to build ridiculous dense projects. He has been the total opposite, a miserable disappointment.
Certain professions just lead to disastrous consequences when they land in elected office.
As former Mayor and real estate agent Vanessa Fleisch demonstrated, anyone related to the real estate industry is a tough sell for elected office. I was talked into supporting Fleisch for her first term as a council member from a list of disagreeable candidates by then-Mayor Don Haddix. My mistake and it never happened again.
Fleisch later built momentum and ran for mayor and won. Her second term as mayor could be described as the greatest attempt ever at undermining the Peachtree City quality of life, a total disaster (see: https://thecitizen.com/2022/07/18/tell-council-stop-trying-to-urbanize-peachtree-city/). She pushed approval of any annexation, rezoning, and variance.
The pressure exerted by real estate developers is too formidable for anyone who is a real agent or works in a real estate-related field. The threat of being ostracized from sales opportunities and the lure of cashing in as the listing agent for a large development is overwhelming. Fleisch could not stop forcing one apartment complex after another onto the council agendas at the behest of her real estate developer masters.
Attorneys can deliver a thumping ethical dilemma as well. Attorneys who are elected officials and work in a group practice often say that someone asking the city council for a council vote does not create an ethical need to abstain if the person or company before the council has a working relationship with a law partner in the city council’s firm. They try to dismiss such relationships by saying there is a curtain between the partners’ activities. All the attorneys in the practice benefit from all the clients.
Bankers can be an enormous problem as elected officials. The Peachtree City Development Authority collapsed into an ethical nightmare because of bank officials’ activities with the authority. Then-Police Chief James Murray referred to the authority as a “culture of corruption” and the authority later had to be disbanded and Peachtree National Bank fell from grace and disappeared.
The problem with bankers in local elected office was so bad that I ran against Fayette County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jack Smith to put an end to the dark cloud of vanishing conscience and lack of integrity in county politics.
Smith was on the Board of Directors of Bank of Georgia, and the bank lent huge sums of money to the real estate development community in Fayette and Coweta Counties. At first, Smith denied such activity occurred with his bank. In fact, a gargantuan 80 percent of the bank’s total loan portfolio was in the real estate sector.
It became the scandal of the decade with government official Smith who approves all sorts of land planning, zoning, and development requests as a county commissioner also getting the banking business of the real estate developers (see: https://thecitizen.com/2010/06/29/smiths-untruthful-about-bank-ties/).
The danger and risks were exposed and the voters gave me Smith’s seat on the Board of Commissioners.
We have two, but need three
Congratulations to the recent voters in our local elections. Our last two victorious candidates, Frank Destadio and Clint Holland, have done an admirable job representing the interests of the taxpaying citizens. Their official positions have been right in line with our traditional land planning, and they have fought against the ultra-dense residential multi-family complexes.
This coming election is critical because it takes three votes on the city council to pass anything. Thus far, Learnard, King, and Prebor have made damaging changes to our comprehensive plan for allowing stacked multi-family housing complexes anywhere in the city, and that cannot be reversed until Destadio and Holland have a third vote.
15 minutes of your time makes a huge difference
It’s time for all our concerned taxpaying voters to do the research and vote, heading to the voting machines for early voting from October 16 to November 3 or on Election Day on November 7, 2023.
Vote on behalf of you and your family.
Stay tuned to The Citizen website for more information on the candidates each week.
[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.]