OPINION: Is The Citizen trying to be the real puppet master?


[EDITOR’S NOTE: The letter below contains two false assertions about alleged ethics violations by two candidates. The state ethics agency’s chief of staff corrected the two errors here.]

OPINION: As you know, small-town newspapers have been saplings in a hurricane for the last 20 years. According to the Center for Rural Policy and Development, the number of print newspapers in the U.S. fell 28% between 2005 and 2022, which is not even considering circulation. Circulation, the amount who subscribe and pay to read, not just line their litter boxes, has seen considerable drops in readership.

Publishers of small-town papers face the pressures of rising newsprint costs, the ever-expanding internet, and the social media landscape. Unlike prominent newspapers, small-town publications additionally navigate the challenges of serving an older population, cultural shifts, and refusing to meet new readers in this landscape.

And The Citizen is no different.

The Citizen newspaper used to be delivered to your driveway twice a week whether you wanted it or not. It is not the newspaper of county public record. The advertisers pay for it. For years, it did not sell subscriptions that I am aware of. It is the small business of Cal Beverly, who employed the tireless workers of his advertising department.

Every Wednesday and Saturday, there were plenty of ads, want ads, and its version of journalism. The paper never followed strict journalistic policy. Slanted to the extreme conservative, headlines and stories reflected the Editor’s viewpoint. I have never seen a yoga studio advertise. And despite touting local, it runs columnists outside the area and often canned material.

The Citizen gave up print before COVID and, with COVID-19 exasperating all small businesses, appears to be clasping with white knuckles to their now online-only publication.

The death of beloved journalist Ben Nelms dealt another crushing blow. He was the backbone, nuts, and bolts, and did his best to report without overstating his opinion.

However, the choice to let readers, with anonymous online identities, rant, and opine and allow Steve Brown to hijack the front page with his hostile, sky-is-falling personal attacks on anyone who isn’t Suzanne Brown continues to diminish any of the publication’s credibility. It fuels the more considerable debate about online bullying.

All this to say: I agree with Tamara Moore and Vic Painter, City Council Candidates’ decision not to answer The Citizen’s list of questions.

The recent piece written by the editor Mr. Cal Beverly and Steve Brown’s weekly diatribes indicate that they are two grown adults who are mad they were not given more ways to frame Tamara Moore and Vic Painter.

They wanted that list of questions answered — some were biased and fear-based — so they could rant, pick apart, and throw un-vetted statements and assumptions about the candidates to continue promoting the candidates they support.

Cal Beverly and Steve Brown seem convinced that both candidates, Tamara Moore and Vic Painter, are puppets for Mayor Kim Learnard.

Has The Citizen reported how City Council Candidates Suzanne Brown and Eric Imker have campaign violations at the state office? NOT that I have seen. See these links: https://efile.ethics.ga.gov/#/exploreDetails/oL7a1aydn4-fcPVC59m4m5P4048PFnxLXRUfdOLcQk01/12/17422/375/2023

How does Eric Imker have no recorded contributions, yet we see a few yard signs?

How does Eric Imker, who touts himself as the only fiscally sound candidate, proud of his attention to detail, explain his $125.00 fine by the ethics division of the Georgia Campaign Finance Commission?

I find it ironic that Suzanne Brown seems to find fault in how the city operates, yet she also has an ethics fine by the Georgia Campaign Finance Commission for not disclosing and filing on time any contributors to her campaign. https://efile.ethics.ga.gov/#/exploreDetails/6JRbR7UT2bGjWxWrxQu6KpP4048PFnxLXRUfdOLcQk01/12/17413/375/2023

AND more importantly, it is a clear example of picking and choosing coverage of the local council race by The Citizen.

Even more apparent: Steve Brown and Suzanne Brown regularly communicate and command how Council members Holland and Destadio should vote on topics, like the summer agenda item over administrative variances, which was updated to streamline the process and help citizens process decisions quicker.


See these anonymous open records requests I found and not reported by The Citizen.

Here is the link to an Open Records request: https://peachtreecitygapolice.nextrequest.com/requests/23-211

Browse under documents.

What I find the most disturbing:

– A June 23, email from Suzanne Brown to Mike King. Statements from Suzanne Brown to Frank Destadio and Clint Holland, with statements like “AND YOU NEED TO LEAD CHARGE ON THIS!” and “Read the article I submitted to Cal to post as a letter to the editor. I want you and Frank to be correct about this.” She presumes her way is the only correct way to see a problem.

– A text message from Clint to Steve Brown and Frank Destadio regarding the 7/13 council meeting.

– A copy of texts between Steve Brown and Frank Destadio, with Steve telling him how to present his case. “Make sure you have a copy of the old ordinance.” And Clint reporting like a student to his teacher, “I’m doing a PowerPoint, so I don’t miss a point.”

– Steve Brown texting Frank Destadio and Clint Holland: “Let me know in advance if you put it on the agenda, and I will provide my full support in the newspaper.”

– A text about Clint’s concerns about bringing up a topic without three votes and Frank’s subsequent support in a group text with Steve Brown.

Perhaps Steve Brown and Suzanne Brown accuse Tamara Moore and Vic Painter of being puppets of Mayor Learnard because they are the puppet masters for Holland, Destadio, and King.

I understand that there is puppeteering in politics, but it doesn’t make it right, and it doesn’t mean that the citizens of Peachtree City have to accept it.

So, when you, Cal Beverly, editor and owner of The Citizen, throw mud over Tamara Moore and Vic Painter, who are eager citizens wanting to get involved in our beloved community because you are afraid of “Apartments, gates and scales of conservatism in a non-party civic race” … I applaud them for walking away from your digital publication. It was a setup from the get-go.

The ongoing negativity towards two candidates and a void of civil, neutral reporting reinforces apathy on citizen turnout at the polls. But that could be part of the plan — a small turnout with only your small readership, but loyal to the duty of voting. You hope your base — who thrive on rumors and fear will turn out, and the rest of us will take a cart ride off the civic cliff and let the old guard be in charge.

Even though it is a highly conservative publication, The Citizen was a once vibrant community paper but now reads like an online bully pulpit for the obsessed and fearful. Your bullies fear the future. Fear of knowing they cannot control much of anything in the big scheme. The demographics of our community are changing, with approximately 97% of the population under 65, including children and females.

I want a council that represents the 97% but considers the entire population. I want to elect Council members who commit to research, discussion, and true possibility thinkers and leaders, not council members who take orders from two or three people.

Council members who use our parks, attend our festivals, and sit in traffic with children tired and hungry from a round of extra-curricular activities.

And I wish I had a trusted source of local news.

Tricia Stearns

28-year resident of Peachtree City, Ga.

[Stearns was a candidate for the Georgia State Senate District 16 seat in 2018.]


  1. This response to legitimate concerns about candidates for local office who refuse to answer pertinent questions under the cover of labeling publication as an evil right wing paper is just the typical response from leftists who see that they will not win. Attack the messenger and smear the opponents (who are willing to answer questions). This town is a majority conservative place and will continue to elect conservative candidates. We have been fooled in the past resulting in relocation out of state of a former council member and I predict that our current mayor is a one term-er for the same reason. While all of these people are nice, the political mask has been shown. We won’t be fooled again.

  2. The Citizen does the best they can with what they have and can afford. There is and always has been a conservative bent – especially in the Opinion/Letters to the Editor section. He who buys the ink – even digital ink – sets the tone.

    Like many, I wish The Citizen was like it was in the old days. I believe it was easier to have a bit of civic pride and a sense of community when news from all over the county (schools, non-profits, businesses, arts organizations, etc.) was shared. Go back 10 years and there were three or four reporters, a sports section, feature stories…ads. Once people stopped advertising, pushing all their chips to Facebook and Google ads, the writing was on the wall.

      • The Citizen has never cost the reader anything but time. It arrived free in your driveway back when they could print it and the web site isn’t behind a paywall like the other paper in town. I don’t agree with the political bent of most of the columns and commenters, but it still interests me to see what is being posted and presented.

        If there was a heyday for the paper it was prior to 2008 when there were multiple reporters covering beats throughout Fayette, Coweta, and South Fulton. It was a big operation. Today, it is handled primarily by a few people from a laptop.

        • I was simply responding to your first statement..that “the Citizen does best with what they have and can afford”. It costs no more to report news from an objective standpoint than journalism cranked out by some with political, social, and economic agendas .. on either side of the scale.

          • Hi SubRosa.

            Growing up in NJ/NY I read up to five daily newspapers in a given day. I t was wild reading the same story from different points of view. Objectivity is in the eye of the beholder. If you have something to say, send a letter in. Shorter is better and facts matter.

            “Have your say” maybe we can all find solutions together.

  3. I like this letter. The Citizen must moderate its political viewpoints and be more objective.
    I know Kim and Frank very well ; both are good people, even if they do not always agree. I think Vic and Tamara will fit in well. I’m concerned about the rhetoric from the others running.

  4. The New York Times, the Washington Post, etc reflect the views of their ownership. It appears your main complaint is that The Citizen doesn’t repeat their progressive point of view.

    I completely disagree with Moore and Painter not participating in The Citizen’s questionnaire for candidates. It is the best way for us to know candidates’ views that aren’t the usual generalities and happy speak. If there is a bias in the question(s), they should address that in their response.

    My assumption about anyone who wants my vote, but won’t be transparent or dodges legitimate questions, is that they are hiding something they know would not fly at the polls.

    You rail against the “mudslinging” coverage of the underground sponsorship of candidates Painter and Moore, yet you go down that same path against candidate Brown, so you’re not really opposed to it. Points to you, however, for gathering facts behind your assertions about the council race.

    Let’s retire the line about “fearing the future” to deride those who don’t share your beliefs. It’s fact-free and lazy. If you are in favor of high-density housing, lax zoning, higher taxes, “entertainment districts”, or whatever, tell us how that is best for PTC.

  5. Thank you for a viewpoint that provides a different perspective than the regular feed of content in The Citizen.

    I’m concerned that our city will have a serious governance problem after this election cycle. How can we be a city for families if our council is comprised of retirees? Council members should set a vision and refrain from day-to-day management issues. The concerns from the “Citizen-approved” candidate list seem to be more about the height of shrubs and fences than addressing the very real economic development pressures in our city.

    As a young family, we’ve hiked Line Creek dozens of times. My children loved (but are aging out of) the great playground we have at Children’s Park. The library is an amazing amenity. But beyond that? We find ourselves venturing to Sharpsburg, Newnan, and Fayetteville more and more. Even if I wanted to spend my money in this city, to support our community with tax dollars, the vision articulated by the current crop of “Citizen candidates” is that of stasis. So should we live in a coma?

    I’m not saying that we should “bring on the apartments.” I’m hoping that those running for elected office will seek the diversity of our community and articulate a vision for Our Fair City that gets us out of cars and into golf carts (or walking trails) and brings us to destinations where families can recreate together. I shake my head when the “horror” of redevelopment is replacing aging, dated buildings that house a pizza restaurant and bowling alley. If we’re the “golf cart city,” then I hope the City Council encourages the creation of destinations. Right now, it seems like the path we’re on is a dead end.

    • Trail walker, it’s a shame that you have grown bored with our wonderful town. I am one of the citizens that does not feel that we are on a dead-end path. I enjoy the golf cart destinations on a daily basis, whether it be going to the grocery store or dining or the golf course. If you are looking to live in a metro environment, perhaps you have chosen poorly. Much as Bill stated in his comments above, I appreciate transparency, and I find this letter to the editor to be a failed attempt to pivot and do damage control. The first thing that I look at when it comes to political candidates is what their background may be, and whether there is the potential for conflict of interest. Because of this, I have ruled them (Painter and Moore) out as candidates that I have faith or interest in.

      • I’m open to suggestions in Peachtree City that are good for elementary and middle-school aged children. Shenanigans Toys closed, and Fayetteville Hobby moved out of the airport to Tyrone. Do you have any recommendations? We currently go to places like Starlight (Sharpsburg) and the Bus Barn, library, and town square in Fayetteville.

        I think the interests of retirees is well-supported by the current council members. I’m looking at who is running that understands the needs of raising a family in Peachtree City today.

        • This is far too typical. PTC has historically had and continues to have the highest property values in the Southern Cresent. Best schools, best neighborhoods, lakes, paths, etc. But we need to change why exactly?
          You complain about having to travel to Sharpsburg or F-ville, or Newnan for diversions. There are plenty of properties available in all of those towns so why do you stay here in old fashioned PTC? Change is not always bad but I suggest that you take a hard look at why you moved here in the first place.

  6. Yes! 100% agree. Let’s elect Council members that are THINKERS committed to research and open discussion.

    Research-based, systems thinking is in Peachtree City’s DNA. Our leaders should reflect the thoughful planning and open mindedness that went into the creation of our wonderful, one-of-a-kind city.

    We are above fear-based, black and white, and low information thinking.

  7. This is the most factual piece I have read on this blog. Thank you, Tricia.

    I also agree with Vic Painter and Tamara Moore’s decision not to respond to questions asked by this blog. They have my vote.