With new members coming on council, let’s open it up and let the public in


A warm congratulations go to Council Member-elect Laura Johnson as she won the December 5 runoff election by a substantial margin (see: https://thecitizen.com/2023/12/05/peachtree-city-dec-5-runoff-election-results-johnson-buries-moore-in-early-vote-82-to-17/).

There is an obvious theme connected to the new 2024 city council: Don’t urbanize!

The new four-member majority of the 2024 council was elected on a distinct directive from the voters.

Mayor Kim Learnard now has some decisions to make come January. All of her allied candidates were unsuccessful.

Bully or colleague?

In the past, Learnard spent time as a council member constantly fighting with then-Mayor Don Haddix. Likewise, as mayor for the past two years, Learnard has once again been the political malcontent and city council autocrat.

In her first year as mayor, Learnard consistently badgered Councilman Frank Destadio every time he attempted to defend our land planning ordinances and traditional award-winning planning methods.

Instead of demonstrating civility and collegiate respect, Learnard would cut Destadio off in mid-sentence whenever he expressed a view opposite of the mayor. Many times, Learnard would tell Destadio to “hurry up” and shorten his statements or accuse him of being out of order.

Councilman Clint Holland was elected a year ago, expressing similar positions as Destadio. Learnard immediately began to berate Holland in public meetings and behind the scenes for disagreeing with her (see: https://thecitizen.com/2023/10/20/mayor-kim-learnard-lays-down-the-law-to-councilman-holland/).

Both Destadio and Holland took the high road and politely disagreed with the mayor in the council meetings and insisted that they be allowed to express their positions (see: https://thecitizen.com/2023/07/24/councilman-calls-out-council-for-open-meetings-violations-gets-slammed-for-doing-it-in-public/).

The power illusion

Learnard spins her machinations on her council colleagues and the public, persuading others that her position as mayor carries more authority than she actually holds.

Peachtree City has a hybrid mayor form of government, meaning the mayor has some emblematic functions such as being the official signatory on government documents and officiating council meetings, but the authority, decision-making capacity, and function are mostly equal among city council members.

Now that Learnard has lost the ideological battle, can we count on her being civil to both the citizens and her colleagues? It’s not hard to politely agree to disagree.

Reversing past wrongs

Learnard has had the full support of outgoing Councilmen Mike King and Phil Prebor to conduct the people’s business behind closed doors. In violation of the Georgia Open Meetings Act, significant zoning variances were being granted with no public notice and no public meeting (see: https://thecitizen.com/2023/06/27/council-makes-variances-easy-threatening-zoning-protections/).

The council conducts “two-on-two” meetings with council members meeting with the city manager and department directors in pairs to consistently get around the Georgia Open Meetings Act. The council members receive updates and offer positions on departmental action and policy outside the public eye.

The city council, including Destadio and Holland, approved allowing a third party to use a proprietary algorithm that we are not allowed to review to determine “what the citizens think” about various city issues. The algorithm takes all the fake bots and fake Facebook accounts into consideration and somehow crafts a depiction of how the council needs to act without providing all of the data to back it up for audit purposes.

To date, I have not seen a single report publicly presented on behalf of this algorithm scheme.

Ironically, the city government is spending too many of our tax dollars on the algorithm firm. Still, they are also sending out one low-participation digital survey after another, questioning whether the algorithm can be trusted.

Would it be too much to ask the local government to open up and be more inviting at public meetings to solicit public input from real live citizens and send the algorithm packing?

There should be no excuses in 2024 for implementing full government transparency now that the voters have eliminated the Learnard, King, and Prebor cabal.

I imagine Learnard will attempt to hold the line, trying to keep the people’s business behind closed doors. That would be the only advantage for her agenda that the citizens loathe.

Decisions matter

The council members swear an oath to uphold the city’s ordinances. Hopefully, the new formation of the city council will take the oath seriously.

Will this council be able to visualize long-term success and sustainability for our city, rejecting short-term emotional reactions?

Can we get local government out of the closet and back out in the open? How about a local government that is predictable and not leaving us guessing what the heck they are going to do from month to month?

Is it possible to drop the pathetic “what the constituents don’t know won’t hurt them” routine?

Can we please have four or five individuals who can think out loud and honestly tell us what they intend to do while in elected office? We need positions we can count on. The city’s future depends on it.

We are looking forward to the day when we can laud our new successes and refer to the real estate developer-influenced exploitation as the “old days.”

[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. Steve Brown seriously what is wrong with you? Why continually try to stir up trouble where there is none? Can’t we welcome the new council members civilly? Why are you always so negative? How about welcoming in the new year with some positivity! Please stop!

  2. Help me to understand why the City is using Algorithms versus constituents emails and calls to council members??? It seems to me that algorithms used to determine “fake accounts” would have some a +- % margin of error on the digital surveys. Who are these digital surveys sent to? How is it determined who gets one? I have never received one. Has anybody requested a FOIA request on this company? How it operates? What methodology is used? How much money has been spent on this company? Which council members are gung-ho to use them?