Senoia mayor candidates grilled at forum

Senoia mayoral candidates, from left, Suzanne Helfman, Larry Owens and Don Rehman squared-off in a forum Thursday night. Photo/Ben Nelms.

A packed house of Senoia voters Thursday heard from the three candidates vying for the mayor’s seat to be decided in the Nov. 5 election. Councilman Larry Owens, Senoia Downtown Development Authority (DDA) Chair Suzanne Helfman and retired Col. Don Rehman responded to questions in the forum hosted by the Senoia Forums Group and sponsored by the Senoia Area Business Association.

Candidates squared-off on a variety of questions on topics such as establishing the Senoia Development Authority to address citywide economic development, a common vision for the city, their greatest challege during their first year as mayor and how they would manage increasing business and residential growth and accompanying traffic concerns.

The candidates were asked their opinion on the recent proposal to the City Council to form the Senoia Development Authority.

Helfman in her response said she would support such a move, adding her belief that the authority would focus on bringing industrial businesses to the city.

“I think it’s a good thing and will help lower the tax rate,” Helfman said.

Owens in his response said the idea behind the proposal was to promote and recruit businesses that would not interfere with downtown businesses.

“The DDA has done a good job, but this will open up (Ga. highways) 16 and 85,” Owens said.

(Left, part of the crowd at the Senoia forum. Photo/Ben Nelms.)


Rehman, too, supported the concept though he was disappointed how the proposal came about.

“There was no general call to the public,” Rehman said, adding his hope that the authority, if established, would provide full knowledge of its plans to the public.

Candidates were also asked if there is a single common vision for the city that meets the different interests of the community, a vision that would unite citizens.

“Everyone can unite behind health and safety. These are paramount,” Rehman said. “We have a diverse population (in areas such as the historic district and the city’s subdivisions). I don’t think we could come up with something that all can support. It could be objectionable to some citizens.”

Helfman disagreed, suggesting a common ground exists among citizens in areas such as the preservation of the city’s historic charm, quality of life and well-planned growth.
"Downtown is the crown jewel,” she said.

For his part, Owens said there is no single unifying vision, noting that he preferred to focus on what has been developed to date.

“Downtown is a unique place and it promotes growth in other areas (of the city),” said Owens.

The candidates in a subsequent question were asked what their greatest challenge as mayor would be during their first year in office.

Helfman said that challenge would be to assess city services and to “make sure services are in place to accommodate current and future projects.”

Owens saw his greatest first-year challenge as city water and the water supply.

“Water is a significant issue. We need to make sure we can provide quality water now and in the future,” Owens said.

Rehman took a different approach in his response, one that is rarely addressed.

“I want to fill this room with the same number of people here tonight,” Rehman said, referencing the capacity crowd in the room that holds 80 people. “We have non-involvement in government affairs. We have to create an environment to draw people here.”  

Another forum question centered on the 20-year Comprehensive Plan that is up for renewal next year. Candidates were asked about one thing in the plan they would add or change.

Helfman said some portions of the zoning ordinance should be reviewed for potential changes to keep Senoia unique. An example of that review should be the arterial roadways leading into the city.
Owens noted that the plan is reviewed every five years, adding that there is nothing specific at this time that requires review.

“The comp plan is designed to allow for review and citizen input every five years for potential changes,” Owens said.

In his response, Rehman said he had already attempted to get the council to work on one issue pertaining to one of the residential zoning categories but to no avail. His reference involved Rehman’s request in 2010 to have the City Council consider amending the zoning that applies to subdivisions and to require specific designation for facilities such as churches and daycare centers that, by ordinance, are allowed in those zoning districts. The council concluded at the time that the matter would best be considered during the 2014 renewal.

Candidates also fielded a question asking how they would manage both positive growth and the increasing traffic that will accompany that growth.

“The city has done a good job maintaining that balance,” Owens said. “We have to look at what’s being proposed and how it fits with the community.”

Owens said he was not in favor of big-box businesses, including on highways 16 and 85, as they would disrupt the sense of community.

Rehman followed, saying Owens’ comments “sounded great, but it worries me that we keep annexing property.”

Rehman questioned whether the city would be able to afford the annexations, adding that the city should be knowledgeable but cautious.

Helfman said she would prefer to see planned growth rather than positive growth.

“And that planned growth must be done well,” she said, adding that the city is self-sufficient and that people move to Senoia for the small-town charm it affords.

Another question dealt with visitor parking for major events and the increasing problems caused by large numbers of vehicles. The candidates were asked if they would support the purchase of additional property for parking space.

Owens said the council previously purchased property for additional parking and he would support adding more parking space for general use.

“Parking is an issue that needs addressing further,” he said.

From Rehman’s perspective parking has been an issue that could be addressed in a different way. Suggesting a different philosophy, Rehman said the city might consider shifting away from on-ground parking and moving to multi-story parking that would be “somewhat hidden from view.”

From her perspective, Helfman said she would not support acquiring more space for parking given that there are only two major events each year where parking is a problem.

“Parking for merchants is a concern,” Helfman said. “But I wouldn’t have multi-story parking. It wouldn’t fit with our (downtown) charm.”

Yet another question asked if the recent move to lower the millage rate was well-advised since the local economy and that of Coweta County is improving. Though not stated in the question, and by way of clarification, the city’s budget runs from January through December while the millage rate, by law, is adopted in late summer each year.  

“I think it was a good decision and a fair one,” Owens said. “We met our needs without raising taxes and we kept the same level of service.”

Rehman in his response said he had always been confused by the process of setting the millage rate.

“We announce the rate then we do the budget, as if it’s politically motivated,” he said. “I think we should work to cut the budget, then establish the rate.”

Helfman responded saying the millage rate was lowered because increased taxes were brought in and the city was in a position to lower the tax rate.

“No one wants to see (the millage rate increase) as long as city services are not being impacted,” Helfman said.

Owens has served on the City Council for 11 years.

Rehman served in the U.S. Army for more than 26 years and is a retired colonel.

Helfman has served with the Senoia Downtown Development Authority for 10 years and has served as chairman since 2006.

12bTrue
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Disconnected

Getting people involved in government is one thing, but to consider it your biggest challenge as Mayor is down right silly. Especially, when all you're basing that on is the number of people that consistently attend meetings. I don't attend meetings on a regular basis but I do read the minutes provided to me free of charge by the city. I volunteer my time and energy to city functions when needed and email the government when I have a question. I don't ever remember Rehman volunteering any of his time towards any city functions and have never seen him at any social outings around town.

The person that is not engaged with the people is Rehman. Simply disconnected.

re0046
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The strategy of "Back Room" Politics

12b True, I have volunteered a number of times to be appointed by the Senoia Elected Government to volunteer positions; all to no avail. The first position I volunteered for was the Library Board years ago. Several other positions I volunteered for over time - until I finally figured out what was going on and why. There is a neat secret system in use here. Most all vacancies for volunteer appointments are not announced and none are advertised. Senoia Elected Government contacts secretly in advance who they want to appoint then they agree in secret to approve the appointment then they put it on the Mayor and City Council Meeting agenda then vote publicly unanimously to approve the secretly selected appointee. This system allows them to "freeze out" of Government anyone who might be a "competitor" for elected office in the future in Senoia and they make it appear that the "competitor for elected office" never served in any City volunteer position. Which is true because they secretly freeze him out. "Neat" system for political potection for those already elected to office. Recently I met with Senoia Mayor Owens and urged him to change the system of secrecy that exists and to publicly announce in writing all volunteer vacancies and make applicant information public. No promise resulted to change the system - only that it would be looked at - so only time will tell. During Appearances from the Floor at Mayor/Council Meetings I have in the past on at least two occasions stood up and publically appealed to the Elected Government of Senoia to change the system of Public Volunteer Appointments and do away with the system in use for years of secrecy - all to no avail. So, 12bTrue, before you publicly fault an individual for having no record of service in the City of Senoia - better look into first how the "secret" system works.

By the way, if you base your knowledge and opinions on just what you read in Meeting Minutes and the Newspapers, and you don't go to the meetings, you should know that some things are mentioned or omitted in Newspaper accounts and Minutes are abbreviated sometimes to the point that they may not fully cover what was said from the Podium and why.

Respectfully,
Don Rehman

bladderq
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Lawsuit

What became of his appeal to the Supreme Court? Still don't know why Senoia just doesn't make less than an OZ. of pot legal.

re0046
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Lawsuit

Bladderq, Supreme Court of Georgia docketed my Appeal, granted me oral argument and gave me the privilege of oral argument before all the Justices of my own appeal as pro se, refused to grant Senoia Government Motion to fine me for supposedly frivolous appeal, Senoia had to pay their own costs for their Supreme Court Defense, but ended up approving the Superior Court action whereby my case had been dismissed there because I did not have "standing", and I had to pay the Costs of the Superior Court litigation. Bottom line is that Senoia was able to retain its defective Marijuana Law, one which it can never use in any prosecution of anyone arrested in City Limits of Senoia for Marijuana possession because they'd have to use State Marijuana law. So, instead of Senoia correcting defective language in their Local Marijuana law to correct it, or eliminating the law if not needed, the Elected Government of Senoia, maybe at the urging of the Senoia City Attorney, decided to fight me all the way to the Supreme Court of Georgia, spending hundreds, maybe thousands of taxpapers dollars which they did not recover. Had they taken 5 or 10 minutes to correct or eliminate their Marijuana law, at a total cost to the city of about $200 or $300 at the most - the whole litigation would never have happened.

Don Rehman

thcomments
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Appeal

FYI, Rehman's appeal was denied... Inquiring minds need to know.

re0046
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Appeal

Rest easy "thcomments," now you know - see above.

Don Rehman

Social Realist
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Decision

I am not an attorney but I was told that he was allowed to speak before the court based on the fact that he had no other means of legal recourse. Unlike all of the other cases heard that day no questions were asked by the judges. I believe they have about six months or so to render a verdict. If anyone has any legal input pertaining to the statements above I would love to hear it.

re0046
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Decision

"Social Realist" I don't understand what you meant by: " I was told that he was allowed to speak before the court based on the fact that he had no other means of legal recourse."

"Social Realist" I was allowed to speak before all the Supreme Court of Georgia Justices because they decided they wanted to hear what I had to say in the matter and an Order of the Court resulted from their private meeting scheduling Oral Argument and naming me to present my case. It is rare for a non-lawyer to be allowed to oral argue before the Justices of that highest Court in the State of Georgia. I was privately advised (by a key Court Staff Person) moments after my case concluded, that there are a number of cases oral argued during the months the Court is in session, where no Justice asks any question of the Appellant/Appellee Attorneys.

Don Rehman

thcomments
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Bladderqs full (I mean fool)

Once again an idiotic post! Senoia, just like any other municipality, cannot make any amount of pot legal because of state law. Maybe if you stopped smoking it, your brain might clear up enough for you to make a rational statement!

Social Realist
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Zoning Ordinance

This man has to be the pinnacle of misinformation. I remember Rehman demanding that the zoning ordinance be changed because he thought that neighbors or the builder could construct a cemetery, church, a bed and breakfast, daycare center, etc. on a residential lot next door to him. What he forgot to do was read his HOA CCRs that would have told him (in black and white) this was expressly prohibited. This literally fell on def ears within the community and he made several hollow legal threats over the issue. This is like a broken record...

This was one of those so-called "public promises" that never came to be. I believe he has never fulfilled any of those.

thcomments
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Well said, Realist

Misinformation is Rehman's specialty. Having observed his comments at multiple council meetings, it is obvious that this man rarely, if ever, presents any factual information. He could be nicknamed 'What if?'.

Further, Mr. Rehman states a desire to have more people attend the council meetings, stating "We have to create an environment to draw people here." That would not happen were he elected. Already, there are many who might attend were it not for his inane comments. Were he to preside, those who already attend would probably disappear, as no one could tolerate listening to him for an entire meeting!

On another note, how out of touch he must be to even suggest a parking deck. While the other candidates recognize and desire to maintain the small-town charm Senoia currently has, Mr. Rehman's parking deck would surely go a long way in destroying that charm. Ludicrous!

12bTrue
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Comments

I thought Owens did the best, but Helfman was a very close second. Both provided some good supportive information on topics. Clearly this is a two horse race. I found their answers to be informative and reassuring.

Rarely have I ever seen a person (Rehman) speak to the extent that he does, simply for the sake of speaking. He loves to hear himself talk. Most of what I heard seemed to be inaccurate and/or misleading.

I would like to ask Rehman if the "created environment" he speaks of is any different than the one he created in his Heritage Pointe community or at some city meetings? Practice what you preach!

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