It’s time to chart a fundamental new course in PTC

Scott Bradshaw's picture

Three candidates are running in the upcoming election for two available posts on the Peachtree City Council. George Dienhart is unopposed for the post being vacated by Doug Sturbaum and his election is certain regardless of his political views or vision of the future of Peachtree City.

There are early indications that his views are more in line with Mayor Don Haddix than with other sitting members of the council.

Political novice Steve Allen is running against incumbent Eric Imker in the only contested city election. Both candidates have attempted to connect with voters by presenting campaign platforms through the media and a variety of scheduled political forums. The contrast has been sharp.

The 2011 campaign rhetoric is similar to recent elections in Peachtree City when council and mayoral candidates hoodwinked voters with a “motherhood and apple pie” platform.

They promised to oppose tax increases and reject annexation except in instances where it will benefit the city. They pledged allegiance to the village concept and promised to create an environment conducive to attracting new business and industry.

Candidates frequently claim to possess the extraordinary management skills needed to make the city operate more efficiently. Some even make wild promises to reduce the city budget without reducing services.

Absolute rejection of big boxes and promises to control development are also popular platform planks. The centerpiece of almost every platform in recent years was a promise to follow the original vision of Peachtree City and maintain the excellent quality of life.

These promises always resonate with the public and have consistently won elections; however, council behavior during the past few years has been inconsistent with campaign rhetoric. There are too many broken promises, too much bickering, censures, and other controversy between political factions and voting alliances.

There will likely continue to be a 3-2 philosophical and political split among council members regardless of the outcome of the election next Tuesday.

Mayor Don Haddix is dug in like a junk yard dog in opposition to Eric Imker, which means Steve Allen is his preference. Vanessa Fleisch and Kim Learnard frequently oppose Mayor Haddix and need Imker’s third vote to control the agenda.

The big question to be decided in this election is: which faction will control three of the five votes for the next two years? It will be decided in the Imker vs. Allen contest, which will likely set the stage for more controversy and another predictable 3-2 voting bloc.

The emerging problem on the Peachtree City Council appears to be one of elected leaders whose personalities don’t connect. This writer initially held this view but recently realized that Peachtree City has a governance problem which trumps the personality problem.

The future of Peachtree City government is at a crossroads and fundamental change is needed. Change should begin with extensive review of the city charter.

The existing charter was passed by the General Assembly in 1959 when there were less than 300 residents in our city. The document has received a few minor revisions since incorporation but there have been no significant changes in the past decade.

Peachtree City is now the 18th largest of 525 cities in Georgia with a population in excess of 34,000. Operation of the city is more complex than in 1959 and the issues considered by council are understandably more controversial.

The most important element of any city charter is the form of government established by the charter. There are typically three forms of city government prevalent in Georgia.

First, there is the council-manager form in which the entire council appoints a city manager to be responsible for the executive function of managing the staff and budget. The city manager serves as chief operating officer (COO) under the direction of an elected mayor and council members who share the chief executive officer (CEO) duties.

The second form of city governance prevalent in Georgia is known as the weak-mayor government, which operates similar to the council manager form with the mayor having limited executive responsibilities such as presiding over meetings, signing legal documents approved by council, and calling special meetings. The city manager still has several CEO-type bosses with equal authority in the weak mayor approach to governing.

The third approach to managing city government is known as the strong mayor government where the elected mayor serves as the city’s sole CEO and has full responsibility for daily operation. Charters that establish strong mayor cities typically permit the elected mayor to select a city manager to carry out the daily responsibilities of managing budget and staff. The city council determines the budget, develops ordinances, establishes policy and has veto power over decisions by the mayor. The city manager (COO) reports exclusively to the mayor (CEO) in the strong mayor form of governance.

Peachtree City’s charter clearly established a hybrid of the council-manager and weak mayor form of governance. The hybrid structure was appropriate for the fledging new city in 1959 and has been highly successful until recent years.

It is now time to review the charter with an eye toward a slightly stronger mayor form of governance. Future mayors should be given more responsibility for overseeing the daily operation of the city and city council members should have a greater voice in determining the budget, establishing operating policies and writing ordinances. A clarification of roles is in the best interest of all concerned and will benefit the citizens of peachtree city.

How is a city charter changed? Substantial changes must be approved by the state legislature. There are several ways changes can be accomplished but typically the city council studies the issue extensively, submits proposed changes to the local legislative delegation which introduces local legislation to be acted on by the legislature. Proposed changes would not likely be effective until after the next mayoral election.

Until such time as roles are more clearly defined through a revised charter, the city will be operated by five CEOs who may or may not be headed in the same direction.

Enough said! [Scott Bradshaw, a resident of Peachtree City, is a real estate broker and residential real estate developer. He may be contacted at rand5474@bellsouth.net.]

Mike King
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Scott

Another fine article.

Whether we as a city are ready for wholesale changes to our charter, however, I must question. Considering for example the current divisiveness on City Council, are we sure we wish to have a CEO type mayor who has found himself in the minority throughout his term as mayor and also for his two years as a council member? Our current mayor would like nothing better, and the majority on council would possess limited authority.

I believe the city founders were quite correct in maintaining a weak mayor/strong city manager, but I agree with council having greater authority with budgets, departmental hires, and other daily activities of the city. For example, the Council should maintain line item approval/disapproval on departmental budgets presented by the city manager thereby influencing the daily activities of the city.

Burying individual council members on separate boards, commissions, authorities, etc only acts to further weaken the overall control our Council has on the city administration. We have defunded one authority this year, it is likely that the city can continue that trend.

Great article and quite thought provoking, likely fodder for a breakfast discussion.

madmike
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King, agreed. However...

I don't know if we are able to put this consideration in proper perspective because in our scenario it would be Donnie who would be the one with more power. That's so ludicrous and painful to think about, I can't mentally give the idea a fair shake.
Now if you or Kim Learnard were Mayor I could work with that idea.
You have less than two years to get your campaign going Mike. And to keep if fair to Haddix, I will support you on these blogs effectively tying one hand behind your back.
Or alternatively,you could get Dienhart to endorse you, certain to set you back10 percentage points as he has done for Allen.

NUK_1
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I have to disagree....it's a dumb idea

Bradshaw has been involved in city politics long enough to know how bad the idea is and why every municipality of any size long ago ditched the "strong mayor/weak city management" form of government

Back in the good 'ol days, the Mayor was about it as far as running some of the cities, but as time went on and cities grew, it became obvious that you can't have someone as a CEO who isn't involved directly with every day-to-day aspect of running a city/business and also one who happens to be elected. Way too many examples of pure cronyism when you give the Mayor that kind of power. You also have a major brain-drain if the current Mayor loses re-election and suddenly his/her opponent has to start from scratch instead of having professional and much better qualified city staff on-board already.

You never see a city going BACK to this idea and you see plenty that grow enough to a certain point that they revise their old charter and change it to a "council/manager" relationship which is exactly a "weak mayor/strong city mgr" form of governance and it's proven to work a lot better than the reverse.

I shudder to think what happens when you give the Mayor(and/or council) more authority in hiring department heads besides the positions already outlined in the city charter. You are talking about giving management decision-making to people who may have never managed a single person in their lives and also may lack any relevant business experience whatsoever...remember, it's the voters who decide who gets to be Mayor and that a lot of times isn't based on business skills or experience.

Robert W. Morgan
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Trim the eyebows, Mike. Nosehairs too and get ready

I too am writing you in for the "uncontested" Diehart seat. I really think you may win from what I have read on here and that's fine with me.

I would be very proud if you were representing us on city council.

Mike King
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RWM

That idea was born but a couple days ago by an acquaintance and I give it the slimmest of chances. I had my reason for not entering the fray, and thankfully that reason has now been remedied.

It does do my heart good to see our Mayor squirm, and I will continue to do my part.

After last evening, I think someone of rare intelligence on both the Mayor's and Mr Dienhart's side has finally convinced the two of them to shut up else insure Eric's reelection.

What say you?

Robert W. Morgan
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I say that you would be better than any of them, Mike

Glad someone silenced them but the sad fact is that Haddix will still be mayor and George may not have both oars in the water. Eric I want to win. But again, I would rather see you sitting there next to whoever you had to sit next to on council.
I am writing you in when I go to vote. Hope others do as well.

ptctaxpayer
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Morgan and Mike King---

Morgan and Mike King--- Please, get a room.

jpopeye
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I appreciate your article

Thank you for the definitions of different administration formats. Your historical perspective of PTC and the position taken about complexity/controversy are one way to look at things. I am not sure the current charter and form of government are incapable of meeting the demands of a modern PTC. The growth has not made the council form unmanageable; it is the public's sense of individual entitlement that is dragging us down. We need to re-learn how to address governance collectively and not fall prey to the "hoodwink"ers. In a representative democracy elected officials reflect the voting public. Candidates and politicians should not be blamed for our individual failures to act responsibly. I don't know if your insights regarding the current incumbents were accurate or helpful. I hope to see some comments on how we can work together and move forward.

madmike
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Great article Scott

You did a fine job laying out the landscape of this election and how the results will determine who might have the 3-2 majority. Your points about the city charter are interesting and should be considered as topics for serious future discussion. Thanks for an informative, balanced analysis.

Robert W. Morgan
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Agree completely, Scott

Having a stronger mayor with increased responsibilities and pay will attract an entirely different kind of person to run for office. The voters will hopefully realize that they would in fact be hiring a CEO and would pay attention to his or her experience, education and past history. The silly little big box and village concept campaign issues would be gone forever or at least disregarded as voters scrutinize the candidates/job applicants for their ability to lead and manage the city through issues that can't be predicted ahead of time. Even the nagging problem of voter apathy could be overcome because most voters would realize their own increased responsibilities in determining the city's future. Might even get up to 30% which would be great!

As far as this election, I can see Imker and George going along with the ladies on a 4-1 vote to make this fundamental improvement to the system. Haddix may even vote for it since he thinks we already made this change. This would be a good signature issue for Kim to take on, although the censure incident tarnishes her motives. George - this would be a good thing for you to spearhead. More productive to talk about this instead of that tired old DAPC stuff. Then maybe in 2 years we will be able to vote for a qualified, experienced leader.

Ninja Guy
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Wrong As The Day Is Long!

The last thing our pristine city needs is a strong(er) mayor! You see the types of people that run for the top office now with weak power--just think what you would get if the mayor's office offered real power to our local versions of Boss Hogg!

City management requires a skill set beyond that of elected officials Let experienced and smart people like Dr. Pennington run the city and let the mayor and council members pass the budget and then get out of the way to cut ribbons and debate leash laws and tree cutting ordinances--pretty much what we have now!

Voters put about 2 minutes thought into considering presidential candidates, why on earth do you think they would put anymore into considering mayoral candidates!

RWM, you are spinning vinyl the wrong way on this one!

Maybe you have been hanging out with Crowell up in Athens and fogged up your brain with retro 1960s activities!

BTW, who do you like in the GA-Tech game? I say GA by 7, if Crowell can stay off the kite!

Robert W. Morgan
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No Boss Hogg in my vision, General

Certainly giving more power to any of the past 3 or 4 mayors is unacceptable. My mostly wishful thinking is that people like Scott Bradshaw and Jim Pennington and younger versions of Hollis Harris and Joel Cowan would be attracted to the mayor's job if it was a pure CEO role. It would be pretty easy for the real leaders to be separated from the hacks and one-issue, ego-driven candidates.

City management does indeed take a skill set that is beyond most of the people we have been electing - that's for sure. But that skill set is built around government growth, job preservation and more regulations. I think a real CEO can curtail some of that crap and direct that energy elsewhere - like economic development, for example.

GA seems to be out of tailbacks this week.

madmike
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RWM, agreed but...

we only have our current and past mayors as a reference. With the pitiful qualifications of Haddix, no one would want to give him more power. However, if you were to hire a CEO type, qualified and experienced, pay him (or her) a competitive salary, maybe that is something that makes sense. In fairness, you couldn't get a good full-time toilet scrubber for what the Mayor gets paid. Looks like we are getting what we paid for!

Ninja Guy
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RWM, Real CEOs Are

appointed, not elected! Did Lincoln hold a referendum on appointing Grant to head the army--no! Does Apple put its CEO position up to an at-large vote? No! What's good for apples is good for peaches!

Let the managers manage and the politicians politic! No need to mix the two in our fine and pristine city!

I think those walk-on running backs will do fine against NMS!

NUK_1
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Agreed, really bad idea

You don't want to have politicians as CEO's of a city and just who is going to be attracted to the Mayor's job if it means more responsibility and oversight than presently? How much are you going to increase the pay for this? You're also cutting into the candidate pool greatly by giving the kind of day-to-day oversight that would make the position available only to retirees or the unemployed. Just because politicians enjoy thinking up novel ways to infringe on the citizens in areas like tree cutting, gas golf carts, only one trash company, etc. doesn't mean that they don't have enough to do already.

Let the professional managers manage the city and don't extend the powers of the Mayor any further. Just because people aren't happy about some of the recent mayors doesn't mean you are going to attract better candidates by giving more responsibilities and duties to the position.

borntorun
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Respectively Disagree Scott

I have a lot of respect for you Scott and usually agree with your columns. But with all due respect, I disagree with your position in this one. There is no need to change the city charter to give us a "stronger mayor form of governance". I shudder to think of Brown and WTB Haddix with more authority than currently allotted! We need to leave the day to day operations of the city up to the city manager and city staff. The City of Newnan has a similar form of city government as PTC and the difference between the relationship that sitting council and mayor have and ours is night and day. While Newnan's mayor and council may disagree on issues, there are none of the personal attacks at each other like what Haddix and Imker seem to relish in. Mature adults serving their community! Gee what a concept! What I would like to see in our mayor is someone who is a leader and consensus builder. Someone who can work with council in a mature and adult like fashion. Not like the current sitting mayor who is as a big of a meglomaniac as anyone I've ever seen. But as French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville said, in a democracy, we get the government we deserve. And until the citizens here get more involved and some of our best and brightest (like yourself!) are willing to serve, I'm afraid we are stuck with the likes of Haddix and Imker.

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