By Pat Cooper
The candidates’ straw poll forum hosted by a partnership among the county’s political factions was nearly a Peachtree City only event, with only one candidate for Tyrone Town council in the mix.
The event featuring the candidates for council and mayor in the only two elections the county will see this electoral season was co-sponsored by the Fayette County Democratic Committee, the Fayette County Branch of the NAACP, the Fayette County Republican Party and the Fayette County Issues Tea Party and garnered nine candidates to present to potential voters.
Candidates that participated in the program included Peachtree City mayoral candidates Don Haddix (incumbent), George Dienhart, Ryan Jolly and Harold Logsdon; Peachtree City Council Post 2 candidate Mike King; Peachtree City Council Post 3 candidates Kim Learnard (incumbent) and Cathy Haddix; Peachtree City Council Post 4 candidate Stephanie Franz; and Tyrone Town Council Post 3 candidate Pota Coston.
Each candidate was given two minutes to give an opening statement, one minute to answer each question and one minute to close.
The questions themselves during the three-hour event, revolved around candidates’ feelings on the proposed Core Infrastructure Special Local Option Sales Tax, traffic on Highway 54 and economic development within the city, as well as strategic plans, civility and maintaining the qualify of life Peachtree City and Tyrone have been known for.
The afternoon started off with former mayor, and current candidate, Logsdon saying he wanted to “return civility to council” and there would be a renewed emphasis on ethics.
“It is time for elected officials to stop bullying the citizens. We have to rebuild relationships and have positive relationships with those around us. We need to work together with all of our neighbors as well as downtown in the state capital.”
Learnard, the four-year incumbent, said she was a born teacher, an engineer and “I believe what I bring to city council, from the decision making perspective, is that of an engineer and the perspective of an educator.”
She noted that, during her time on council the city has met the goal of balancing the city’s budget, expanding economic development and restore facilties and recreation projects in Peachtree City, including for the seniors.
“And I have nailed it. I have done exactly that. Going forward the succes of Peachtree City is based on the relationships we forge in the next year.”
Learnard has been the guiding force behind the idea of College and Career Academy in the county.
“I’ve been working for 18 months on this and what happens, as we were picking up steam, in comes Pinewood Studios comes in and what do they want? Partnerships.. By the time I’m finished, we will have a college campus and a center for performing and cultural arts in the heart of our community.”
Political newcomer, Franz, the mother of a four-year old, said she wanted to be work with city council because she loves the city, wants to watch her child grow up in the city and “there are a lot of changes, emerging economies coming around us and we need to get ahead of that change.”
King, a candidate for city council in a past election, told the crowd that “what you see is what you get. I’m honest to a fault. I won’t bend or massage the truth to make things look better. I’m a fiscal conservative. I ask that Peachtree City live within its means. We need to do what we can to replenish the reserves we’ve expanded.”
King also advocated replacing both the police chief and fire chief with a public service director, reviewing and reducing management to put more “boots on the ground” in both the police and dire departments.
Eight year Tyrone resident Pota Coston served 29 years with the federal government before her retirement and she is an ‘involved’ member of several organizations, including the Friends of the Tyrone Library and the Tyrone Founders’ Day committee.
“I want a vibrant, walkable downtown, well-maintained parks, accessibility and facilties for seniors. We need to plan for community growth that will take us into the future with a small town appeal.”
Mayoral candidate and former city councilman George Dienhart, touched on the city’s ability to work with surrounding municipalities and the county.
“County commission chairman Steve Brown has said that when he needs something done in Peachtree City, he called myself or councilman [Eric] Imker. He does that because we get results.
“We’ve got a big opportunity with Pinewood studios but we have to work together - we need to work with Fayetteville, Tyrone and the county. We all move forward or Peachtree City can stand still by itself. I’m not going to let that happen.”
McIntosh High School graduate Ryan Jolly touched on his feelings, after growing up in Peachtree City, on what he called the disfunctional government.
“You see that at city council meetings. We need to bring back a mixture of being business friendly, but also maintaining the beautiful greenery that make our city what it is.”
Jolly noted he would bring back functionality to a disfunctional government.
Peachtree City, he noted, may be the largest city in the county and people look toward us as a shining light, but “if we don’t have our house in order here, how can we hope to help keep the house in order across the border.”
If council challenger Cathy Haddix wins the election, and her husband Don Haddix is reelected, it will give Peachtree City the first husband-wife team on the council.
Cathy Haddix, in her opening statement, said that her job would be to “reenergize and reinvigorate Post 3 and gain citizen involvement to move the city forward.” She would, she said, reinstitute the development authority, keeping the FCDA to maintain a source of tier one companies while DPAC handles the tiers two and three businesses. DPAC would have a director and volunteers and sources of funding not available to FCDA. She also, she said, would create a comprehensive strategic plan that would take into account the city’s recent One Peachtree City program.
“This approach has been woefully ignored. Peachtree City is in last place among Class B cities in affordability and that’s disturbing.”
Incumbent Haddix, pointed out his initiatives had saved the city over a million dollars a year and increased efficiency.
“In 2008 I took the development authority off the shelf, and drove the redevelopment of the Glenloch and Crosstown Shopping Centers and was responsible for bringing in the Fresh Market and the expansion of Kroger, all while DPAC was being seriously underfunded.
Haddix said the city needs the development authority, which had been disbanded by a vote from council, to come back to work.
“The Fayette County Development Authority can’t do it all. Past debt and fee increases aren’t the answer.” He also called for a comprehensive strategic plan and said that “citizens are job one.”
He also noted that, if this was not done, “by 2018 the city will [still] be spending more than it brings in and not maintaining streets and roads.”
The final results of the outgoing straw poll at that end of the event, derived from some 70 ballots submitted. It should be noted that anyone from the county at least 18 years of age was allowed to vote in the Straw Poll and not all audience members were Peachtree City voters.
Peachtree City Mayor
George Dienhart 41
Don Haddix (Incumbent) 7
Vanessa Fleisch 5
Ryan Jolly 4
Harold Logsdon 13
Peachtree City Council, Post 2
Austin Chanslor 3
Mike King 50
Shayne V.W. Robinson 4
Peachtree City Council, Post 3
Cathy Haddix 6
Kim Learnard (Incumbent) 61
Peachtree City Council, Post 4
Terry L. Ernst 27
Stephanie Franz 27
Tyrone Town Council, Post 3
Pota Coston 56
Ken Matthews (Incumbent) 5