Council Confidential

Troubled Waters, Broken Dam Part 3

LakeSign  Click the photo to the left to read the article.

Troubled Waters, Broken Dam, Part 2

Lake   Click the photo at left to read the article.

Adventures in Contrived Allegation Land

(Part 1 of what’s sure to be a multi-part series.)
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream of a nation in which people are not judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. For almost fifty years, countless people have tried to make that noble dream a reality. Unfortunately, a disturbing number of ethically challenged people have dishonored that dream by distorting its principles to further their personal agendas. These distortions are commonly perpetuated by a practice known as “playing the race card”.

Rather than dealing with the true issues at hand, people who play the race card seek to trump all the other figurative cards in the deck of human relations. And so it was, at the November 12, 2012 meeting of the Snellville City Council, when Kelly Kautz played the race card in an apparent attempt to label other council members as racists. Although neither race nor ethnicity had ever been mentioned before in connection with a nomination, Kautz specified the race of only two of her 11 nominations that evening; she identified both nominees as African-American.

Her comments have left citizens and other Council members scratching their respective heads, wondering what prompted her inappropriate comments. It appears to me that the comments were just part of a procedural ambush, planned to discredit other Council members while attempting to position herself as a champion of diversity.

Kautz was already aware that one candidate would not be approved because he had failed to submit an application. Prior to his race being known or announced, Kautz stated that she was proceeding with his nomination in spite of objections about the nominee’s failure to submit an application.  The matter could have been easily resolved by simply withdrawing the nomination and resubmitting it after the appropriate application had been filed. But that procedure wouldn’t have fit Kautz’s apparent ambush plan.

The second nominee that Kautz identified as being African-American does not live in the city and works in Atlanta. The position for which he was nominated is the city’s representative on the Evermore Community Improvement District’s board of directors. Questions about the applicant’s suitability for the position had absolutely nothing to do with race and everything to do with the fact that he has absolutely no stake in the city. Further, from conversations with the applicant, it appeared that his primary reason for applying was to form a business alliance amongst the companies along the Highway 78 corridor. An overwhelming majority of those businesses are outside the city limits.

But announcing a nominee’s race was only one part of what appears to be Kautz’s plan for the evening. As specified in the city’s Code of Ordinances, a motion must be made and seconded before a vote on a nomination is taken. (For at least the last 12 years, that’s the way it has always been done in Snellville.) Kautz attempted to circumvent that procedure, citing Roberts Rules of Order. However, the City Attorney advised her that the Code of Ordinance takes precedence and that a motion and a second are required.

That begs the question as to why Kautz attempted to change procedures. In my opinion, it has to do with trying to force a vote that could later be marketed as racially motivated. Instead, neither nomination came to a vote because there was no second to the original motions. That outcome doesn’t work particularly well when someone is trying to paint a picture of racism.

All forms of racism and ethnic prejudice are repugnant. And in my opinion, the most offensive type is wherein one person’s race is used by another as a platform for self-promoting political posturing.

Snellville’s population is indeed diverse, and as such, members of the city’s boards, committees and commissions should be as diverse as the citizen population they serve. However, the best way to achieve that is to first aggressively solicit applications. To assure that the best interests of all our citizens are served, applicants should be nominated based on their qualifications and willingness to serve. And when the time comes, I can assure you that all applicants will be confirmed based on the content of their character, not the color of their skin.


My apologies to anyone who finds the term “African-American” objectionable or offensive. It is used herein to preserve the accuracy of the comments made by Kautz during the Council meeting.

Civil Rights Trumped by “Out of Order” Wrongs

“You’re out of order. You’re out of order”. In over two years of attending City Council meetings, I never heard those words. But since November, 2011, when Kelly Kautz became mayor, I’ve heard the phrase over and over and over, and over– much like listening to a broken record.

It is indeed unfortunate that in her role as mayor, Kautz relies on that stridently uttered phrase to silence people who she THINKS might say something she doesn’t want to hear. Since I have been a Councilman, she has repeatedly called me out of order. She has repeatedly called Mayor Pro Tem Tom Witts out of order. She has repeatedly called Councilman Bobby Howard out of order. And now, she has called Marilyn Swinney, (a citizen of our city and dedicated volunteer) out of order.

Kautz’s action to silence Ms. Swinney stands in stark contrast to her lack of action when Mary Morrison (a neighbor and apparent friend of Kautz ally Mike Sabbagh) launched into a full-fledged personal attack against Tom Witts. Even after Morrison launched into her baseless tirade against Mr. Witts, (which ended with a veiled threat) Kautz chose to ignore its inappropriate and offensive nature.

Without question the mayor, as the chair of Council meetings, has both the right and the responsibility to call citizens “Out of order” if they violate the rules of decorum that are enumerated in section 2-53 (3) of the city’s code of ordinances. However—and here’s where  Kautz seems confused— someone actually has to say something inappropriate or offensive before the rules of decorum are applicable. Conversely, once the rules of decorum are violated, (that is, once someone says something inappropriate or offensive) it is not only the chair’s responsibility, but duty to interrupt the speaker and inform him or her that of the violation of rules of decorum. If the speaker persists, the chair is authorized to call for the offending individual to be removed.

Unfortunately, when the mayor appears to use political considerations as the basis for her actions, the biggest losers are the citizens of Snellville. Our city has what’s commonly referred to as a divided Council—two factions that strongly disagree on most issues. Negative publicity is an unavoidable consequence of the public disagreement of those factions. In stark contrast, the mayor’s unilateral throttling of a citizen’s comment is as avoidable as it is inexcusable.

Ms. Swinney believes that her civil rights have been violated and has stated that she will be seeking legal recourse. It is indeed unfortunate that any citizen should feel compelled to take such action. But it is an especially sad commentary that a person like Ms. Swinney, who has given so much of herself to the community, feels so violated, humiliated, and embarrassed that she’s moved to seek a legal remedy to protect her own civil rights, and those of other citizens who may wish to make a public comment.

Much Ado About Nothing– Snellville’s Proposed gun Ban

The subject of gun control always incites lively discussions and Ed Stone’s Examiner article, “Snellville Considers Gun Ban” ( is no exception. However, aside from philosophical differences, there’s no real basis for that discussion. “Snellville”, (which I assume to mean the City Council) is NOT considering a gun ban in any shape or form. Aside from the fact that enacting such a ban would be a violation of state law, it would never receive the votes necessary for passage; a sufficient number of Council members believe in the sanctity of the U.S. Constitution.

As a member of that Council, I was not aware of any discussion about guns until I received the agenda for the June 11th meeting. Under the work session portion of that agenda, item “e” was listed as “Firearms in city Parks [Kautz]“. Considering the recent incident in Sugar Hill, and the obvious widespread confusion about firearms laws, my expectation was that we would be discussing the city’s responsibility to honor Constitutional rights and the need to ensure that both citizens and city staff understand state firearms laws. I was more than surprised when the mayor, herself an attorney, referred the matter to our City Attorney for review prior to pursuing the issue. Such a referral serves no useful purpose as state law is quite clear- it is illegal for municipalities to enact firearms ordinances that preempt state law.

There was in fact, no consideration of a gun ban of any type, only a unilateral request by the mayor to pursue the issue. I can’t speak for other Council members regarding this issue, but there is absolutely no question that Bobby Howard and Diane Krause, and Mayor Pro Tem Tom Witts are as determined as I am to protect and defend our Constitutional rights, and to ensure that all proposed city ordinances do not violate state law.

Snellville Foreclosures– Good Will Follow the Bad and Ugly

A recent online article about Snellville’s extremely high foreclosure rate has ruffled quite a few feathers. Part of the feather ruffling was a consequence of the survey results being based on data from an overall area, as opposed to data that pertains to foreclosures within city limits. Irrespective of the manner in which the data is sliced, the report appears to give the city a black eye. I see it from an entirely different perspective.

As in other parts of the county—and the nation—most of the foreclosures are a result of people buying houses they couldn’t afford. Without question, the economic downturn, and the high rate of unemployment it has created, factor into the foreclosure scenario. However, even if the economy had hit a small dip, as opposed to a pot hole the size of Lake Lanier, the foreclosure rate still would have spiked; financing based on a wing, a prayer and insufficient income virtually guarantees an eviction notice.

Snellville’s disturbing foreclosure rate is arguably more a function of the city being a desirable place to live, than of a systemic problem within the city. A number of factors converged to create Snellville’s foreclosure problems, but the core issue is that people were attracted to Snellville and bought houses during the easy-money years. Had fewer families opted for houses they truly couldn’t afford, there would now be fewer foreclosures.

U.S. Census Bureau statistics validate that perspective; they demonstrate that previously and currently, Snellville home ownership rates are higher than those of the county, state or nation. In Snellville, 82.2% of residents own their homes, compared to 71.3% in Gwinnett County and 66.6% in Georgia; vacancy rates are on a par with those in the county.

So where do we go from here? The national economy will dictate much of the future, but city governments can have a significant influence over the local housing market by promoting economic development, enhancing the sense of community and building an image that captures people’s imagination. Snellville leaders are already doing much of that. The weekly Farmer’s Market, community events like the “Beach Blast”, “Sizzling Summer Weekend”, “Star-Spangled Snellville”, “Snellville Days”, concerts on the Towne Greene, movies in Briscoe Park, and the new Community Garden all shine a positive light on the city and accent its desirability as a place to live.

Economic development activities have brought new businesses to the city and helped existing business to expand, thereby creating more employment opportunities. Academy Sports, The Olive Garden, a Verizon wireless store and the Neighborhood Market are all recent and significant new additions. A number of existing areas have also been revitalized and Snellville’s Economic Development Department is continuing to focus on and promote opportunities for business.

These are important first steps that will lead to a rebound in housing, and a drop in the foreclosure rate. And while having a headline-grabbing foreclosure rate is regrettable, if Snellville’s current course is maintained, when the economy finally has an upturn, the city will be ideally positioned to experience an equally headline-grabbing home-sales boom.


  1. That’s a very good point Tom- again we go back to responsibility and accountability. . . I’m not taking up for Oberman at all, however your comment makes me think/wonder. . .Was the position/RFP presented to him AS representing the Mayor AND Council, or was it some loyalty to a particular party that led to some of the potential (from the outside looking in) shenanigans? Goes back to what I said about getting the job “legitimately”. . .

    In otherwords, using your words. . . did he “not understand” or “not care”? And in the long run, DOES it make a difference in figuring all this out?

    Just food for thought. . .

  2. Jamie,
    If you were selected as the city attorney and gave it the “old college try” being an attorney for the Mayor and the council then I agree.

    however, if you were hired because you were partial to the Mayor and did not understand or care that your job was to represent the City and not the mayor then your billing would be suspect…. and knowing you as I do,,,you would never put yourself in that position…but if you did,,you would be aware of the consequences of your actions. Just my two cents
    Tom Witts

  3. The point I was making, Adrienne, is that, regardless of WHO calls the shots, “THE CITY” ends up holding final accountability for the decision.

    As such, I imagine that there HAVE to be procedures in place to make sure that “the right guy is hired for the right job”. . .

    Had the mayor selected ME to be the City Attorney, that would have been wrong as well (not the right guy for the job), But had I gotten the job LEGITIMATELY and given it the ole college try, I would expect to get paid for that effort.

    It comes down to two things:

    1) Snellville, regardless of who pulled the trigger, picked the wrong guy for the job (no offense to Mr. Oberman- we all have talents and areas of wonderful success)
    2) Mr. Oberman, assumedly knowing it wasn’t his area of expertise, allowed that relationship to move forward. If he was trying to get into municipal law, I don’t blame him, but there has to be some concession.

    I imagine that the best thing to do is to have the city meet with Mr Oberman and figure out all of the work he DID do for the city, and under what time periods, and pay accordingly.

    Apparently there is something I’m missing here- in business, unless I’m greatly mistaken, what I’ve said here JUST MAKES SENSE for both parties.

    It’s not Stuart’s FAULT he was selected. Conversely, it’s not the city’s FAULT (responsibility for a solo action) either. However, the city is still ACCOUNTABLE for the decision. I see this a LOT in not-for-profits, and in corporate America as well. The RESPONSIBILITY and ACCOUNTABILITY do not rest on the same shoulders.

    Soooooo…that being said, here is what I’d like to know to better discuss the issue:

    1) Who is responsible?
    2) Who is accountable?
    3) How can the issue be resolved?
    4) What can the City do to avoid similar SNAFU’s in the future?

    And no- those weren’t rhetorical- anyone have any input?

  4. Jamie,

    I believe if there had been the opportunity for the council to discuss practice/procedure with the mayor, perhaps there would have been understanding (or the opportunity for information sharing) on the topic. However, this appointment was made by the mayor with no notice or discussion.

    Additionally, the sitting mayor vehemently opposed the mayoral appointment of the city attorney when she sat on the city council. You can YouTube the video.

    Unfortunately, our current mayor is still forging a path of authoritarian rule. Thankfully, we have trusted council members and active citizen committed to our city’s unity and progress. We hope the mayor will join our efforts, and work with the dedicated, loyal volunteers she has at her disposal.

  5. Makes perfect sense Dave. Based on what I am reading, it sounds as if the city needed to have a better-defined relationship, and/or different questions needed to be asked (by different or more people?) to ensure that “best practices” were being performed on both sides of that equation.

    Now knowing the way that the deal was set up, I fully agree with your hamburger metaphor.

  6. The one question I would pose Dave, is this- Was Mr. Oberman’s fee pre-negotiated? If so, I hate to say, but it’s kind of like ordering a meal, and deciding not to pay because you didn’t like it. I TOTALLY understand what you are saying above and agree whole-heartedly in regard to fiscal responsibility. In this case, however, it seems that the City might have done more research or known what they were getting.

    I only say this because I have also encountered clients that have decided not to pay (or pay less) based on results that were not guaranteed. In the PR world, a campaign provides “the best chance” at success. . . not the success itself (and can be determined as well by a lot of factors, outside and client involvement etc).

    I’m not saying Oberman was right- all I’m saying is why didn’t the City know what they were getting going in, and isn’t THAT also part of fiscal responsibility- knowing what you’re paying for?

    Great blog! Looking forward to seeing more and more!

    • In my opinion, Mr. Oberman’s fee was neither pre-negotiated nor agreed to. He submitted a letter of engagement, (essentially a contract to provide legal services at a specific hourly rate) but the Council never accepted or approved it. So the City never entered into a contractual obligation to pay for his services. Personally, I can’t find any justification to pay an apprentice (remember, Oberman has no prior municipal law experience) the same rate as an experienced, top-rated professional. (Previous City Attorney Tony Powell has over 25 years of experience in municipal law and has received the highest possible rating through the Martindale-Hubble Peer Review.

      To put this matter in terms of your question about ordering a meal, I don’t think you’d agree to pay full price if you ordered a steak and a baked potato and were served hamburger and grease-laden french fries. Certainly, you would point out the problem to the server and give him or her the opportunity to serve you what you ordered, but if the server or manager refused, you would only be obligated to pay for the hamburger if you chose to eat it.

      “The City” didn’t know what it was getting into because Oberman was appointed by the mayor with no notice given to members of Council. We had no say in the appointment, but we do have a say regarding the manner in which taxpayer money is spent. As I’ve said previously, as a Council member, I have a fiduciary responsibility to serve the best interests of our citizens, and to treat both taxpayers and providers of goods and services fairly. I don’t intend to compromise on my responsibility.

  7. Dave, I do find it interesting that at the July 12, 2010 City Council Meeting, Kautz was opposed to the mayor making the city attorney appointment but she completely flip flopped that opinion in November, 2011 when she was elected mayor. Below is a partical transcript of her comments from that meeting video, which are on or about minute marker 2:06.

    IN KAUTZ OWN WORDS: “…..[with this change] …only the mayor can hire or fire the City Attorney but the City Attorney is STILL supposed to serve all the city council, so I don’t think it’s fair, I don’t think it’s um, I don’t think, I think it creates too much bias for the City Attorney that is solely appointed, hired and fired by the power of the mayor. I think there needs to be a checks and balance and I think there needs to be a confirmation by the city council if the City Attorney does serve at the pleasure of the whole council so for those reasons I won’t support this measure tonight.”

    NOTE: At the beginning of motions to change the charter under new business, Councilman Tod Warner explained that we were simply undoing changes that affected the power of the mayor that our current City Attorney (Tony Powell) felt were improperly done. Powell thinks it should have been done by the state legislature. Whereas the prior City Attorney (Thomas Mitchell) opined that the council could do it without the legislature. Warner also stated that several of these provisions may get changed back at a later date through the proper channels.

    (Source: Snellville City Council Meeting July 12, 2010 )

    • As you may be aware, “Snellville Patch” asked Council members to indicate the reason they voted as they did regarding a change to the Charter that would include both mayor and Council members in the selection of a City Attorney. Only a portion of my answer was published, so I have incorporated my entire response in a new “Council Confidential”

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