Cut To the Chase Political Commentary

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Affordable Care Act- Titanic Deja Vu

Titanic-ACA  In a recent post to his blog, Jef Fincher created an analogy between ocean sailing and the course corrections needed to steer the Affordable Care Act (ACA) through turbulent waters without doing irreparable harm to the “SS United States”.

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Profiling- Racial and Otherwise

ProfilingThe trial of George Zimmerman has sparked an unprecedented level of conversation about the practice of racial profiling. As distasteful and inexcusable as racial/ethnic profiling is, the practice of activity profiling is a useful and legitimate tool for law enforcement and anyone else involved in crime prevention. Unfortunately, the race card is too often played in an attempt to place a racial focus on suspicious activity—and to incorrectly label activity profiling as being racially motivated.

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For Race-Baiters, There’s No Money in Saving Lives

blindjusticeTragic. There is truly no other word for it. Yet a mélange of nouns and adjectives, among them- “unjustified”, ” racially-motivated”, “unprovoked”, “vigilante”- have pre-empted “tragic” in commentary about the shooting of Trayvon Martin. At the very core of the altercation between Martin and George Zimmerman is the simple, tragic fact that a 17-year old lost his life. But to the race-baiters who are energized by such tragedies, Martin’s death is secondary to the money to be made by capitalizing on the fact that he was black, and Zimmerman is not.
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July 4th- A Day of Celebration and Reflection

LadyLibertyFireworks. Parades. Picnics. Barbeques. They’re all part of our annual celebration of our country’s achievement of freedom. This year marks the 237th anniversary of the declaration that established the United States of America and now, perhaps more than ever before, we need to reflect as we celebrate.

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The Lynching of Paula Deen

Gallows-courthouse

Anybody who thinks that a lynching won’t occur in a courtroom, or in the media has obviously not been following the Paula Deen case. The crime for which Deen is being lynched is using the “N” word a decade or two ago.
Without question, Deen was wrong to use a racial slur, but that brings to question why this incident isn’t being treated simply as a matter of an inappropriate comment—as it has been for numerous other public figures who have used racial slurs.

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GOP-Stuck in The Middle

RINO-CINO2While a significant portion of the population is marching to the political left, in many sections of the country, running as a Republican is viewed as a requirement for being elected to political office. Hence the appearance of RINOs- Republicans In Name Only—within the GOP. Although RINOs purport to embrace a conservative view of the role of government, their true beliefs align more closely with the liberal philosophy in which government intrudes into virtually every aspect of life.

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Criminals ALWAYS Have Guns

Gangster2“Throughout history, and across all national boundaries, whether possession of a firearm is legal or illegal, one fact stands out– criminals always have guns.”

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Does It Really Matter?

GCLast week, Fox 5 news in Atlanta aired a story by investigative reporter Dale Russell dealing with repeated court actions by creditors who are attempting to collect payments on Kelly Kautz’s long past-due debts. The latest activity involves a garnishment against her mayor’s wages, which are paid by the City of Snellville.

Personal finances are just that—personal. Which has prompted questions about the relevance of personal debt to the city and its citizens. The most common question is, “Does it really matter?” Russell’s report addresses that question quite well; the over-riding concern is that an apparent pattern of personal financial irresponsibility could easily become a pattern of irresponsible city spending, and that has a direct—and negative—impact on taxpayers.

A few recent examples of questionable proposed and actual expenditures include:

*A last minute, “slide it in under the rug” proposal to add $50,000 to the budget to pay for four “Welcome to Snellville” signs

*A strong suggestion that the City spend almost $100,000 to make repairs on private property

*Payment (without Council knowledge) of over $30,000 in attorney fees that were identified as excessive and unjustified

*Irresponsible budgeting that would have added $16,000 in expenses that had already been paid in an insurance settlement

Fortunately, responsible fiscal decision-making prevailed, so Snellville’s current financial situation is excellent. Prudent budgeting, tight control of expenditures, and the Service Delivery Strategy (SDS) settlement with Gwinnett County has enabled the City to build an impressive cash reserve. A portion of that will be returned to taxpayers in the form of continued low property taxes, some will be used for physical improvements within the city and the balance will be kept on hand for emergency situations.

Had members of the City Council not rejected previous budgets, which contained what can best be described as irresponsible expenditures, Snellville’s financial condition would have been far different. It might have been similar to that of Woodstock, GA, where the consequences of excessive municipal spending in the past are apparent in a recent city audit, as reported in Woodstock Patch.

 Some of the city’s financial highlights include (by June 30, 2012):

  • The unassigned fund balance for the general fund was $1.24 million. The city’s general fund had a deficit of $601,960, which Whitaker proclaimed as a “serious situation.” That’s an improvement from the $827,478 in 2011 due to positive cash flow. 
  • The total 2012 actual revenues for the general fund were $15.6 million while expenditures were $15.4 million. 
  • The city’s long-term debt stands at $42 million, which represents $17 million in government activity related debt and $24 million related to “business-type activities.”

Like most people, cities typically have debt. However, like most people, cities should take on debt with a well-conceived plan—and the means—for repaying it. Woodstock’s problem is $42 million in debt compounded by a general fund deficit of over $600,000. It’s impossible to reduce debt when expenses continually equal or exceed revenue. Consequently, the citizens of Woodstock will most likely experience an increase in taxes, a reduction in services, or both.

Although they’re at opposite ends of the financial spectrum, Woodstock’s and Snellville’s current financial situations prove that spending policies do really matter.

Yet Still Adventures In City Attorney Land Again

Divided We Stand, Part 3- Judgment Day

scales of justiceIn March 19, 2013 the citizens of Snellville’s were awarded a victory in the fight for transparent, honest, productive and democratic government. That may seem like a bit of hyperbole, considering that the victory was the denial of the mayor’s ability to unilaterally fire the City Attorney. However, the ramifications of that decision are far reaching, and unquestionably reconfirm that the mayor, as well as every other member of the City Council, must abide by the city charter.
While Judge Timothy Hamil’s decision will enable to City to move forward on a number of matters requiring the involvement of a City Attorney, a significant issue remains—the division within the Council. There was no legitimate reason for Kautz’ to file a lawsuit; as Judge Hamil noted, the matter should have been settled outside the courtroom.

Unfortunately, Kautz seems to prefer litigation to conversation. Since she was sworn into office, she and her backers have seemed bent on running roughshod over the Council, the charter and anything else that interferes with what can best be described as a self-serving agenda. When members of the Council stated their belief that the mayor could not unilaterally fire the City Attorney, Kautz’s first response was not to discuss the matter, but to immediately file a lawsuit. That speaks volumes about her seeming attitude of, “I want what I want and to heck with what’s best for the city”.

Charter issues aside, why would anyone attempt to fire an extremely competent, ethical and effective City Attorney and replace him with someone with little or no prior municipal law experience? The only reason would appear to be that the choice of a replacement was motivated by a desire for malleability rather than for competence.

This isn’t the first time that Kautz’s unilateral actions have sent the City careening on an ill-advised “Adventure in City Attorneyland”. Immediately upon taking office in 2011, Kautz informed Tony Powell (who at the time was serving as City Attorney) that she intended to replace him as soon as her new appointee learned the ropes. Mr. Powell elected to resign, rather than stick around and serve as a nurse-maid.

The new appointee was Stuart Oberman who, by his own admission, had no previous municipal law experience. It is my opinion that Mr. Oberman was selected for his malleability, and I believe his tenure as City Attorney could best be described as malleability in action. Several Council members considered many of Oberman’s charges to be excessive and unjustified. The controversy surrounding payment of those charges, may have helped inspire Oberman’s “resignation”.

In mid-2012, after another attorney came and went, Kautz rehired Tony Powell. As expected, Powell’s professionalism resolved a number of issues, and was instrumental in improving the efficiency of city business. But by December, it became apparent that the Council’s desire to clarify portions of the charter, and Powell’s agreement to assist that effort, was viewed by Kautz as a threat to her “power”. That imagined threat undoubtedly provoked her attempt to fire Mr. Powell.

There has never been a legitimate reason to terminate Tony Powell’s services. Consequently, Kautz’s decision to fire him appears to be her desire to once again hire a malleable attorney. A majority of Council didn’t want to the City subjected to an inexperienced City Attorney yet again, so we took the steps we felt necessary to retain Tony Powell’s.  services.

In addition to resolving one point of contention, Judge Hamil’s decision will also bring a new level of peace and security to many city employees, who will no longer have to worry about being fired on the whim of the mayor.

If Kautz has any concern for the welfare of the City and its citizens, perhaps she will attempt to work with, rather than against the Council in the future. Given her history, that’s unlikely. After all, Kautz the candidate bragged, “If I’m elected, they’ll have to work with me”, and Kautz the elected official gloated, “We’re taking Snellville back.”  Neither of those egocentric statements indicates a desire to work with the Council for the benefit of the citizens.

Related articles

Divided We Stand, Part 2

Divided We StandThe seeds of division within the Snellville City Council, were sown a number of years ago, when Emmett Clower, who had been mayor for 26 years, was defeated by Brett Harrell. From all appearances, Clower never got over the loss, and every election cycle, there seems to be at least one attempt to discredit whoever is running against “the old guard’s” chosen candidate.

The following video addresses some of those issues and provides a little more insight into the division within Snellville’s City Council. On a more positive note, in spite of the political climate, Snellville continues to make progress. The City has one of the lowest tax millage rates in the county, yet offers its citizens an outstanding level of service. It also has an outstanding group of volunteers who are instrumental in the city’s hosting of a number of festivals during the year, the award-winning Snellville Farmer’s and the new Community Garden.

Divided We Stand- a short video

Divided We Stand, Part 1

divideA common question in Snellville is, “Why is the City Council so divided?” Opinions vary considerably, depending on which side of the divide you’re standing. However, I believe a couple of comments made by Kelly Kautz at the February 11th Council meeting provide a very revealing insight into the core reasons for the division,  and for the resulting contentiousness. Proceeding from this point dictates the judicious use of words so as not to fall off the divide and into the chasm of legal activity. Along with three other council members and our City Attorney, I have been named in a lawsuit filed by Kautz, so to avoid additional litigation, I submit the following:

I firmly believe that the following statements are based on truth, however, they are expressions of my personal opinions, and as such are not presented as facts. The statements and actions upon which I base these opinions are readily available and I will gladly provide documentation upon request.

In her Mayor’s comments, Kautz noted that only council Member Diane Krause participated in a scheduled sign tour of neighboring cities. She also noted that she had advised city Manager Butch Sanders that she would be late because she had to be in court. That’s all true. What Kautz left unsaid was that she didn’t show up for the sign tour at all– not because she was in court, not because of a previous commitment, not because a critical work-related situation had arisen, but because she was having her nails done.  Her statement was clearly an attempt to discredit members of Council– all of whom had legitimate reasons for their absence– and to shift the spotlight away from the fact that she didn’t show up.

Kautz’s second statement of false reality was that she had nominated five people for the Evermore CID board position that has been vacant for over a year. The former city-appointed board member resigned in November, 2011, about the time Kautz took office. For almost a year, Kautz did not ever nominate anyone to fill that position. It wasn’t until late last year, hat she made her first nomination– of a person who neither lived nor worked in Snellville, and whose admitted purpose for applying for the position was to build a business alliance.

Why did Kautz state that she had nominated five people when in fact she has only nominated one? My guess is that if asked, she will claim confusion. My opinion, based on similar actions in the past, is that she is once again trying to portray herself as a victim– this time of the Council members on the other side of the divide.

Taken by themselves, these two incidents seem trivial at best. However, they are part of a continual barrage of false and inaccurate statements specifically designed to discredit fellow Council members. Apparently, Kautz prefers to widen the divide upon which the Council stands, rather than attempting to build any form of unity.

An Open Letter from Snellville Councilman Bobby Howard

When I was elected as a member of the Snellville City Council, I made a commitment to represent all citizens, regardless of whether or not we agreed politically. Unfortunately, recent events related to our city have created a number of challenges to those of us on the City Council who are working to move our city forward. The events I speak of include the following:

A lawsuit settled out of court, resulting from the mayor’s violation of a citizen’s 1st Amendment rights. The cost to settle this lawsuit was $15,000, which included approximately $5,000 paid to a professor of Constitutional law, who advised the city there was a very high probability it would lose, if the matter went to court. It is true that the actual settlement costs were paid by the city’s insurance carrier. However, the mayor’s statement, ” it did not cost the city a penny ” is blatantly false.

Please take the time to view the video and hear the mayor’s statement for yourself. This lawsuit was settled out of court because the city had little, if any chance of successfully defending the mayor’s actions of wrongfully taking away a citizen’s 1st Amendment Rights. To this point, the cost to the city is at least $7,300.00 of our taxpayer dollars.

As a member of this Council, I will not accept the careless, needless and wasteful expenditure of city taxpayer dollars. See for yourself and decide if you can support this type of behavior.

Start video at 30:18 and stop at 30:25
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7OMftOlLeY

In reference to the mayor’s statement, “No sir it did not. It didn’t cost the city a penny”—the real COSTS are:

$ 1,000.00 the deductible on our insurance

$ 1,385.00 paid (without Council authorization) to the law firm Cruser & Mitchell
$ 5,000.00 City Attorney.
Increase in rates from Insurance Carrier ???????? yet to come.

I’m not sure what the mayor’s definition of “not a penny” is, but my math adds up to nearly $ 7,300.00 of your taxpayer money! (You can see the mayor’s actions that resulted in the lawsuit by clicking the following link- http://snellville.patch.com/articles/city-pays-15-000-to-settle-swinney-lawsuit  )

More Roadblocks to Moving the City Forward

The mayor attempted to halt a duly called meeting of the Council with an injunction. Without ever contacting the members of Council, to see if the matter could be resolved with a discussion, the mayor asked for a Superior Court judge to issue an emergency injunction to stop the meeting. When the judge indicated he saw no legitimate reason to issue an injunction, and would deny the request, the mayor withdrew it.

Four members of the Council, and the current City Attorney, have been sued by the mayor, trying to halt attempts to have clarification of our City Charter. The attorney handling the case for the mayor is from Atlanta, and is the same attorney she relieved of duty while at the recent hearing. (Can be verified with court transcripts)  Below are what can only be described as blatant attempts to mislead the public.

The Mayor posted this on her Facebook Page: Tonight 4 members of Council voted to unilaterally change the City Charter without going to the General Assembly by taking away powers and duties granted to the Mayor. But, on top of that 4 members of Council also voted that the Mayor can no longer speak on matters up for a vote despite the fact that our City Charter gives the Mayor the same rights to vote and debate as any other Council member. I try to stay positive on my postings, but these Council members are out of control. Thia is truly a power struggle. I need the help of the citizens. You all know that there is a lawsuit pending between myself and the 4 members of Council. It should be no surprise that these members of Council have passed a resolution not to pay my legal fees just their own, so I am trying to raise campaign funds for this. These Council member will not stop until November when hopefully they are voted from office, but we must prevail in this lawsuit. Please go to my website www.kellykautz.com to donate. Every dollar helps.

Actions Putting the City at Legal Risk

The mayor’s recent attempted hiring of new city attorneys has put our city in legal limbo. This is one of the issues we are asking to be resolved in Superior Court. On Thursday January 18th, that firm resigned, effective immediately, stating, “ we feel it is not in the best interest of Cruser & Mitchell to continue in this position. ” That now makes 5 city attorneys who have represented the city in just over a year.

These events all have a common thread- unilateral and tyrannical actions by the mayor- one that I would like you to see for yourself. I invite you to invest some time looking at the recent videos from the Special Called Meeting of Jan. 9, 2013 and the Regular Meeting of Jan. 14, 2013. You can then decide for yourself who on this council is working to improve our city and who is not. I will be posting the videos of these meetings, and you can also find them on our city website www.snellville.org .

As always, feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss any matters of concern. Email: bobbyhoward@snellville.org and Cell: 404-583-1099

Bobby Howard

Snellville City Council Post 4

Video Links and other related links and information : All meeting links can be found at

http://www.snellville.org/index.asp?Type=B_BASIC&SEC={2578F39B-0662-407D-8CB8-5DB66024E491}&DE={32BA1DA6-FE66-42B8-9CF1-E51B1D68F838}

http://www.snellville.org/vertical/sites/%7B2457B773-F66B-45E3-9E9F-57703865A8B2%7D/uploads/Council_Video_January_14_2013.pdf

http://www.snellville.org/vertical/sites/%7B2457B773-F66B-45E3-9E9F-57703865A8B2%7D/uploads/Special_Called_Meeting_January_9_2013.pdf
http://snellville.patch.com/articles/city-pays-15-000-to-settle-swinney-lawsuit

Adventures in City Attorney Land- The Revolving Door Claims Another Victim

Snellville City Hall withAttorney Door Installed
Snellville City Hall with
Attorney Door Installed

“Victim” may seem like a strange word to apply to a City Attorney, yet for the participants in the parade of attorneys who have recently attempted to serve the City of Snellville, it appears to be entirely appropriate. The most recent victims of Snellville’s revolving attorney door are son Nola Jackson and Karen Woodward, members of the law firm Cruser & Mitchell.

Without any discussion whatsoever with other Council members, the current mayor appointed Cruser & Mitchell as interim City Attorney on December 13, 2012. On a number of previous occasions, Ms. Kautz had attempted to fire current City Attorney Powell. (Whether the mayor has the authority to fire the City Attorney is a matter that’s pending before a Superior court judge.

Obviously, neither Ms. Jackson nor Ms. Woodward had anticipated the positions into which they fouond themselves  when they agreed to serve the city. At both the January 9th specially called meeting, and the January 14th regular meeting, Ms. Kautz placed Ms. Woodward in the unenviable position of being asked questions that appeared to be designed to solicit answers that would contradict those offered by Mr. Powell.

To her credit, Ms. Woodward expressed her honest opinion and more often than not agreed with Mr. Powell or stated that she didn’t have the information she needed to provide an answer. Ms. Woodward was clearly uncomfortable, having been placed under the aura of cross-examination. It’s a pretty safe bet that she didn’t anticipate her legal service would give her a starring role in a contentious court room-style drama played out in a public meeting.

Consequently, it came as no surprise that on January 17th, Cruser & Mitchell informed the City it was terminating its agreement to serve as interim City Attorney. In its letter to the City, the law firm stated, “Thank you for the opportunity to serve as interim city attorney for the City of Snellville. At this time, however, we feel it is not in the best interest of Cruser & Mitchell to continue in this position. In accordance with our agreement for services, we are providing written notice that, effective immediately, Cruser & Mitchell, LLP withdraws from representation of the City”.

That’s makes it five law firms that have gone through, or become ensnared in the revolving door in a little over a year. Two firms resigned and two were fired. In this case, two plus two equals five because one firm was fired, rehired and fired again.

The question is, “Where does the City go from here?” Given this history, many attorneys will decline to even consider serving as Snellville’s City Attorney—being fired, or resigning after only a few months or less on the job, is never a good thing to have on a resume, or on the minds of one’s peers.

So for the moment, Snellville’s revolving attorney door will continue to spin, just waiting for its next “inductee”.

Adventures In City Attorney Land

Adventures in City Attorney Land Part Deux

More Adventures in City Attorney Land

Still More Adventures in City Attorney Land

You’re Out of Order- The Adventure Continues

OoOApparently, Snellville’s current mayor is a very slow learner. On the very same day of the public announcement that the City had paid (through its insurance company) approximately $15,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by a citizen who felt her Constitutional right to free speech had been violated, (when Kautz called her—you guessed it—“Out of order”) Kautz again bellowed “You’re out of order” in attempts to silence Mayor Pro Tem Tom Witts, Councilman Bobby Howard, City Attorney Tony Powell and myself.

The suit brought by a citizen against the City was settled through negotiation, which tells you legal council felt very strongly that the City would lose if the matter went to court. Considering the result and financial consequence of this suit, one would think that a constant bellowing of, “You’re out of order”, is ill advised at best.

Which brings into consideration the question of when a call of, “You’re out of order” is appropriate. Under Section 2-53 Public Participation of the Code of Ordinances, paragraph 3 states, “Individuals who violate any rules of the city council may be ruled out of order by the chairman or on a point of order made by a council member”. So under the strictest interpretation, only a member of the public can be ruled out of order, and only for violating rules of decorum. Certainly, council members also have to abide by the rules of decorum, but calling for a “Point of Order” is not a decorum matter, and is in fact a specified right of every Council member.

So a chairman’s proper response to a “Point of order” call (as delineated in the Code) is to inquire as to the nature of the Council member’s objection and to address the specific issue being raised. By bellowing, “You’re out of Order” in response to a “Point of order” call, the chairman has in effect stated the he or she has no intention of addressing the issue in question, and that is a clear violation of the Code, and potentially a right to free speech violation.

Kautz has repeatedly used the “You’re out of order” bellow as a means of shutting off discussion of issues, or objections to procedures. In many instances, members of Council refrained from pursuing their right to speak because to have done so would have resulted in a protracted shouting match. However, one of the purposes of the January 9th specially called meeting was to further define procedures to ensure that all Council members can freely exercise their right to speak, which is essential to conducting city business.

When the going got really rough, Kautz attempted to adjourn the meeting indefinitely– another clear violation of the Code. According to section 2-84, a motion to recess is classified as a privileged motion, “motion” being the operative word. The only legal way to adjourn a meeting is for a member of council to make a motion must be, seconded and voted upon. Kautz attempted to unilaterally adjourn the meeting indefinitely, with neither a motion nor a vote.

Kautz supporters seem to feel that the actions of the majority of Council are intended to strip the mayor’s position of its powers. Quite the contrary. These actions are intended to bring clarification to the Charter and Code. Although it is understandable that some people might consider limiting Kautz’s ability to violate the charter and code as stripping her of “powers”.

Hopefully, a judge will soon rule on the issues that have been in contention for quite some time. The importance of the impending legal actions is not who wins and who loses. The importance is that we achieve the clarity we need to efficiently conduct the city’s business.

Troubled Waters, Broken Dam

LakeFor the past few months, the Snellville City Council has been discussing the remedies available to repair the Lower Johnson Lake dam. In addition to addressing these remedies in Council work sessions, Mayor Pro Tem Tom Witts chaired a very successful Town Hall meeting to provide city residents from all neighborhoods with a forum in which to express their opinions.

At first blush, it might appear that the only essential points of discussion would be the best methods of repair and their attendant costs. But a number of factors have added layers of complexity. The first of these is ownership. The lake and dam are private property, owned by the Summit Chase Homeowners Association (SCHOA). That should place all maintenance and repair activities in the hands of the SCHOA. But a number of years ago, the city was granted an easement for the road that crosses the dam. That road, which has been maintained by the city for over 20 years, provides the only ingress and egress to the Timberline, Misty River and Misty Fairways subdivisions. (Oddly enough, residents of these subdivisions have never been granted access to the private lake they must pass every time they enter or leave their neighborhoods; the lake is posted for the exclusive use of SCHOA members.)

That has become a moot point because concerns over the integrity of the dam, specifically in the area of the pipe through which water leaves the lake, has resulted in the lake being drained until proper repairs were made. With respect to those repairs, this is where the situation becomes muddied, if you’ll excuse the pun. The SCHOA has stated quite firmly that it owns Upper and Lower Johnson Lakes, and their respective dams. In fact, the association’s October newsletter contained the following paragraph:

OWNERSHIP OF LAKES CONFIRMED
The board voted to hire an environmental attorney to check on
the ownership of the lakes and dams.  Specifically in question
was the lower dam – which is now Timberline Trace. Open
records from the City of Snellville were obtained but there were
missing documents. There was a very questionable easement
agreement between the City of Snellville, DEC Associates who
built the Timberline subdivision and our SCHA. A title search
was done and records were checked back to 1980 to confirm
our ownership.

While the SCHOA has asserted its ownership of the dam, it has also questioned its responsibility to repair it, owing largely to the city-maintained street that crosses it. That brings up additional questions regarding the extent of the easement. Does it pertain only to the road, roadbed and accompanying right of way, or does it pertain to the entire dam? Irrespective of the answer to that question, is it the city’s responsibility to maintain a privately owned dam because a city street crosses it? Another question is whether any action on the part of the city is even legal. Public funds cannot be used to maintain private property.

And to make matters even more complicated, regardless of lake and dam ownership, and road easements, storm water management is also a concern; storm water from a number of local areas flow into the lake bed. Consequently, whether or not the lake is restored, proper handling of storm water has to be taken into consideration.

Obviously, a number of procedural and legal questions must be answered before the actual problems with the dam can be resolved. Those questions will be addressed in Part 2 of “Troubled Waters, Broken Dam”

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.

Note:

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.

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Once again, the words, “YOU’RE OUT OF ORDER” rang out at a Snellville City Council meeting.  And once again, the only thing out of order was the person doing the shouting. On this occasion, a citizen came to the podium to express her thoughts about comments made during the July 9th meeting. But before she said more than, “I wasn’t at the July 9th meeting, but I watched the video”, Kelly Kautz called her out of order for making a personal attack. When the citizen refused to have her rights abrogated, Kautz went so far as to have the podium microphone turned off. Ultimately, after suffering the humiliation of being shouted down in a public meeting, the citizen was allowed to continue
Kautz’s actions were rude, insulting and totally uncalled for. Once again, she has brought negative publicity to Snellville. Citizens deserve to know the full details of this unfortunate event, and in due time they will.

More to come….

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