Troubled Waters, Broken Dam Part 3
Troubled Waters, Broken Dam, Part 2
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” (http://www.examiner.com/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.