From the outset, the Snellville City Council’s first meeting of 2012 last Monday night was covered in that veil of uncertainty that often precedes anticipated discord. Unlike the thick fog that has blanketed the Atlanta area over the past few days, this was not from anything caused by nature, but instead from the long-standing antagonism that has occurred in the Snellville City Council for some time but most especially since the election of Kelly Kautz as Mayor back on Nov. 8. Kautz’ victory was somewhat of a surprise to some on the council who had openly campaigned for another candidate.
Because of one highly controversial agenda item, more than 100 Snellville residents turned out for Monday's city council meeting to listen to the discussion and to share their two cents' worth in the public comments segment. The Snellville City Council consists of Mayor Kautz and four councilmen: Diane Krause, Dave Emanuel, Bobby Howard, and Tom Witts.
But when 8:25 p.m. rolled around, and the 7:30 p.m. meeting still hadn’t started, the adults grew impatient and the children fidgety. More than once, I heard someone ask, “Why are they holding an executive meeting before the regular meeting instead of after and why are they keeping parents from getting school-age children home to a decent bedtime?” Good questions all!
Once the meeting did convene, the atmosphere was as strained as strained can be. I guess I am spoiled, coming from Dacula, where our city council and mayor have forged a most amiable relationship of respect and deference. I have never once witnessed tempers flare or the Mayor deliver anything in a “because I said so attitude.” Theirs is the kind of mature, considerate, professional relationship one would expect from those holding public office.
What I witnessed in Snellville, as someone from a nearby town with truthfully no dog in this hunt as far as council decisions affecting my life, was the most blatant governmental power trip I have witnessed at any of the city council and county commission meetings I have ever attended.
The hot topic of the whole evening was, of course, Mayor Kelli Kautz’ proposal that she nominate three new persons to be on the board of the highly successful grassroots community organization, STAT (Snellville Tourism and Trade). The group’s bylaws require the removal of three members before three more can be added.
One of the board members Ms. Kautz wants to remove is the founder of the Snellville Farmer’s Market, Gretchen Schulz. SFM is one of the wildly popular events sponsored by STAT, others include the Snellville Fall Festival and Popcorn in the Park. All of those events have been so successful because folks from all over Snellville, from all walks of life, have selflessly dedicated many hundreds of hours volunteering.
Mayor Kautz’ proposal has drawn fire because many Snellville residents have a great deal of affection for and admiration of the outstanding job Ms. Schultz has done as head of the Saturday Farmer’s Market.
STAT President Don Britt, who is also the manager of the Summit Chase Country Club, was only notified by email of Mayor Kautz’ proposal on Saturday, Jan. 7, just a few days before the city council meeting.
This is what Britt had to say about the Mayor’s proposal: "Mayor Kautz has placed on the city council agenda for Monday, Jan. 9 an item to replace all three city appointees to the Board of Snellville Tourism and Trade (STAT) and disregard the recommendations of the STAT nomination committee. This has all been done with no communication with our organization or its nomination committee. The people that she wants to place on our Board have not been involved in any of STAT’s activities nor have they been vetted by anyone involved with STAT. While they could be the most well intentioned people, we do not think it is wise to appoint people to run an organization without any prior experience in the organization. We welcome all volunteers, and if these people want to get involved, we ask them to please jump right in by joining STAT and volunteering to be on a committee or at the events."
STAT is a non-profit organization with their own bylaws. I believe the only money STAT receives from the city is the hotel/motel tax revenue. Their original intent and per their tax status was to not be responsible to the city or have the city give any direction to what they do. It would appear that there are legal questions to be sorted out regarding what the city can and cannot require from STAT.
There are several ideas floating about as to the motives of the highly controversial Snellville mayor regarding her desire to reshuffle the STAT board with new board appointees. Suffice it to say, not everyone is convinced that those motives involve keeping the best interests of Snellville and its citizens in mind or preserving the good reputation that in the last few years has been resuscitated through the concerted efforts of those currently serving as Snellville city councilmen.
Hindering any rational discussion and/or resolution of the issue is the fractured nature of the relationship between the council and the mayor. What I heard from the mayor at the Monday meeting was nothing less than a wielding of power simply because she thinks she can without any repercussions.
When councilmen disagreed with her or asked to raise a question, although she allowed them a few times, on most occasions, she screamed at them that they were out of order, often slamming her gavel in emphasis.
During the part of the meeting devoted to individual councilmen’s comments, Councilman Tom Witts had this to say: “This is Snellville, not Havana. We’re all adults here and all were trying to do is make sure the will of the majority on this council is heard.” He added, “I don’t think I’ve been yelled at like that since grade school. There is no excuse for what just happened!”
Later, during the public comments section of the council meeting, at least 10 people came to the podium down front to make their opinions known regarding not only the removal of the popular Ms. Schultz, but also to offer suggestions and pleas to the Snellville City Council and its mayor that they find a way to work together for the betterment of their city and put an end to this terrible divisiveness.
Two concrete suggestions offered Monday night are quite excellent and would be to this observer’s mind a giant step forward in ending this brick wall of a council. One of them stemmed from the council itself and calls for the appointment of a third party parliamentarian. A good deal of the dissension in meetings does seem to arise from lack of knowledge or uncertainty of Robert’s Rules of Order. The idea of an outside person to sit in on meetings as parliamentarian would be very useful provided they make certain that person has no ties to anyone on council. In other words, a “pure” appointment.
The second suggestion offered by a citizen of Snellville, a local Methodist minister, was that the council invite a trained mediator along to their upcoming annual retreat. Given the currently broken nature of the Snellville City Council, that sounds like particularly wise advice to me. The success of that retreat appears to be highly in doubt given the current state of affairs.
I left that meeting Monday night with such a sadness at what I had just witnessed. This is the local government of city whom I consider to be a sister city to my own of Dacula. I have many friends who live in Snellville. I hate to see what is happening over there.
I hope and pray that all of the council members and the mayor will look within themselves for the strength and commitment to put all of these divisive attitudes aside and concentrate only on the issues and problems affecting their community. The good citizens of Snellville deserve no less!