Pitts, Broadbent, Henry Debate Fulton County Issues

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Photograph by Dwanda Farmer

(APN) ATLANTA — Three candidates for at-large seats on the Fulton County Commission participated in a debate sponsored by Atlanta Progressive News yesterday, October 19, 2010, at the Spring4th Center in Midtown.

Incumbent Fulton County Chairman John Eaves, a Democrat, did not participate. Steve Broadbent, his Republican challenger, did.

For the District 2 (at large) seat, Robb Pitts, the Democratic incumbent, and Lori Henry, the Republican, both participated.

The debate covered a lot of deep issues at the heart of the movement by North Fulton County to secede from Fulton County and re-create Milton County. The debate was also at times tense, given sharp disagreements over issues or even the underlying facts.

As previously reported by APN, former Atlanta City Councilwoman Mary Norwood (Post 2-at-large) had collected over 23,000 signatures of Fulton County voters in support of her attempt to get on the ballot as an independent candidate; however, the Eaves campaign fought to keep her off the ballot, and in the end, Norwood did not get on the ballot due to a late filing fee payment.

The outcome of the Chairman’s race could hinge on what would-be Norwood supporters–who ranged across the political spectrum–will choose to do. Will Norwood supporters be able vote for Eaves, after he fought to prevent voters from having more meaningful choices on the ballot? Will they vote for Broadbent? Or will they simply stay home, a move which still helps Mr. Broadbent?

The first question was about candidates’ credentials. Broadbent said he had worked for many large companies, had served in the military, ran a small business, and had been a US Treasury appointee under the President George Bush (Sr.) Administration.

Henry said she was a mother and had served for several years on the City Council of Roswell.

Pitts said he had served as President of the City Council of Atlanta and was currently the incumbent for Fulton County Commissioner District 2.

The second question was whether the candidates support the creation of Milton County. All three said they did not.

Broadbent argued, “A vote for John Eaves is a vote for Milton County,” and Henry reiterated such an argument in her remarks. They argue that North Fulton voters are so disgusted with what they see as a poorly managed Fulton County, that the continuation of the current Democratic leadership will only increase the demand by North Fulton voters to secede.

They both say they are running to reform Fulton County, not dismantle it.

Pitts said that he opposed the creation of Milton County and believed that the future of Fulton County was at stake in the election, implying that continuing the current Democratic leadership was the only way to keep the county together.

In a follow-up question to Broadbent and Henry, APN asked whether the creation of Milton County was completely off the table for both of them. In other words, “If you get elected and two years from now you say I tried to reform Fulton County but I couldn’t, would you be open to creating Milton County then? Or is it completely off the table for you?”

Broadbent said he was certain he would be able to reform Fulton County and therefore disagreed with the premise of the question. Henry also said she was sure she could reform the county.

Dwanda Farmer, an audience member and former candidate for Atlanta City Council Post 1-at-large, interjected, “You didn’t answer the question.” Broadbent insisted he had answered the question.

Later during the question and comment section, Farmer said she felt threatened by Broadbent’s statement that unless she voted for him, the citizens of North Fulton would push for Milton County. She also repeated that Broadbent had not answered the question.

APN then re-asked the question, is Milton County completely off the table for you? Neither Broadbent nor Henry would say that it was, insisting that if they were elected it was a question that no one would be asking. Presumably, though, if it was off the table, they would have simply said so.

In the third and fourth questions, APN asked Broadbent and Henry to explain what North Fulton’s concerns were specifically as it relates to service delivery. Henry mentioned trash pick-up as one item, and said there was a range of things. Broadbent said North Fulton voters were unhappy with subsidizing the residents of South Fulton, particularly unincorporated South Fulton.

APN asked whether Broadbent and Henry recognized that there may be a greater need for government services in South Fulton, and both agreed that there was a greater need and that they were not interested in cutting social services.

Pitts took issue with APN’s characterization of South Fulton residents as more needy and said they would be offended to be described as needy because he said they were hard-working people. [APN would note that there is not a contradiction between being hard-working and needing social services.]

Pitts also argued with the notion that South Fulton residents were being subsidized by North Fulton residents. He said that due to state legislation known as the 2005 Shafer amendment, by State Sen. David Shafer (R-District 48), unincorporated South Fulton services like public safety services had to be paid for solely with South Fulton revenue. The amendment requires special services district taxes to be spent in the area from which the taxes are collected.

Previously, however, Broadbent had told APN in an interview that taxpayers in the newly-formed cities of North Fulton were tired of paying for their own respective firestations and the firestation for unincorporated South Fulton. Pitts insisted such a usage of taxpayer funds was not possible because the funds legally have to be segregated.

Still, Broadbent and Henry raised concerns about wasteful spending by the County, with two examples being an aviation museum at the Fulton County Airport-Charlie Brown Field and the Wolf Creek Amphitheatre in South Fulton.

Pitts said he has always argued that amphitheatres, whether in North or South Fulton, do not generate revenue for the County.

APN also asked Pitts to respond to recent accusations that a County investigator was fired and the Office of Professional Standards was closed at the request of Commissioners who didn’t want allegations of theft of city funds to come out before the election.

One County official had previously been found to have used a city credit card to divert funds for homeless people to pay for supplies for her own private wedding and events company. The official was being investigated until the investigator was fired and OPS closed.

Pitts said he was in a closed-door Session with Commissioners but that “the issue” never came up. Pitts said the investigator who was fired had been fired for reasons having nothing to do with the theft allegation. Pitts said he was briefed by the County’s legal department as soon as the media reports surfaced.

Pitts added the US Attorney may already be investigating the sitution, but that the US Attorney would not notify the County of the investigation until they were ready to do so. Pitts said if there was any evidence of illegal interference by a Commissioner, that he would join in Broadbent and Henry’s requests for a federal investigation.

Also during question and comment time, APN Staff Writer Gloria Tatum said she had been driving through the area of Milton and had seen numerous multi-acres mansions in the area. She asked whether the move to create Milton County was simply driven by wealthy people wanting to keep their money for themselves.

Henry responded that she could not answer as to anyone else’s motives, but that was not her motive. She added that she lived in a modest home with her family.

APN acknowledged all the candidates for participating, in particular the Republican candidates who were willing to reach across the ideological aisle and subject themselves to difficult questions from progressives in Atlanta. APN concluded by saying that at the city and county level, a politician’s party affiliation was less important than their willingness to stand for working families, their independence, and their accessibility.

Following the Commission candidates’ debate, the second part of the forum consisted of a debate among candidates for Fulton County Superior Court Judge. Chloe Dallaire, Karlise Yvette Grier, Clarence Johnson, and Kelly Amanda Lee each participated; Shelitha Robertson, the fifth candidate, did not attend.

(END/2010)

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