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Two council seats up for grabs in Lawrenceville

LAWRENCEVILLE - Voters here will pick two City Council members when they go to the polls Nov. 8.

The seven candidates - three in one race, four in another - range from long-time office holders to political newcomers.

How to manage downtown revitalization is a common issue, while crime and traffic are mentioned by some.

The contest for one post features three men who are well-known in the community, including two who spent time together on the council and attend the same church.

The other race pits four relative newcomers against one another as they vie for an open seat.

Friends?

In the most heated contest, incumbent Rick Johnson is seeking a third term, while two challengers have tossed their hats into the ring.

One of them is former Councilman James "Sonny" Brand, who lost his seat one year ago. The other is retired high school principal Robert "Bob" Clark.

Johnson, a funeral director, said he's seeking re-election so he can take care of unfinished business: building a performing arts center that will house the Aurora Theatre; building a new parking deck downtown; and implementing rules that are intended to help revitalize downtown by ensuring quality development.

"I just don't want to leave those things half done," Johnson said.

If re-elected, he also wants to focus on neighborhood blight that stems from poorly maintained property - or more specifically, issues like uncut grass, junked cars and overcrowded homes.

"I think you have to have a heart for Lawrenceville, not just nine blocks of downtown, but for the entire city of Lawrenceville," Johnson said.

Johnson also said he would not loosen regulations governing the type of development that occurs in downtown Lawrenceville and what that development looks like. The rules were adopted as part of the city's downtown revitalization plans.

"I think the council has voted the plans in place and we need to adhere to what the ordinance says," Johnson said.

To provide relief from natural gas prices that are expected to spike sharply this winter, Johnson said he also wants to let citizens on fixed incomes spread their utility payments across the year so they are more manageable.

Brand, whose time on the City Council totals 26 years, said he is running because a firm, experienced hand is needed on the council.

"There just doesn't seem to be any accountability up there," said Brand, who is particularly critical of Johnson.

"He's incapable of making a decision," Brand said.

Brand is also critical of how the city has implemented part of its downtown revitalization plan that governs development in the city center.

Brand said the city has done a bad job explaining its downtown plans, and that has caused property owners to fight the development rules and call for them to be loosened. Brand said he opposes that.

Brand also questioned why the city is spending more money than it initially thought it would on a playhouse that will be used by the Aurora Theatre.

"I love what's going on around the square, but I'm not pleased with the additional $1.5 million they are spending on the Aurora Theatre," Brand said.

Asked why he would be a good councilman, Brand said, "Because I've got the experience and know what's going on. That's more than any of them up there now.

"We've got major problems that we've got to face and I have plenty of experience and time; I'm retired."

Brand said he considers Johnson, who he worships with at Hebron Baptist Church, and who sat beside him during council meetings, a friend. Likewise, Johnson said he considers Brand a friend.

While Brand and Johnson have several elections under their belts, this is Clark's first.

Clark said he would work to ensure the city does not raise taxes, and he wants to use city surpluses to minimize expected increases in natural gas prices the city charges its customers.

Crime is also a "critical issue," Clark said. He said he would try to increase police patrols, and he would support the Police Department and work to meet its needs, whether that means additional crime-fighting technology or better benefits.

Clark said the city has made a commendable attempt to craft downtown development regulations aimed at revitalization, but some parts of the rules need to be revisited.

Clark said he would keep the rules intact for a nine-block area that makes up the downtown core and includes the courthouse square, but he favors relaxing the rules for surrounding blocks that are on the edge of downtown.

Clark said his time as principal at Parkview High School provided him with insight into the community, and that would make him a good addition to the council.

"My experiences have made me a leader and I can bring those same skills to the City Council," Clark said.

Friendly competition

The decision by longtime Councilman Mahlon Burson to not seek re-election has created a four-way contest for an open seat.

For whomever wins, it will be their first taste of elected office.

"I'm ready to enter politics. I've been a business owner here in Lawrenceville for 17 years, and I'm ready to maybe have a say in how the government is," said Jimmy Knick.

Knick said he wants to make council terms four years instead of two, and he wants to switch the city to a city manager form of government, which would put one person in charge of all aspects of the city's day-to-day operations.

Knick, a downtown business owner, said he also favors junking the city's downtown development rules and starting over. The rules in place now are squelching revitalization, he said.

"Downtown can grow and thrive, but we're going to have to start again if the businesses there now are going to survive."

Overall, Knick, who has become a regular at city meetings, said he's the common man's candidate, but he also brings his experience as a business owner to the table.

"If the people are ready for my views and ideas, they will vote for me," Knick said.

The disagreement over the downtown development rules prompted Peter "P.K." Martin to run.

Martin, an insurance salesman, said he wants to make minor changes to the downtown regulations, but nothing major. Above all else, they should be understandable, he said.

"I want people to understand how it affects their businesses," Martin said. "I want homeowners to understand how it increases their property values and their quality of life."

Martin, who co-owns two buildings downtown and has no previous political experience, said he favors the creation of an architectural review board for downtown development.

Letting a board review proposed buildings would provide some flexibility on the architectural standards, and the standards could then serve as guides to what structure should look like, instead of the letter of the law, he said.

"I think that will make it more easy to work with the architectural standards," said Martin, who also wants to create more greenspace in the city.

Gene Wasserman hopes to springboard from the city's Downtown Development Authority, which he chairs, to the City Council.

"My experience as chairman of the DDA gives me a strong basis for understanding the really critical issues facing Lawrenceville," said Wasserman, an attorney who now works for am Atlanta firm that researches commercial property for potential buyers.

Wasserman said he wants to make Lawrenceville a better place to live, and that includes improving property values citywide through downtown revitalization.

He also said he wants to ensure city government is open and accessible to the public, and he wants to work with county and state transportation officials on reducing traffic chokepoints in the city.

R.D. "Doug" Nash said he wants to make sure the city's employee pay scale doesn't cause valuable city workers to leave for other jobs.

He also wants to focus on crime. He said burglaries in the city have jumped dramatically in the past three years, and he blames that on what he says are low-quality homes that have been allowed in the city.

"My main concern is for the quality of life in Lawrenceville," said Nash, a retired home builder.

"I want to better things for city employees and try to get crime back under control, and the only way to do that is to try to correct some of the decisions that have been made in the past."

Voting is at City Hall, 70 S. Clayton St.

Council seat

Jimmy Knick

•Age: 57

•Education: General Equivalency Degree (GED)

•Occupation: Owns Jimmy's Remodeling and Paint

•Political experience: None

•Family: Wife, Joyce; two grown children, Scott and Kelly.

Peter K. Martin IV

•Age: 28

•Education: International affairs degree, Georgia Tech.

•Occupation: Insurance agent at Hood Insurance Agency

•Political experience: None

•Family: Wife, Amanda; daughter, Charlotte, 7 months

R.D. "Doug" Nash

•Age: 59

•Education: Attended DeKalb Tech

•Occupation: Retired home builder

•Political experience: None

•Family: Wife, Mary; three grown children, Robert Kevin Nash, Dana Joy Miller and Russell Nash

Gene Wasserman

•Age: 35

•Education: Accounting degree, University of Maryland; law degree, University of Florida

•Occupation: Commercial real estate consultant

•Political experience: None

•Family: Wife, Heather; daughter, Kiersten, 4 months.

Council seat

Rick Johnson (i)

•Age: 50

•Education: Took classes at University of Georgia and mortuary science college

•Occupation: Funeral director at Tom M. Wages Funeral Service Inc.

•Political experience: Two terms totaling four years on City Council

•Family: Wife, Tommie Ann; children, Matthew, 24, Kathryn, 21, and Sam, 18.

James "Sonny" Brand

•Age: 68

•Education: Took classes at University of Georgia

•Occupation: Retired pharmacy owner

•Political experience: 26 years total on City Council

•Family: Wife, Rosalyn; three grown children

Robert "Bob" Clark

•Age: 60

•Education: doctorate in education from University of Tennessee-Knoxville

•Occupation: Retired Parkview High School principal

•Political experience: None

•Family: Wife, Valerie Clark; children, Pearson, 16, Barrett, 14