Old vs. new becomes key issue for city

SNELLVILLE - For nearly a decade now, Snellville politics has been plagued by talks of the "new guard" and the "old guard."

The debate often ends up categorizing candidates based on alliances and not issues.

This time around, some of the candidates in the five-way race of Snellville's latest City Council special election say they haven't heard as much talk about the past and present political regimes, but loyalties are still part of the political game.

Most of the political machinations have surrounded a pair of candidates - former councilman Warren Auld, who is trying to return to the job, and Teri Dippel, who sought the position last year against Smith - but there are three other candidates trying to bust through the mold of a two-party system in Snellville.

Garry Lapides, a perennial candidate who said his name is going to be on Snellville ballots for some time to come, win or lose, said his message is often lost in the old-guard/new-guard debate, which leaves most city residents jaded.

"People need to get out and vote," he said. "I don't care who they vote for, but go and vote. You will at least have taken part."

Another candidate, Kelly Kautz, agreed.

"In Snellville politics, there's the old school and the new regime. I don't align myself with either," she said. "But the residents don't feel like the city council and past administrations know what they need."

With a fifth candidate in Vince Buono, the July 18 special election to replace Mike Smith, who resigned after he was indicted in an Internet telemarketing scheme, seems headed for an Aug. 8 runoff.

Where loyalties lie

For the most part, Teri Dippel vs. Warren Auld has turned into the mayor vs. most of the rest of the city council.

Dippel has the endorsement of Mayor Jerry Oberholtzer along with Rep. Melvin Everson and former councilman Joe Anderson, who once all served alongside each other as the "new guard" that banished Snellville's old power politicians.

Auld is backed by Councilmen Bruce Garraway, Chad Smith and Robert Jenkins, none of whom have served more than four years in office but who are considered aligned with the former powerhouses.

The problem with the endorsements, Auld said, is he was recently brought into a political scrape over the city budget concerning police benefits.

"There is so much fiction being written and misinformation given out," he said. "In truth I am on record as clearly supporting raising salaries of police officers in this budget and benefits."

Auld said the incident touched on one of his campaign issues, having an open and accessible government.

Dippel said she never claimed to know what Auld's stance was, but she wanted to point out that his endorsers had talked of the idea.

"I'm just worried once there are three people on the council that support it, it'll pass," she said. "If bringing it to light brings enough people to the hearing (Thursday), then it's been successful."

Dippel said she wanted to cut council "freebies," such as unlimited copies and trips that are currently in the city budget, and she wanted to make sure commercial development is kept out of residential neighborhoods.

She said she supports the U.S. Highway 78 Community Improvement District's idea in reducing traffic, while Auld said he wanted to see traffic studies attached to development plans to try to combat congestion.

He said public safety would be his main focus on the council.

Red-light issue

Buono has distinguished himself among the field of slow-growth, low-taxes candidates in the race.

The local real estate investor is mostly interested in getting on the city council in order to sideline the city's red-light camera program.

Buono said he's amazed at the traffic slowdown before the intersection of U.S. Highway 78 and Ga. Highway 124, the first in the city to have cameras to catch red-light runners.

"It's just unbelievable," he said. "Wait until that shopping center opens at Webb Ginn House. That's going to make it even worse."

Buono said the monetary issue isn't as big a deal as the traffic one.

"They don't know if they should slam on the brakes or punch the gas," he said of drivers wary of the cameras.

He said an extension of the yellow light by one second would have a similar impact on stopping runners, and he said maybe people should be given a number of warnings per year.

All the other candidates said they support using cameras for traffic enforcement.

Other issues

Buono also wants to see commercial development owners paying a bigger share of the tax burden.

"It seems like with all these big box stores, our taxes should be going down," he said. "If they weren't there we wouldn't need two new motorcycle cops. They are the cause of all the extra traffic and extra crime They should have to pony up for the expense."

Kautz, an attorney, said she had the experience a lot of Snellville natives may have had.

She went off to college, and when she returned to her hometown she wasn't happy with what she found.

"What I'm about is quality, controlled development," she said. "I'm not saying no development and no growth. I know we need stores to help the elderly and bring in a new generation."

She said she wanted the city's greenspace and aesthetics regulations enforced.

While a councilman proposed fining land owners where homes and businesses sit vacant, Kautz said she would rather give a tax break to mom and pop stores so they could stay in business.

With a couple of elections under his belt, Lapides said he's still trying to get out his message on representing the public instead of simply voting based on his own interests.

"I have real concerns about Snellville, and I want to make sure the citizens get what they want," he said. "They are very interested in getting traffic under control and more police protection."

Lapides said he wants to put a halt to the frequent use of variances to get around city codes.