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Snellville mayoral candidates have different styles

SNELLVILLE - For the first time in three decades, Emmett Clower won't be on Snellville mayoral ballots.

But even after a campaign eight years ago to oust the long-time mayor out of office and an effort to keep it that way four years ago, politics in Snellville haven't gotten any easier.

This year, incumbent Jerry Oberholtzer is battling Bruce Garraway, the man who served as his running mate four years ago.

Talks of "old guard and new guard," a fixture in Snellville politics for several election cycles, have vanished this time around.

Instead, the men are sparring over political philosophy and style in a campaign that has brought about complaints from the city manager to the Federal Communications Commission.

Both point to "petty" disagreements as the turning point of the relationship, but the politicians are promoting sometimes polarizing issues to the electorate for their votes Nov. 6.

Also Tuesday, political newcomer Marilyn Swinney is taking on Kelly Kautz, who is hoping to win her first complete term, while Todd Warner was unopposed to replace Garraway on the council.

Mayoral race

Both Garraway and Oberholtzer have talked about change in their campaigns for City Hall.

"Change is coming. It's, how do we handle it? Do we embrace it?" Oberholtzer said. "There's a lot of tough issues and I've never run from it. I've always told (people) how I felt."

Garraway, though, wants to take a slower approach, respecting the city elders while succumbing to new pressures.

"We are at a pivotal moment," he said. "You have to be able to honor the past and have everyone have a buy-in for the future. Change has to be brought in slowly ... If you have too much change too quickly, it's going to change the face of the community."

One of the most visible examples of this difference in philosophy occurred several years ago, when city leaders put forth a referendum to allow liquor by the drink at local restaurants.

The referendum passed, but Garraway and others balked at the idea of allowing alcohol to be served Sundays.

Oberholtzer said the city is still suffering from that decision with some recent restaurant closings.

"It's not a moral issue. We've put our businesses at a disadvantage," said Oberholtzer, vowing to bring up the issue again if he is re-elected.

Garraway, though, thinks residents needed the slower approach after decades as a dry city.

While Oberholtzer said he's ready to move on traffic solutions after years of studying the problem, Garraway said he wants a traffic master plan for the city, focusing on arterials and intersections outside the U.S. Highway 78 and Ga. Highway 124 core area of the city.

Garraway tends to "sweat the small stuff," the issues from homeowners who call him personally and request a traffic light or a police patrol. Oberholtzer criticizes him for "micromanaging," a problem that caused a fracas earlier this year when Jeff Timler resigned as Snellville's first city manager.

"I think 'micromanage' can be a word of perception," Garraway said, adding that he did not believe voters elected him to "shift the buck" to county employees. "It's all about customer service."

But Oberholtzer pointed out that Garraway voted for Snellville to enter into a city manager form of government, where the employees handle day-to-day business.

"If you don't like the system, change it," he said.

Garraway has ideas about adding police officers and assigning them to patrol the city park and the local high school, but Oberholtzer said the city doesn't have a lot of money for that, and the city is actually safer. Besides, Oberholtzer would rather the police chief decide where his resources are sent.

Instead, the incumbent wants to focus more on providing some tax equity for city residents who have to pay county taxes and revitalizing the downtown area near the new City Hall.

City Council race

Even after the past experience, both Garraway and Oberholtzer have unofficial running mates in the upcoming election.

Garraway is running with Councilwoman Kelly Kautz, while Oberholtzer supports Marilyn Swinney, although the two run separate campaigns.

Both Kautz and Swinney are interested in driving the city with economic development.

"I'm very interested in the downtown development authority, in bringing business to the city, filling empty stores," political newcomer Swinney said. "I think we can build Snellville into a global city."

Kautz wants to try another method to kick-start a business boon. She has proposed reactivating the city's Economic Development Authority, which would allow the city to offer grants and incentives. Her proposal was tabled until January.

"We have all these vacant buildings. I want to fill them," Kautz said, adding that she is seeking a comprehensive economic development plan as an extension of the city's current planning. In the process, she wants to include the nearby cities of Grayson and Loganville, whose residents often commute through Snellville on their way to work.

While she is acting on it separately, Kautz said her drive to create a city arts center could also help boost interest from companies.

She has created a nonprofit and hopes to open a 500-seat theater with an art gallery and workshops within the next two years.

Swinney, who says she is "an independent voice and mind" and is not campaigning with Oberholtzer, said she wants to work with the local community improvement district to handle traffic solutions.

She wants to use the city's fiber optic infrastructure to convince companies to build satellite offices in Snellville, and she wants to boost greenspace in the city, especially in senior housing communities.

SideBar:

Mayor

Bruce Garraway

Age: 36

Occupation: Teacher

Education: Bachelor's degree from Oklahoma Baptist College, master's in education from Crown College

Political experience: Member of Snellville City Council for four years, governor's appointee to Juvenile Justice Board, former member of Snellville Board of Appeals

Family: Wife, Rebekah; daughter, Emily, 2

Contact: www.brucegarraway.com

Jerry Oberholtzer

Age: 48

Occupation: Professional engineer

Education: Bachelor of science in civil engineering from Clemson University

Political experience: Mayor for four years, four years on City Council, three years on Gwinnett Water and Sewerage Authority, presently member of Gwinnett Development Advisory Committee

Family: Wife, Roxann; sons Jerry, 22, Matthew, 20, and Paul, 18

Contact: www.jerryoberholtzer.com

City Council Post 1

Kelly Kautz

Age: 30

Occupation: Attorney

Education: Law degree from the University of Georgia

Political experience: One year on Snellville City Council, former member of city planning board

Family: Single

Contact: www.kellykautz.com

Marilyn Swinney

Age: 66

Occupation: Retired

Education: High school

Political experience: None

Family: Single; children Tamara, 43, and Kevin, 42, and two grandchildren

Contact: www.marilynswinney.com