Automated messages cause controversy in Snellville

The phones are ringing off the hook in Snellville these days.

Mayoral candidates Bruce Garraway and incumbent Jerry Oberholtzer are publicly fighting over Garraway's automated calls, one of which directs residents to call Joe Anderson, the former councilman who filed a complaint about Garraway earlier this month.

For residents who answer the phone call, the message directs them to "press 1," and they are transferred to Anderson's cell phone. On answering services, the message leaves Anderson's cell phone number.

"Joe Anderson put out a press release with his cell phone number on it. Joe wanted to talk with the citizens of Snellville. I was trying to help him out," Garraway wrote in an e-mail about the automated messages.

He was referring to a release sent earlier this month, when Snellville's city manager changed the city policy of unlocking doors of residents who lock their keys in their car after Anderson complained about a February incident in which an officer left the city limits to unlock Garraway's vehicle.

Anderson said he took Garraway up on his challenge, speaking to about 30 callers, some of whom were mortified they were connected to his phone without his permission.

"It tended to be a harassment," Anderson said of the calls. "When someone gives me lemons, I try to make lemonade. I enjoyed talking to the people and explaining to them my side of the story."

"Joe said he got me a couple votes," Oberholtzer said with a laugh.

Anderson said he filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission for the move.

Also this week, Oberholtzer took issue with an automated message Garraway left extolling the anti-sex predator law he spearheaded last year. Oberholtzer wrote on his blog that he supported the measure, and Garraway wrote a letter explaining that he never said Oberholtzer voted against the law.

In a script provided by Garraway, the message said Oberholtzer voted against funding the Police Department, not the law.

"Mayor Oberholtzer and I disagree, but not about protecting children from sexual predators. He supported my initiative, and I thanked him for doing so. I was literally making a peace offering, if you will," Garraway wrote in an e-mail, referring to the letter.

Suwanee ethics complaint

Tom McConnell's biggest fight isn't with Dave Williams, his opponent in the upcoming Suwanee mayor race.

Instead, McConnell is publicly sparring with current Mayor Nick Masino, who isn't seeking re-election.

McConnell filed an ethics complaint, accusing the mayor of "attacking" him in public. A three-member panel dismissed the complaint after nearly an hour-long deliberation Wednesday.

McConnell described events at a city groundbreaking where he was talking to potential voters and he claims Masino approached the group and made negative comments about McConnell.

"Even if these allegations are taken as true ... they do not rise to a violation of the ethics ordinance," City Attorney Gregory Jay said. "An elected official does not lose his right of free speech when he takes office. He has a legitimate stake in his successor."

McConnell said he was considering a state ethics complaint.

"We don't agree with the ruling of course," he said. "We feel any time an elected official makes inflammatory remarks ... that's an egregious act. ... How can this city claim they have a code of ethics while allowing these actions from the mayor?"

Masino denied the accusations and said the complaint was "petty" from a candidate who has already sued the city.

"It's laughable," he said. "He is simply trying to create political distractions. ... It's amateur politics. Suwanee is above this."

Speaker comes to town

Just before he comes to town, House Speaker Glenn Richardson got another vote of no on his plan to eliminate ad valorem taxes this week.

Snellville's City Council approved a resolution against the plan, which would fund government with sales taxes instead of property taxes. While U.S. Rep. John Linder's federal FairTax proposal is popular in the area, Richardson's plan has drawn ire from local officials, since the bill would require local governments to go through the state to get funding.

Richardson will present the plan in two forums today - at 4:30 p.m. at the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce in Duluth and at 6:30 p.m. at Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville.

Residents will be able to express their views in the town-hall-style meetings.

Political Notebook appears in the Thursday and Sunday editions of the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Camie Young can be reached via e-mail at camie.young@gwinnettdailypost.com.