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Witts defeats Jenkins for Snellville seat

SNELLVILLE -- Snellville's reputation as the city where a councilman has a toilet for "yard art" is over.

Councilman Robert Jenkins, whose untidy yard was the subject of a code compliance case after the mayor complained, was ousted Tuesday.

With a vote of 845 to 1,039, he lost to businessman Tom Witts.

Incumbent Barbara Bender squeaked by Niria Baggett. Only six votes divided the two, according to unofficial results.

While Bender and Witts ran in a slate with Jackie O. Ginn, it was electronics engineer Mike Sabbagh who won the third contested council seat, besting Ginn by a vote of 954 to 917.

All three winners said Tuesday's election results will clear the political gridlock in the city.

"It was a white-knuckle ride, but I guess we pulled it out," Witts said. "From this point forward, the people of Snellville come first and politics comes second."

Jenkins, who served two terms and was a frequent combatant of Mayor Jerry Oberholtzer, did not return a phone call seeking comment Tuesday.

Witts said he believed his race had the biggest margin of victory because of an "anti" movement against Jenkins.

"My job now is to show people who were voting anti-Robert that being pro-Tom is OK too," he said.

Bender said she was "ecstatic" about her win.

"We have the momentum now to move the city forward in a positive direction," she said, adding that the 3-3 vote stalemate at council meetings that often halted movement on issues would now be overcome.

"Hopefully we'll all be able to get along very well," she said.

Sabbagh said he's going to have to recover from a sunburn on his bald spot after spending all day Tuesday waving to drivers who passed through Snellville.

But he said he ended the day by hugging his competitor, Ginn, and vowing to work hard for the city.

"That is an incredible feat that we have done today," Sabbagh said Tuesday. "I'm ready to be able to give a new perspective to the voters. ... Hopefully we will not be a divided council. We need to focus on the issues."

Also on the ballot Tuesday, a referendum proposing Snellville have power to use tax allocation districts to fund redevelopment was defeated.

The funding mechanism, which was used to build Atlanta's Atlantic Station, has been adopted in nearly every local city and, after a first unsuccessful vote, was approved for Gwinnett's government last year.

On Snellville's ballots, 797 people voted yes and 1,018 voted no.