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Snellville candidates hope to unify city council

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Once again, Snellville is a city divided.

In the city where everybody is somebody, but the political leaders just can't get along, a line has been drawn dividing the candidates in Tuesday's election.

Incumbent Barbara Bender and political newcomers Tom Witts and Jackie O. Ginn released a campaign flier with the trio running together, leaving incumbent Robert Jenkins and newcomers Mike Sabbagh and Niria Dominguez Baggett grouped together as the "other side."

Baggett said the three are independent thinkers who were grouped together by default, but that the three aren't diametrically opposed.

In fact, all six candidates say they want the same thing: unity and professionalism on the City Council that has become a cliche of in-fighting, even leading to headlines about the police chief escorting the mayor to the restroom.

Jenkins, one of the major players who turned a toilet left in his yard into a flower pot after the mayor filed a code enforcement complaint, said the only way to solve the city's problems is to elect his slate.

That way, the 3-3 votes that have stagnated the city will be broken.

"That's our basic problem," said Jenkins, who wants the city charter changed to take away the mayor's vote. "That spills over into other areas."

Jenkins said he wants to the see the Police Department filled back to levels he a couple of years ago, and once the economy improves, he hopes to see the impacts of a senior housing ordinance he wrote.

To balance the city budget, Jenkins said he wants to see cuts in areas of government other than police, but his challenger Witts said he got into the race when he saw Jenkins vote down a cut to his own salary when the city staff was facing a furlough.

"I think all the employees earn their income," he said, adding that as a business owner, "All my employees get paid before I get paid."

Witts said he wants to concentrate on building the city's business sector, but that is hard when the council has a reputation.

"The city is on the back-burner. They aren't for anything, they are against what anyone else is for," he said. "Everything they do affects the bottom line. The bottom line these days is the citizens."

Bender, like Witts, wants to see the Snellville city center, a project that begin with the building of City Hall but has stagnated since, brought to fruition.

She said the disunity has stalled projects like that because new issues are brought up each month.

"We are behind Suwanee. We are behind Duluth. We are behind Lawrenceville. We are losing business to those areas," she said.

Bender's challenger is Baggett, who got involved when a proposed road and commercial corridor endangered her Nob Hill community several years ago.

She said she was unhappy with how Bender handled the situation, and was worried the project would have changed the character of her neighborhood.

"I think the direction they are going is not necessarily the direction the citizens want," Baggett said, adding that she thought the civic duty of the council representative is to work for what the citizens want.

The Cuban-born attorney said partisanship has been one of the problems with the country, and she wants to be an independent mind on the board.

Like Baggett, Sabbagh became focused on city politics when his neighborhood faced the opening of a business at its entrance.

For Sabbagh, that was the crematory that opened in a home last year, causing a lawsuit.

"That's a no-no in my book. Don't encroach on the families," he said. "I don't know why they weren't asking the right questions."

Also an immigrant, born in Jordan, Sabbagh is seeking the city's fifth post, which Warren Auld is leaving as he runs for the Legislature.

He is running against Ginn, the vice president of the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce who, like Witts and Bender, is interested in setting the stage for a better business community.

"Snellville has just been stuck where it is. It has all the potential," she said. "The major things just don't go through and it's holding us back."

Both Sabbagh and Ginn said they wanted to focus on the police department, with Ginn pushing for a new facility and Sabbagh saying he wants to fully staff the department.

During Tuesday's election, voters will also consider a referendum on tax allocation districts.

The districts allow tax revenues to be set at a certain level and any increase in taxes, because revitalization boosted property values, are set aside for revitalization. The financing was used to create Atlanta's Atlantic Station, and were adopted in many other local cities. A county referendum passed last year.