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Lawrenceville political candidates talk financial transparency

LAWRENCEVILLE -- The six candidates for Lawrenceville's upcoming election talked about transparency in government, their opposition to the expansion of Briscoe Field and more during a forum Thursday evening.

The Lawrenceville Neighborhood Alliance's third annual Candidate Forum brought together Mayor Rex Millsaps and his opponent, former Councilwoman Judy Jordan Johnson; incumbent Councilman Mike Crow and opponent Tony Powell, the former city attorney; and incumbent Councilwoman Marie Beiser and opponent Leon Smith.

The Neighborhood Alliance posed 10 questions to the candidates dealing with neighborhood concerns, quality of life, economic development and government transparency before opening the floor to the audience.

When the Neighborhood Alliance questioned the Council's efforts to be transparent with the city residents, citing 40 special-called meetings that have been held since 2007, Millsaps said many of the meetings were held as part of the budget process. He accused the City Council members of being removed from the budget process.

"If I can't get input from the council on the budget, how can I get it from the citizens?" he said.

Johnson, who served on the council with late Mayor Bobby Sikes, said she would change the budget process back to the way it worked when she served. Currently, the budget is passed in a special work session. She said the budget would be voted on during the August meeting, as the city ordinances say it should be.

Later, when discussing disclosure of financial statements, Millsaps said the council members "don't know how to read a balance sheet."

Beiser responded, saying she does know how to read one. She also remarked during the forum that she thinks the city is transparent with its finances.

Powell, however, said there isn't a clear view of the amount of money the city has in the bank. If elected, he said he'll change that.

"Nothing about the financial affairs of the city is private," he said. "Every penny should be disclosed. ... You (the residents) should know how much money we have in the bank."

Crow said he thinks the most efficient way to get financial reports to the residents would be to include them with utility bills. He also took a dig at his opponent, saying the city complies with state regulations on financial reporting and anything doing things differently would not be the way "attorneys have told us to do it."

Smith said he supports making financial statements and budgets available to residents, but he doesn't think they should be force fed the information.

"But make it available to them," he said. "At least it's there for them if they want it."

When discussing the proposed airport expansion, all of the candidates said they opposed that action. They also said they did not think the economic benefits would outweigh the damage an expansion would do to neighborhoods.