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Lilburn mayoral candidates debate city's vision

LILBURN -- Diana Preston and Johnny Crist have different views of where Lilburn is headed on its current path.

Preston is a retired educator, long-time City Council member and Lilburn's incumbent mayor. Crist is a pastor and nearing the end of his first term as a councilman. Both are mayoral candidates in Tuesday's election.

Lilburn Mayor

Name: Diana B. Preston (incumbent)

Age: 62

Occupation: Retired educator

Education: Specialist’s degree from University of Georgia; master’s degree from Georgia State University; bachelor’s degree from Clemson University.

Political Experience: Current Lilburn mayor, 18 years on Lilburn City Council

Family: Husband, Larry; adult daughters, Tracy and Jennifer; adult son, Brian; grandson, Preston

Name: Johnny Crist

Age: 60

Occupation: Sr. Pastor

Education: Doctorate of Ministry, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, Calif.

Political Experience: Current city councilman, one term

Family: Wife, Anne; children Benjamin, Barton, John, Joseph, Elizabeth, Elias, Emma and Evangeline

Lilburn City Council, Post 1

Name: Thomas Wight

Age: 49

Occupation: Attorney

Education: Juris doctorate from Wake Forest University; bachelor’s degree in urban planning from University of Utah

Political experience: None

Family: Wife, KayLynn; sons Alex, 15, and Adam, 13; daughters Lisa, 25, and Laura, 21

Name: Teresa A. Czyz

Occupation: Electrical bulk transmission planning engineer

Education: Bachelor’s degree in electric engineering technology from University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown

Political Experience: None

Family: Single

Lilburn City Council, Post 2

Name: Scott Batterton (incumbent)

Age: 65

Occupation: Dentist

Education: DDS, Emory University School of Dentistry; University of New Haven and University of Hartford

Political Experience: Lilburn mayor, 1996-2003; current councilman

Family: Wife, Betty; son Brian and daughter Victoria; two grandchildren

Name: Porter D. Deal

Age: 41

Occupation: Real Estate Broker

Education: Some college; Shiloh High School

Political Experience: None

Family: Wife, Kori; son Trey, 8; daughter Hannah, 6

Name: Angel Alonso Jr.

Age: 48

Occupation: Sales and management, sound technician

Education: Some college

Political Experience: None

Family: Wife, Teresa; daughters Jennifer, 13, and Jackie, 11

Name: Kay Bennett

Age: 57

Occupation: Homemaker

Education: Bachelor’s degree in home economics from University of Georgia

Political Experience: None

Family: Husband, Gary; Son Parker, 18

"We don't have a clear vision, we have no mission statement, we have no clear strategic plan and we don't hold the (Lilburn Community Improvement District and Downtown Development Authority) accountable," Crist said this week. "It's infrastructure and communications. We do not communicate with the people and we have no solid foundation upon which we're building."

Crist said being up close to Lilburn's government over the last four years opened his eyes to how it was failing its citizens, and made him want to run for mayor to change those things.

Preston, who spent 18 years on the City Council before becoming mayor, has openly contested Crist's statements that Lilburn has no strategic plan. She said the council has been "putting in place the necessary redevelopment tools" under her guidance and will "reverse the trend of shrinking tax base and increasing expenses."

"During the last four years I have given almost full-time effort to supporting staff as they have worked hard to get the redevelopment infrastructure in place," she said. "The same kind of effort will be needed the next four years as we work to bring redevelopment to Lilburn, and I am willing to give that effort."

Preston pointed to several key projects in the works: Greenway Trail and Main Street improvements, a new library and city hall and an updated code of ordinances that will "make us competitive with other metro communities that are trying to attract redevelopment."

"We also have a well-qualified staff who have been hired since I came into office who are focused on bringing restaurants, shops, an attraction venue and possibly a hotel to Lilburn," she said.

Crist, a father of eight, isn't buying it. After developing the strategic plan he claims is missing, Crist said his priorities as mayor would be redeveloping downtown Lilburn -- putting "energy" into area and "making Old Town work" -- and improving code enforcement. He said he wants to begin working with the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce.

"I'm going to put a tent in their front yard," he said.

Both candidates for Lilburn's next mayor said they want to make strides toward a better Lilburn. Preston stressed patience, Crist preached urgency.

"I have no doubt we will be successful and the end result will be what we are dreaming of today," Preston said. "But it will require time and dedication."

Said Crist: "We can't just let our poor city spin into oblivion."

CITY COUNCIL, POST 1

Lilburn residents will also vote for two City Council seats Tuesday. Post 1 pits Teresa Czyz and Thomas Wight, a pair of political newcomers.

Czyz is a Pennsylvania native, a transmission engineer and fancies herself a "problem solver." As a councilwoman, she would want to tackle code enforcement and empty storefronts along U.S. Highway 29.

"I see it as an opportunity to have an influence on the kind of businesses that we want to bring to Lilburn," she said, "and bring in businesses that want to make Lilburn their full-time home."

Wight is a defense attorney who has lived in Lilburn for 12 years. He said he got into the council race because he didn't like the way the city's government was spending tax dollars. As a councilman, Wight said he would stop annexing empty storefronts and bring more fiscal responsibility to Lilburn.

"We're our city where our assets are our neighborhoods, our asset is our community, and I think the City Council has lost sight of that," he said.

CITY COUNCIL, POST 2

The election for City Council, Post 2 includes incumbent councilman and former mayor Scott Batterton facing three political rookies.

Like Preston, Batterton said Lilburn's current administration is making strides toward a better future.

"At this point we've got some really exciting projects in the works and I'd like to see them come to fruition," he said. Batterton pointed to the DDA as a positive tool toward drawing business to Lilburn and said he had "some expertise" in the vital task of working with local law enforcement.

Angel Alonso, Kay Bennett and Porter Deal are all vying for Batterton's spot.

Alonso is a Lilburn businessman with a background in music, and has been a familiar face at City Council meetings in recent years. He played a vocal role in protesting the now-approved Dar-E-Abbas mosque expansion. He has taken a platform of transparency and keeping businesses in Lilburn.

"I think people want to vote for me because they're tired of the back-door deals," Alonso said. "They're tired of everything being done and they're not being informed."

Bennett is a homemaker who has lived in Lilburn for 41 years. She called Lilburn's current image "terrible," and, like Crist, said the city should look to the Gwinnett Chamber for help bringing business to Lilburn. Code enforcement must be improved, especially on weekends, she said.

"I just think I can bring new ideas and a new excitement to the council," she said.

Deal is a real estate broker who, after an unsuccessful run at the state house last year, said he still "has a calling" to get involved. In addition to business development, he pointed to fiscal responsibility and rebuilding residents' trust in the government.

"I believe I'm an honest and straightforward guy," Deal said. "I'm dealing with you straight, and I believe I've identified what the majority of the voters think."