Code of ethics hot topic at Lilburn debate

LILBURN -- The city of Lilburn has been no stranger to controversy recently.

In the last year, tensions over a proposed mosque expansion ultimately resulted in the Department of Justice alleging religious bias against the city, and a chief of police was dismissed over accusations of sexually charged conversations with employees.

So the question was posed during a Monday night debate with the candidates for two city council seats and mayor, positions to be voted on in just three weeks: Should Lilburn have a stricter code of ethics for its public officials?

The five "new" candidates for city council (Teresa Czyz and Thomas Wight for post one; Angel Alonso, Kay Bennett and Porter Deal for post two) were all for it, Deal saying he would "start right now.'

Alonso was perhaps the most adamant, saying the city needed to have a "big, major one."

"If there is one right now," he said, "I could probably come up with a lot of things that have been broken."

That left Scott Batterton, running to keep his current post two council spot, incumbent mayor Diana Preston and Johnny Crist, an incumbent councilman running for mayor, to voice their opinions and defend their past decisions.

"In my opinion, I feel like my conscience is clear," Batterton said. "I've acted ethically in every decision I've made on behalf of the city. If the city has one or wants one, I've got no problem with it. I have nothing to hide."

Said Preston: "I have acted in line with the state code of ethics. If Lilburn citizens want something more strict, I would agree to follow that."

Crist pledged "uncompromising integrity that will supersede anything we're required by law to sign."

The debate between mayoral candidates Crist and Preston grew tense at times Monday. During his opening statement, Crist said he wanted to show residents "the vast difference between where we are and where we could be."

"If we have a visionless mayor, our city flounders," he said.

After Crist spoke about the need to "open up" City Hall and improve communications between officials and residents -- using a Reagan-Gorbachev reference -- Preston fired back.

"Hold on to your pocketbooks, because he's talking about a lot of staff," she said. "You're talking much more in terms of operating budget."

Though formal elections will be held Nov. 8, city residents may vote early during normal business hours at Lilburn City Hall.