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Snellville mayoral candidates square off over issues

SNELLVILLE -- The city's two mayoral candidates -- Barbara Bender and Kelly Kautz -- faced off Thursday evening in a debate sponsored by South Gwinnett High School's first period AP Government class. More than 300 people turned out to hear where each woman stands on the city's key issues.

During the two-hour event, the candidates were asked pointed questions formulated by the students. The major differences between the candidates proved to be economic development and effectiveness on city council.

"I am not (running for mayor) for the fame and the fortune. I"m running because this is my hometown," said Kautz, who grew up in the city. Kautz portrayed herself as the candidate who listens to the city's residents, serving as a barrier between business encroachment and private residences.

"Snellville is first and foremost a bedroom community," she said.

Bender touted herself as a progressive candidate with a vision for the good of the entire city, both businesses and residents, saying that she is proud to run on her voting record as a former council member and mayor pro tem.

The proposed Snellville Town Center was a key issue Thursday. Asked about her vision for Town Center, Kautz said she has always supported the plan but that there is no funding for it.

Bender said the Town Center and Town Green are just what the city needs, both for economic growth and to maintain the small town feel.

Repeatedly, the city's economic health became an issue of contention between the two candidates. Bender said Snellville is "behind the eight ball" with respect to its economic vitality. Kautz disagreed, listing retailers and other businesses that call Snellville home.

The second half of the debate, while not heated, became more animated when the question was posed about whether Bender is a member of an exclusive clique and votes accordingly, an accusation lobbed often by Kautz. "In order to pass anything, you have to have four votes," Bender replied. "I'm not sure that's a clique."

Kautz replied that she has been considered an outsider, a member of the "old guard," since she first became a member of city council, alleging that her ideas are often not approved by her council colleagues simply because they are hers.

Other questions posed by the students addressed public safety and property values. Both candidates agreed that public safety is a top priority and that Snellville has one of the best police departments in the nation. While the women disagreed on how to stem the bleeding of property values in the city, both agreed that something must be done soon to protect and eventually increase value.

With respect to the issue of Sunday alcohol sales, both candidates stated publicly that voters have the right to decide the matter and that their personal opinions do not factor into the issue.

In their closing statements, both candidates encouraged voters to do their homework, to research their candidate websites and, above all, to vote in the Nov. 8 election.