A Peachtree Corners welcome sign greets motorists entering the Paul Duke Parkway. (File Photo)
PEACHTREE CORNERS -- Lynette Howard has had it on her mind a lot.
Taking office just months after the commission chair resigned and a commissioner was indicted, Howard, a county commissioner, knows how a bad batch of elected officials can hurt a government.
So now that the community she has helped nurture for decades is becoming a city, she knows how important the first City Council election Tuesday is to creating a foundation for Peachtree Corners.
"The council needs to be stronger than any of its parts," Howard said. "These are part-time positions that are being elected to make policy for the largest city in Gwinnett. Each individual needs to be strong on the council, but be a true team player. A bike needs two tires, one set of handle bars, gears, frame, brakes and a seat. Seven of any would be too much, but less and there is no bike."
While only one man stepped up to become Peachtree Corners' first mayor -- Mike Mason -- 19 people qualified for the six council seats.
And while most cities only have a handful of positions to fill each year because of staggered terms, the pressure is on to fill the entire council with one election -- well, and maybe a runoff.
None of the candidates have experience in elected office, and Mason said that may be a good thing.
He's hoping for a council with "no one entering into this with any sort of agenda."
"What's important in each and every one of them is that they treat the public's money as their own," he said. "I want them to simply be stewards, regardless of politics. ... What we are trying to do is what's in the best interest of the city. Let's just focus on setting up these services."
With a new government entrusted to them, Mason said, the first council has a special place in history.
"This is an awesome amount of responsibility," he said. "The people have trusted us, and we need to be faithful to that."
While they aren't politicians, many of the candidates have been well known in the community for years. They are Scout leaders and soccer coaches, PTA volunteers and neighborhood activists.
The choice is complicated. After all, people aren't just choosing a friend; they are laying the foundation for a city.
"I think all the candidates have a serious commitment to forming a good government for Peachtree Corners," said state Rep. Tom Rice, who has lived in Peachtree Corners for decades and wrote the legislation that allowed for the cityhood vote last November. "I believe that each candidate should possess the characteristics that I hope have been true of my commitment to public service over the 16 years I have served in the House. They are as follows: personal integrity, pursuit of wisdom, commitment to conservative values and a willingness to hear all points of view. If all these characteristics are true of those elected to the council, I have no doubt that successful governing will be accomplished in Peachtree Corners."
For Howard, the choice isn't about individuals; it's about creating a collective group. Not everyone needs to have experience with problem-solving, but at least one does. One has to play the role of visionary, while another can be more detail-oriented or analytical.
"The mix of gender, race, background and education would be ideal. We need the best individuals and we cannot be limited to one type of person to find that best," she said.
Bert Nasuti, who was the county commissioner representing the area when the government controversies began, has some advice for the new councilmembers.
"You need to be a good listener. ... You need to know how to disagree," he said, adding that time management is also a trait needed to know when to prioritize and fix problems.
"Never think you are the most important person in the room because you are not," Nasuti said, giving credit to the people who will really build the new city. "Your constituents who honored you with the trust to serve and represent them are the most important people."
By July, Peachtree Corners will be a city, and by the end of the year its first three services must be in place. It's a tough job, especially for a crowd that is inexperienced in government.
But leaders say the 19 candidates are all capable of handling the job. They just have to find the best among them to build the perfect team.
Howard has one final thought on the subject.
"Everyone on the council should believe in the city and have a deep desire to make sure this city succeeds and thrives," she said. "They are her cheerleaders, caretakers and ambassadors. Most of all, they must be able to listen to all 38,000 of us, especially the ones with soft voices."