Update, Nov. 13, 8:30 a.m.: Mayor Kelly Kautz clarified her statements regarding race and nominations. Her comments are at the end of the story.
Update, Nov. 13, 2:55 p.m.: Councilman Dave Emanuel issued a statement regarding Mayor Kautz's statements during the Nov. 12 council meeting. His comments are at the end of the story.
The Mayor and Council had quite a long day yesterday.
It began with a rare display of unity as they stood in solidarity with Parkwood Farms, a therapeutic riding center in Snellville facing eviction.
It ended with heated discussions on the letter of the law and allegations of racism.
The Nov. 12 public council meeting began with a prayer by Temple Beth David's new Rabbi, Robert Kirzner. The mayor then issued multiple proclamations, recognizing South Gwinnett's JROTC, Snellville Middle's I Am B.E.A.U.T.I.F.U.L., the American Legion, American Legion Auxillary, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Global Entrepreneurship Week, in which two South Gwinnett students in the DECA program were honored.
- Mr. Tom Ewing gave an in depth presentation on the history of the medical profession in Snellville.
- A discussion on the proposed RaceTrac on the corner of Oak Road and Highway 124 followed. (Read more about that here.)
- Consideration and action to authorize a survey, not to exceed $1,500, and appraisal of property at 2686 Springdale Road was approved unanimously.
- Consideration and action on resolution for the Snellville Public Arts Commission to change residency requirements. Councilman Dave Emanuel made a motion to postpone the decision, seconded by councilman Bobby Howard.
- And that's when the first bit of contention began.
The mayor attempted to go straight to the vote when it came to approving her nominations for various board positions. Normally, in order to vote on an issue, it must be moved, seconded, discussed and approved by the council. When she skipped that part, Mayor Pro Tem Tom Witts stopped her.
"I'd like to make a motion..." Witts began.
She replied that the motion was not necessary, and proceeded to move on to the vote. Witts disagreed, and requested input from the city attorney.
Citing inconsistencies regarding the issue, Powell said there was no real procedure in Robert's Rules of Order. However, in Volume 11 of another handbook, it says that in order for the council to take any kind of action, they must make a motion.
Mayor Kautz looked Powell squarely in the eye and asked, "Didn't I ask for this in writing two weeks ago? And this is the first time you’re presenting it?"
"It's the first time I've been asked," he responded. "I don’t mean to embarrass the chair. Volume 11 is a rather large volume..."
In the end, they made motions, seconded them, and proceeded to approve or deny nominations.
The following nominations were made:
- Don Goldsmith, Downtown Development Authority, Post 1: approved unanimously.
- Jack Poles, Downtown Development Authority, Post 3: motion failed for lack of a second. (Poles did not submit an application in time.)
- Fred Dawkins, Evermore Community Improvement District: motion failed for lack of a second.
- John Zeigler, Parks and Recreation Department, Post 2: approved unanimously.
- Garry Lapides, Parks and Recreation Department, Post 3: approved unanimously.
- Simon Cole, Parks and Recreation Department, Post 4: approved unanimously.
- Jerry Oberholtzer, Planning Commission, Post 4: three opposed, three in favor. Emanuel, Krause, and Howard were against. Motion failed.
- Krish Dhokia, Alice Snipes and Gretchen Schulz were all approved unanimously to be on the Snellville Tourism and Trade Board.
And then, the council reports...
Councilman Bobby Howard began the council reports by reflecting on his first year as a councilmember.
"I have fought many battles to preserve the integrity of this office," he said. "I'll continue to fight for them."
Regardless, said Howard, of how many times people have silenced him by bellowing "out of order," a reference to Mayor Kautz' use of the phrase.
He proceeded to thank his colleagues and a number of local businesses that are moving Snellville forward.
"When I speak of home, I speak of Snellville," he added.
Mayor Pro Tem Tom Witts' comments went a different route, following a number of incidences that involved the mayor attempting to make the council look bad, according to Witts, whether it was not informing them of an event they were all invited to or accusing them of even worse.
During the course of the nominations, the mayor referred to two nominees as "African-American," as she described who they were, what they've done and why they should serve on specific boards.
She did not reference any of the other nominees' ethnicities.
"We had 11 people who were brought to us this evening for positions on the boards," said Witts. "Only two were identified as African American."
He questioned why the council did not hear the ethnicities of the other nominees. He asked the Mayor what she was implying.
One of the nominees she referred to, Jack Poles, did not submit an application, something that prevented the council from accepting his nomination.
"I don’t know what nationality or race he is," said Witts, "but I do know we did not have an application on file with the city in order for me to look at that to make the vote. I don’t hire people without an application, and won’t do it for the city. The mayor was told that two weeks ago. I’m sure he’s acceptable, but would like an application."
Concerning the second nominee, Fred Dawkins, Witts again stated it had nothing to do with the man's race. Snellville has had no representation on the Evermore Community Improvement District for over a year, and Dawkins does not live in the Snellville city limits, nor does he work along the Highway 78 corridor, according to Witts. He is a lawyer in Atlanta.
"Why bring an Atlanta attorney, who lives almost in DeKalb county, to represent the city business owners on the CID?" Witts asked. "I know two people on that corridor, one who is a minority, who would be glad to serve on that board. I suggest the mayor take the time to talk to people in the CID who would represent them and us."
He wasn't finished yet.
"While I’m at it, one more thing," he said. "I’d like to apologize to any organization that has requested that the mayor and council appear at something, and the entire council did not show up."
According to Witts, numerous invitations have been sent to City Hall requesting that the mayor and council be in attendance, but only Kautz and Sabbagh have shown up.
"To organizations that called to find out why I wasn’t there, I wasn’t notified," he said. "I will never just not show up."
Mayor Kautz responded to Witts during the Mayor's Report.
"Tonight, I had a sense of pride looking out into the audience," she began. "The high school, ROTC, the Rabbi from Temple Beth David... I thought, look at what a diverse group of people we have brought together. We live in a diverse society."
She then confirmed that she did in fact make an issue of the two nominees' race, because "we don’t have diverse representation." She stated that that diversity is not reflected in the council, nor on the majority of the boards.
"I have put up six nominations [over time] that are African American, and the council has voted down all six," she said. "There is no reason each of these people should be denied."
Despite all this, the day came full circle when Caroline Jaffee, owner of a therapeutic riding center on Lenora Church Road, asked the council to describe what they did that morning at Parkwood Farms.
"They’re facing an eviction," said Mayor Kautz, "and we were out there showing moral support."
"I noticed that the entire mayor and council had come out to support these folks," said Jaffee. "I myself have an equine wellness center … I thank each of you individually as human beings; that was an amazing choice on your part, regardless of what type of support you offered. I appreciate you doing it."
For one morning, they set aside their differences and showed a beautiful display of support, compassion and community. When it comes down to it, despite the bickering or accusations, the council and mayor unite to do what's best for the residents of Snellville.
Update Nov. 13, 8:47 a.m.: The Mayor clarified her statements regarding the reason for the lack of diversity on the boards. According to Kautz, only one minority and six women, out of around 30, serve on Snellville boards, and she believes "we need diversity."
"I don't put people up because of their ethnicity or sex or profession," she said, "but because they're qualified candidates."
However, she believes that sometimes the council does not approve her nominees simply because of the feud she and the council have going. They come up with "petty reasons," according to Kautz, not to approve the nominations simply because she put them forward. Because of that, they are then blindsided by the fact that they don't have diversity on the board.
"I don't know if they vote against people because they are a minority," she said. "But the feud has prevented them from voting for diversity."
Update Nov. 13, 2:55 p.m.: Councilman Dave Emanuel sent this letter to Snellville Patch regarding Mayor Kautz's comments during the Nov. 12 council meeting.
I find Kautz’s allegations of racism as insulting as they are false, and equally unfortunate, they are all too typical of her mode of operation. During the meeting, she stated that we had NO minority members on the city’s boards or commissions. Today, she states we have one. So she either lied last night, or is totally out of touch with the members of the commissions that serve our city. She has now brought women into the conversation, and again, she has either lied, or has remained out of touch with the people who serve our city. There are nine women on city boards/commissions, not six as Kautz has incorrectly stated.
Kautz claims she nominates based on qualifications, not ethnicity, sex or profession. Another demonstrably false statement. It is a matter of record that she has bypassed obviously qualified people and specifically nominated people based on their ethnicity. Her STAT board appointments of last year clearly indicate that. Instead of renominating people who were already on the board, and had proven their qualifications through a record of dedication and service, she nominated people who had absolutely no previous civic involvement with the city. More evidence that Kautz nominates based on ethnicity is the fact that one of last night’s nominee’s had not submitted an application. Since he had not applied for the position, it would appear that he was a recruit, not an applicant.
Once again, the mayor’s unilateral actions have brought embarrassment and controversy to our city. It is my belief that the mayor owes all of our citizens an apology for attempting to use a person’s ethnicity as a platform for political posturing.