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Election 2017: City costs a sore spot in Flowery Branch mayor's race
Justice challenges incumbent Miller for city's top leadership post
Flowery Branch mayoral candidate Michael Justice, left, and incumbent Mayor Mike Miller attend an Oct. 2 election forum. - photo by Jeff Gill
Flowery Branch mayor

When: Early voting begins Monday; Election Day is Nov. 7

Where to vote: Flowery Branch City Hall, 5517 Main St.

Michael Justice

Age: 52

Education: master’s degree in business administration, University of Miami, Coral Gables, Fla.

Occupation: president, MICA Health, Inc.

Political experience: has run unsuccessfully for Flowery Branch City Council

Mike Miller

Age: 42

Education: education specialist degree, Argosy University, Sarasota, Fla.

Occupation: golf professional

Political experience: mayor since 2010; Flowery Branch councilman, January-June 2010

Government costs have become an issue for the two candidates in Flowery Branch’s mayor race.

“Let’s be judicious with our expenditures and let’s find out what the people actually want,” challenger Michael Justice said.

Mike Miller, who has served as mayor since 2010, defends the $5.2 million invested in the new City Hall being built on Railroad Avenue. It was much needed and a sound fiscal move, with the loan taken at 1.56 interest, he said.

“I don’t know anybody who has paid cash for their house,” he said.

Finances have been a big topic in the race, which will be decided in the Nov. 7 election. Early voting begins Monday.

The roundabout that marks the Lights Ferry Connector between Atlanta Highway and McEver Road is a key example.

Both candidates don’t decry its need from a traffic standpoint, but Justice calls it “monument building” and perhaps a bit of “keeping up with the Joneses” as other nearby cities have dressed-up civic projects.

Miller said the roundabout, which features an aluminum Flowery Branch sign, was largely paid for by a state grant. Remaining costs, or about $950,000, were financed by a loan.

Justice also is concerned about other costs in the city.

“There are times when I’m not sure the police department has a positive return on its investment,” he said. “I believe that’s something that needs to get discussed openly and objectively, and determine what the options are.”

Justice also wants to look at expenses in City Manager Bill Andrew’s office.

“Are we getting value for our expense?” he said. “Maybe we are, maybe we aren’t, but you don’t know unless you look.”

Justice said the catalyst for him running for mayor was what he called “hyper enforcement of golf cart laws” in the city.

“That’s the epitome of ‘We don’t want to build a community here,’” he said. “It’s a waste of tax money and doesn’t build community.”

He believes the emphasis should be on “community policing,” or officers investing more time in building relationships with residents.

Overall, “I think the city needs better leadership — leadership that’s in tune with what the taxpayers and citizens want,” Justice said. “Flowery Branch has really gotten stuck with ‘government can do,’ whereas a community is built by the people, not the government.”

Miller said that he’s seeking another term because “I want to finish what we’ve started.”

“We started the revitalization of downtown,” he said. “We’ve got City Hall about to be complete, and I think that transformation of downtown includes the revitalization of Main Street (beyond) the city of Flowery Branch being on Main Street.”

The building’s completion, as well as move-in, has been targeted for December.

“We’ve got some other properties there — such as the old Mooney Manufacturing property — that I would like to see through full development,” Miller said.

Also, the city is looking at ways to connect downtown to City Park and Flowery Branch Bay off Lake Lanier, he said.A slowdown in retail and commercial development also has been a topic in the race.

During a recent Flowery Branch candidates forum, Justice said “contractors are tripping over each other” to build in Braselton, while construction has gone quiet in Flowery Branch. He said a concern for him has been the government’s focus on downtown projects, and that building a wider community should be the emphasis.

“I see that separation more and more, and you look at where all the tax money goes,” Justice said.

Miller said, “We do need more commercial and retail, and that’s been a push for us.”

He believes two major road projects — the completion of the Interstate 985 interchange at Martin Road and Spout Springs Road — might trigger some more of that type of growth.

“With that said, we also still have people wanting to live in Flowery Branch,” Miller said.

And the growth should continue, he added, with the population pushing toward 8,000.

“We’re kind of at the crossroads of the growth from North Hall coming down and Gwinnett coming up. We’re in the bull’s-eye of where it’s all hitting.”

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