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Municipal elections: Flowery Branch continues a history of upheaval
City encounters turnover, resignations and now disagreements
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Flowery Branch - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Related story: House seat hopefuls will discuss issues Tuesday

City of Flowery Branch

Post 1

AMANDA SWAFFORD (I)
Age:
35
Occupation: Paralegal
Political experience: Elected to the Flowery Branch City Council in 2010
Education: Bachelor of Arts in political science, Agnes Scott College; American Bar Association paralegal certificate; Gainesville State College; one year of law school, McGeorge School of Law, Sacramento, Calif.; currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science in technology management at Gainesville State College
Family: None
History in Flowery Branch: Fourth generation native of Flowery Branch
Website: www.AmandaSwafford.net

DAMON GIBBS
Age:
40
Occupation: Education, Hall County School System
Political experience: None
Education: Bachelor of Business Administration, North Georgia College; Master of Education, University of Georgia; Doctorate of Education, University of Georgia
Family: Wife, Stefanie; daughter, Kylie, 17; son, Deuce, 14
History in Flowery Branch: Born and raised in South Hall County; lived in the city of Flowery Branch for the past two years
Website: www.damongibbs.com

Post 2

CHRIS FETTERMAN (I)
Age:
40
Occupation: Manager
Political experience: Four years as a City Council member in Flowery Branch
Education: Bachelor's degree in business, Bellevue University
Family: Wife, Stacy; daughter Jordan, 13; son, Ethan, 5
History in Flowery Branch: Moved to Flowery Branch in 2005
Website: Vote4fetterman.com

MARY JONES
Age:
68
Occupation: Agribusiness owner, including cattle, horses, hay, pecans and a mobile home park
Political experience: Former Flowery Branch councilwoman, served one full term
Education: High school graduate
Family: Daughter Ann Jones
History in Flowery Branch: Chairwoman of Flowery Branch Historic Preservation Commission, member of Flowery Branch Better Hometown Board, member of Flowery Branch Friends of the Depot Board
Website: None

2011 Municipal elections voters guide

What: Voters will select candidates for city governments and school boards, as well as special elections for open seats in the General Assembly. Some cities will include referendums, including allowing Sunday sales of alcoholic beverages.
When: Nov. 8
What's next: If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote plus one, a runoff will be held Dec. 6 between the top two candidates.
When: Polls are open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. on Election Day. Any voter waiting in line to vote at closing time will be allowed to vote.
Where to vote: City elections are held at designated polling areas. Legislative races will be held at county voting precincts within the district where the seat is contested.

Election office contacts
Hall County: 770-531-6945, www.hallco.org
Gainesville: 770-535-6860, www.gainesville.org/voting
Flowery Branch: 770-967-6371, www.flowerybranchga.org.
Clermont: 770-983-7568, www.clermont.georgia.gov, townofclermont@aol.com
Lula: 770-869-3801, www.lula.georgia.gov, thecityoflula@mindspring.com
Forsyth County: 770-781-2118, www.forsythco.com, voter@forsythco.com
Habersham County: 706-754-4068, www.habershamga.com
Dawsonville: 706-265-3256, www.dawsonville-ga.gov
Alto: 706-778-8035, townofalto@applebank.net
Demorest: 706-778-4202
Braselton: 706-654-3915, www.braselton.net
Hoschton: 706-654-3034, cityofhoschton.com
Jefferson: 706-367-5121, www.cityofjeffersonga.com
Maysville: 706-652-2274, www.cityofmaysvillega.org
Pendergrass: 706-693-2494
Dahlonega: 465 Riley Road, 706-864-6133; cityofdahlonega.com
Cleveland: 85 S. Main St., 706-865-2017
Helen: Chattahoochee Street, 706-878-2722

On the ballot

Special elections

State House District 25: Democrat Paul Wayne Godfrey; Republicans Bobby Banks, Emory Dunahoo Jr.; Dominic Ottaviano; Todd Reed; Sonny Sykes; Kris Yardley.
State Senate District 50: Democrat Mary Beth Focer; Republicans Curtis Burger, Rick Austin, John Wilkinson, David Strickland

Hall County
Clermont: City Council, three at-large seats, John Brady (I), Seth Weaver (I), Donna Reeves, Debra Armour
Flowery Branch: City Council, Damon Gibbs, Amanda Swafford (I); Mary Jones, Chris Fetterman (I); Sunday package alcohol sales
Gainesville: City Council, Ward 2, Debra Harkrider, Bob Hamrick (I); Ward 3, Myrtle Figueras (I); Ward 5, Ruth Bruner (I); Sunday package alcohol sales. Board of Education: Ward 2, Maria Calkins (I); Ward 3, Willie Mitchell (I); Ward 5, Sammy Smith (I)
Lula: City Council, Post 1, Veneda Simonelli, Larry Shuler (I)
Oakwood: Sunday package alcohol sales

Around Northeast Georgia

Dawsonville: City Council, two at-large seats, Mike Sosebee (I), Mike Wilson (I), Frank Craft, Jason Power, Chris Gaines; Sunday package alcohol sales
Forsyth County:
Renewal of special purpose local option sales tax
Habersham County:
Renewal of SPLOST for education
Alto:
Mayor, Audrey Turner (I), John Closs
Demorest:
City County, two at-large seats, Donnie W. Bennett, John M Popham Sr. (I), Timothy Suda
Braselton:
Sunday package alcohol sales
Hoschton:
Sunday package alcohol sales
Jefferson:
City Council, Ward 1 Steve Kinney (I), Robert Yates; Ward 5, Roy Plott (I), David Parks; Sunday package alcohol sales, Sunday sales of distilled spirits
Maysville:
Mayor, Donna Chesonis, Richard Presley, Lynn Villyard; City Council, Ward 1, Kathleen Bush, Clay Dorsey (I); Ward 2, Clyde "Junior" Hardy, Jerry C. Parr; Ward 4, Ricky Akins, Scott Harper
Pendergrass:
City Council, two at-large seats, William Ellis, Hilda Gee (I), Thomas Marlow (I); Sunday package alcohol sales
Dahlonega:
City Council, Post 4 Michael G. Clemons (I), Bruce Hoffman; Post 5, Stu Batchelder, Sam Norton; Post 6, Regina Harper-Odom, Terry Z. Peters (I)
Cleveland:
City Council, Ward 1 Billy Helton, Rush Mauney (I); Ward 2, Jake Brown, Bea B. Chambers, Annie Sutton (I)
Helen: City Council, two at-large seats, Dona K. Burke (I), Jeffrey Ash Sr., Michelle Turner; Sunday package alcohol sales

Ed Lezaj remembers his Flowery Branch City Council service well.

"I just couldn't take the (stress) ... and I had to quit," said the Newberry Point resident. "I have in the past used the terminology that I was a member of the ‘dysfunctional council.'"

Lezaj's tenure ended less than a decade ago and Flowery Branch politics still remains a powder keg, a volatile mix of turmoil, turnover and transition as the city expands its borders.

Before 2010, the council was split 3-2 on many key votes
because three of the members were from Flowery Branch's "Old Town," or the downtown area where many longtime residents live, and two were from Sterling on the Lake.

Sterling is a growing, affluent subdivision off Spout Springs Road, several miles from City Hall on Main Street.

The council turned over in 2011 because the three Old Town residents left the council: Mary Jones, Allen Bryans Sr. and Pat Zalewski.

Sterling residents Mike Miller and Tara Richards joined Craig Lutz and Chris Fetterman, also from Sterling, on the council. They were joined by Kris Yardley, who lives in a subdivision close to the downtown.

It only took a few months for the revolving doors to get swinging again.

Lutz resigned to run for the South Hall seat on the Hall County Board of Commissioners — which he later won.

Then, Mayor Diane Stirling, whom Lezaj and others have credited for bringing a modicum of stability to the city, resigned to retire to Florida.

And then, Miller resigned his post to run for mayor.

At one point, council meetings had to be rescheduled or scrapped because of quorum issues.

By year's end, Flowery Branch City Council was back to full staff, with Miller winning the mayor's race and Amanda Swafford and Joe Anglin winning elections.

But tensions resumed, particularly over such issues as City Manager Bill Andrew's contract and talk of the city gaining control of Hall County's Spout Springs Water Reclamation Plant.

In recent days, the council hasn't been able to agree on qualifying dates for a March 6 special election and whether to charge residents for streetlights.

And now, there is more turnover, with Yardley quitting to run for the State House District 25 seat vacated by James Mills, who was appointed to the state Board of Pardons and Paroles.

In addition, Swafford faces opposition Nov. 8 from Damon Gibbs for her Post 1 seat and Fetterman is being opposed by Mary Jones for Post 2.

And while elections keep happening in Flowery Branch, its south Hall neighbor to the north, Oakwood, rarely sees any change on its council.

Its mayor, Lamar Scroggs, has served since the mid-1970s and another council member, Montie Robinson, has held his seat for nearly as long.

The only recent shakeup is Gary Anderson deciding to hang up his council career after 14 years. And at first, it appeared two people might run for the seat, but then one of them dropped out, and now Todd Wilson is Anderson's replacement Jan. 1.

The contested race even caught city officials off guard a bit, with City Manager Stan Brown quipping that it might require him to do a little research on election protocol.

Perhaps the oddity in all the struggles for Flowery Branch is that it's not a fading hamlet straddling the railroad. It has hundreds of acres of land ripe for development, serves as the base for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons and is home to a powerhouse high school football team.

"It's the perception — and I was told it before I ran for office — that Flowery Branch always has some type of turmoil ongoing ... and I think the biggest part of that is the growth," Miller said.

"We went from 1,800 in 2000 to close to 6,000 in 2010, so whenever you've got growth coming in, you've got different opinions and most people are afraid of change."

H. Lee Cheek, dean of the School of Social Sciences at Gainesville State College, agreed that growth factors strongly into a city's political life and can fuel turnover and disagreements.

"You have a new political agenda that emerges that the older guard has trouble responding to," he said, adding that agenda setting becomes trickier business when you have a "confluence of new groups and political constituencies."

He also said, "Elections are about power and influence, but they also touch on issues of the heart and one's own view of the community."

In general, high voter participation in a city often leads to a "steady change" of a government's political figures, Cheek said.

And odd-year elections, featured in city elections throughout the state, typically feature low voter turnout, meaning it is hard for many communities "to effect change," he added.

A believer in term limits, Cheek believes change is generally a good thing for local governments.

"I believe in new ideas and helping the democratic process along," he said.

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