For the past few years, “Cut To The Chase” posts have largely dealt with Snellville City Council matters. Unfortunately, the overwhelming number of those posts focused on explanations of the controversies that have plagued the city. Although my intention was to present accurate facts in an effort to quell the negative publicity the city was receiving, my posts seemed to increase the negative dialogue, rather than reducing it. So November 6, 2013 was the date of my last post regarding Snellville city matters.
As you might expect, negative publicity has continued. That’s unfortunate because it overshadows the truly great things that are happening in Snellville. The best evidence that Snellville is moving in a positive direction, and not being held hostage by a group of petty, self-serving throwbacks, is the city’s Marcy Pharris Volunteer of the Year (VOTY) Awards banquet that was held at Summit Chase Country Club on March 8th.
Kurt and Gretchen Schulz were the well-deserving winners. Their efforts to transform the Snellville Farmer’s Market and Community Garden@ Snellville from concepts to realities have dramatically changed the city’s social landscape. In accepting the award, Kurt and Gretchen were their typically gracious selves, acknowledging the dedication of a host of other volunteers who are always lending a hand.
This year’s Volunteer of the Year award winner was selected from a group of nominees who were voted volunteer of the year by members of the individual groups that serve the city. The
Individual category volunteers of the year were Gretchen and Kurt Schulz, Snellville Tourism and Trade; Marilyn Swinney, Snellville Farmers’ Market; Kathy Emanuel, Snellville Citizens Police Academy Alumni Association; Ileen Meggison, The Community Garden at Snellville; Ronnie Bentley, The Rotary Club of Gwinnett Sunrise; Grace L. Clower, The Snellville Lions Club.
In Snellville, selecting a Volunteer of the Year is a difficult task because there are so many people who actively participate with one or more of the city’s volunteer groups. For these volunteers, the only payback they seem to want is the opportunity to volunteer for something new.
Snellville residents can be proud of many things concerning their city, and our group of volunteers is at the top of the list.
The desire to provide health insurance for every citizen is a noble one, but can only be achieved if people who can afford insurance pay the premiums for those who cannot. Consequently, it is an economic impossibility for Obamacare to be implemented without significant additional taxes plus cost reductions in other areas. One of those areas is Medicare which will experience a $700 billion reduction in funding- euphemistically called “cost containment”, by the administration. And that’s just the tip of the latest iceberg. For more, click the link below.
Throughout Georgia, significantly increased traffic volumes combined with limited funding has motivated transportation engineers to develop new options to improve traffic flow. Diverging diamond and Continuous Flow Intersections are two of those options.
At first glance, the operational aspects of these intersections can be confusing, and even after viewing animation videos, it can be difficult to envision how these intersections will improve traffic flow. That’s especially true of the Continuous Flow Intersection (CFI) because the name is a bit of a misnomer. “Continuous flow” pertains to straight-through and left turn traffic (traveling in the same direction) flowing at the same time. In a conventional intersection, such as the one at Highway 78 and 124, the light turns green for traffic turning left before it turns green for vehicles traveling straight-through the intersection. This results in extended “red light” times as vehicles traveling through the intersection must wait until traffic turning left clears the intersection before getting a green light.
A CIF addresses this problem by adding left turn lanes on the left side of the roadway which allows left-turning vehicle to cross the highway before they get to the actual intersection. Since they are already on the left side of the roadway, they can pass through the intersection at the same time as vehicles traveling straight through it. That reduces wait time at the intersection. Additional lanes on the right side of the roadway reduce traffic stack-up by enabling vehicles to get out of the main flow of traffic well before they approach the intersection.
As an example, a driver traveling west on Highway 78 and planning to turn right on 124 will move into the right turn lane a few hundred feet before reaching the intersection. If traffic flow on 124 permits, the driver completes the turn and merges into the northbound lanes. During times of heavy traffic flow on 124, the driver waits in the right turn lane until the turn can be completed. To prevent traffic back-ups when volume is heavy, the 78/124 CFI will have two right turn lanes on Highway 78 heading west and Highway 124 heading south.
The CFI is primarily a project of the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT). The agency’s engineers determined that it was the best means of improving traffic flow at the 78/124 intersection, given existing budgetary and geographic constraints. A “flyover” intersection, such as the one at Highway 78 and Park Place in Stone Mountain, would in fact offer continuous flow, however, such an intersection is exponentially more expensive, consumes considerably more land and, for a number of reasons, is inappropriate for the middle of a city like Snellville.
Of course, the CFI won’t have the desired positive impact on traffic flow if there are back-ups at the intersections on both sides of it. That will be addressed through an updated system of traffic light controls and will be addressed by both the Georgia and Gwinnett County departments of transportation. Federal, state and county agencies are responsible for various sections of the highways that cross in the center of Snellville, so all are involved in the planning, funding and administration of the CFI initiative.
For its part, the Snellville city government doesn’t have much influence over the actual construction and design of the intersection. But by being actively involved in the planning process, it can make sure that execution is as non-invasive as possible, and that the intersection blends well with the Town Center plan.
The city is fortunate that both GDOT and county DOT representatives are not only open to discussion, but are encouraging it. At a meeting on November 14th, attended by all members of the Snellville City Council, it was apparent that GDOT is dedicated to completing the project on schedule, within budget and with an eye toward accommodating reasonable requests from the city.
The CFI is unquestionably the creation of “out of the box” thinking and while it will take a bit of getting used to, it will dramatically improve the flow of traffic at the 78/124 intersection. And that’s good for Snellville.
A few months ago, in the midst of the aftermath of the George Zimmerman trial, I wrote Profiling- Racial and Otherwise, a post that detailed a personal experience that could have easily created a problem when none existed. The situation had to do with reaction to suspicious activity in front of my place of business, which is a significant distance from any residential areas. My words at the time were, “My suspicion was aroused because the activity—a person standing in the driveway– was so unusual. As I approached the driveway, I saw that the person was a black man who appeared to be in his mid twenties. I stopped and asked if he was waiting for someone and he said that he was walking home from the store and had stopped to rest. I acknowledged his response, drove up to the gate, opened it and drove in. That is the end of the story.
In fact, it turned out not to be the end of the story. A few weeks later, I saw the same person walking along the road as I left my office. So I stopped, and asked him if he’d like a ride. He enthusiastically said he did, got in and I drove him home. He mentioned that he had been shopping and appreciated the ride home. That’s just what he had been doing the day I saw him standing in front of my office. And just as he was on the day he aroused my suspicions, he was carrying a few shopping bags.
A week later, I saw him again, offered him a ride and he accepted. There were no vehicles parked at his house on either occasion, so apparently, walking to the store was a true necessity. Standing in the driveway of a business that was obviously closed is certainly suspicious. However, as this experience proved, not all suspicious activity is what it appears. Sometimes, a person walking home is just a person walking home. And sometimes they stop to rest.
That isn’t meant to imply you should ever let your guard down, only that things are often not quite what they appear. And that cuts both ways.
The citizens of Snellville spoke yesterday, and their message was loud and clear. They truly want Snellville to be a city of community, a city of progress, a city where everybody is proud to be somebody. By overwhelming numbers, voters elected a slate of candidates with a proven record of serving the best interests of the citizens. Inherent in the vote was a mandate for unity on the Council and an end to the negative publicity that has been an issue for the past two years.
That mandate is all but assured of being met because the three candidates who were elected yesterday have been working with the two standing Council member (who were elected in 2013) to continue moving city in a positive direction and maintaining a responsible fiscal policy. As a member of that Council, I look forward to continue our forward momentum not by just “hitting the ball”, but by knocking it out of the park. Our award-winning Farmers Market, numerous festivals and concerts, the Community Garden, Citizens’ Police Academy and Alumni Association, outstanding police department, Snellville Tourism and Trade Association, entrepreneurship programs, low taxes, high standards of service, outstanding group of volunteers and the new Veterans’ Memorial have been widely noticed throughout Gwinnett County, and beyond. When we get together with Council members from other cities, many express their admiration for the great things we are doing in Snellville.
On Monday November 11th, Barbara Bender, Bobby Howard and Tom Witts will be sworn in, and Snellville will take a giant step forward. I am honored to be a part of that Council and to be able to work with four other Council members who are dedicated to making everybody in Snellville proud to be somebody.
A little over 4-1/2 years ago, I was appointed to the Snellville Planning Commission. At the time I was a newcomer to municipal volunteer work and had never previously met any of the City Council members. In fact, I met then-mayor Jerry Oberholtzer for the first time when I attended the meeting at which the City Council was going to vote on my nomination.
Shortly after my appointment, Barbara Bender and Tod Warner, who were then Council members, introduced themselves to me. A month or so after that, Tom Witts attended a Planning Commission meeting and introduced himself to me and the other members of the Commission. He was not yet a member of the Council and had stopped by to inform us he was running for office.
At the time, I was unaware of the history of individual Council members and of their allegiances. It didn’t seem to matter because the Planning Commission is non-political (in theory) and frankly, I didn’t much care about politics. As a Commission member, my job was to evaluate zoning applications and recommend for or against those applications based on the City’s Code of Ordinances.
After a few meetings, I noticed a distinct pattern; some members of the Council regularly attended Planning Commission meetings, others didn’t. And invariably after the meetings, Tod Warner, Barbara Bender and Tom Witts would converse with members of the audience as well as Commission members. From the conversations, it was obvious they were seeking more information about whatever had been discussed, so that they would be better informed when the issue came before the Council.
For the entire two years that I was on the Planning Commission, neither Kelly Kautz nor Mike Sabbagh ever said a single word to me. I also found that their conversations with other members of the Commission were limited, if they existed at all. That seemed strange because Planning Commission members can provide a wealth of information that enables Council members to make more informed decisions.
While this experience may seem to have little to do with the current election, it does in fact provide a valuable insight into the reasons that I support Barbara Bender, Bobby Howard and Tom Witts. As a Planning Commission member and later as a City Council member, I have seen first hand their dedication to doing what is in the best interests of city residents. On the other hand, I have also seen first hand what I can only describe as the self-serving and unethical practices of Kautz, Sabbagh, and the people they support.
Some people will falsely claim, “Emanuel a long-time friend of Bender, Howard and Witts and he’s just trying to make Kautz and her people look bad”. Considering that my oldest personal contact with any Council member occurred barely over four years ago, I don’t think any of these relationships qualify as long term. In fact, Tom Witts and Barbara Bender were little more than casual acquaintances until 2011, when I got more involved with Snellville activities and decided to run for Council. And I didn’t meet Bobby Howard until 2011.
I aligned myself with specific Council members, not because I whole-heartedly agree with them, (I often don’t) but because they are honest and open and truly care about the City and doing what is right. That was obvious as I observed how each Council member responded to Planning Commission decisions. It was also obvious that Kautz and Sabbagh appeared to have their own personal agendas and either didn’t know or didn’t care about serving the best interests of the citizens.
I think that observation is reinforced by the highly negative campaign flyers that are being sent out by Harrison, Boykin and Sabbagh. It seems that this group, having no record to stand on nor any vision for the future, has based its entire campaign on false information and personal attacks. Should any of them get elected, residents of Snellville can expect more false accusations, a degradation of Council operation.
Regardless of the outcome of this election, I will continue to put the best interests of our City first. And I will continue to speak out when I see dishonest and unethical behavior. Serving the bests interests of our citizens and reducing or eliminating the negative publicity that results from improper behavior will be much easier if honest, responsible candidates are elected. So I urge you to vote for Barbara Bender, Bobby Howard and Tom Witts.
As always, I invite anyone with questions or comments to contact me at 770/262-2115.
Even without electronic amplification, the rhetoric arising from debate over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is as deafening as the guitar riffs at heavy metal rock concert. As debate rages on about the potential benefits and liabilities of the program, its legality — or lack thereof — and the taxes and penalties buried within the 2,000+ page legislation, the unfiltered noise is drawing attention away from fiscal consequences that will affect virtually every person in the country.
Proponents sing its glory and detractors label it a train wreck, yet the ACA remains only partially exposed. In spite of its obvious flaws, it will be neither as bad nor as good as claimed. In fact, no one will know its ultimate impact until it is fully implemented. That isn’t to say that it should be implemented in its existing form, only that current dialogue is based on projections, not hard data.
However, much of that dialogue ignores financial reality, which is one of the primary sticking points for opponents of the act. It is impossible for a program to provide health insurance to the 30+ million people who currently can’t afford — or won’t pay — existing rates without incurring considerable expense.
In addition to mandating certain rates, coverage and costs, the ACA provides a mechanism for virtually any marketplace applicant to receive “federal assistance,” which will be funded by tax revenues in one form or another. Even if only one-third of the people currently without insurance receive federal assistance, the cost to provide such assistance will amount to over $15 billion a year. (With federal assistance ranging from $3,000 to $10,000 for a middle-aged man, even if you reduce the low end figure by half, 1,500 x 10,000,000 equals $15 billion.)
Forcing insurance companies to accept applicants with pre-existing conditions is another cost-increasing aspect of the act. Denial of coverage because of a pre-existing condition may tug at the emotions and seem cold-hearted, but its basis is economic.
Like all forms of insurance, health insurance rates are fundamentally based on revenue and expenses. People who do not have health insurance do not contribute to the revenue pool, but do increase expense. That is analogous to having the ability to withdraw money from a bank account without having made any deposits.
Proponents claim that any funding of the program through tax receipts or increased insurance premiums is economically justified because it will eliminate the occurrence of uninsured people making emergency room visits and being treated free of charge. Such a theory has some validity, yet the reality may be far different, depending on the number of uninsured Americans who purchase insurance, and the level of coverage they select.
Even after the ACA is fully implemented, uncharged emergency room treatment will continue to have a significant economic impact.
As a result of the various financial demands created by the ACA, insurance rates can move in only one direction: up. Although some individuals and small companies may see some cost reductions, if you “do the math,” lower rates will be anomalies.
Consider this: the same number of people who are currently insured will provide the bulk of the revenue to cover all expenses. Members of the 30-million person group currently without health insurance will almost certainly purchase through the exchanges, and overall will contribute less in revenue than they receive in benefits. (That’s not an indictment of people currently without health insurance. It simply stands to reason that many members of this group have not had the medical attention they need because they couldn’t afford the out-of-pocket cost. After they have insurance, they will make use of it.)
The ACA’s fundamental flaw is its financial dishonesty.That flaw was clearly designed into its foundation to serve as a transition to a single-payer health care system, which appears to be the end game. The ACA is simply first-step legislation in the transition to a Medicare-type universal health care system.
Shortly after being sworn in as member of the Snellville City Council, I began writing “Council Confidential”, a section of the CutToThe-Chase.com blog devoted to City Council activities. “Council Confidential” posts are written to provide an insight into the process and reasons behind Council decisions, which are often far more complex than they appear.
With election season at hand, the complexities of city business take on a new life as they are compounded by opinions, misunderstandings and incorrect information. Many times, wrong information is spread because people didn’t understand what they heard, and then repeated facts that are incorrect.Fortunately, the true facts are almost always well documented matters of public record, and can be easily verified by contacting the City Manager’s office, or reading through meeting minutes on the city’s web site. (Please feel free to contact me if you have trouble finding any documentation.)
A few examples of some recent false claims that are circulating: the City is broke, the Council is preventing Wi-Fi from being installed on the Towne Green, the City is going to sue the Summit Chase HOA for Lower Johnson Lake repairs and the Council has blocked installation of “Welcome” signs at entrances to the City. Residents of Snellville should rest easy because all of these claims are false.
The City is actually in excellent financial shape, with cash reserves that well exceed the recommended minimums. Every city should have cash on hand to handle emergencies and unexpected events; the figure referenced by many experts in the field is 22-25% of a city’s annual budget. As a result of the Service Delivery Strategy (SDS) settlement with the county, and a carefully crafted budget that eliminated unnecessary and excessive expenses, Snellville has considerably more than 35% in cash reserves. This despite the fact that over the past three years, the millage rate has been reduced one full point.
Better yet, during the past year, the value of Snellville’s capital assets increased by $2 million, debt decreased by over $1.8 million, total revenues exceeded the budgeted amount and total expenditures were lower than the budgeted amount. The bottom line is that Snellville began the fiscal year with a balanced budget, took in more money than projected, spent less money than projected and ended the year in better financial condition than it began. City Manager Butch Sanders summed it up stating, “Taken as a whole, the City IMPROVED its financial status by a total of $815,995.23 in FY-13. We continue to only get stronger financially.” (Note: city financial information is a matter of public record, may be reviewed by anyone and is periodically evaluated by an independent auditor.
(Documentation- City Manager’s report and independent audit)
Wi-Fi on the Green
A number of years ago when I visited New York City, I noticed people sitting in Bryant Park (behind the New York Public Library) working on laptop computers that were obviously accessing the internet through the park’s free Wi-Fi service. Watching the people enjoying internet access on a warm summer evening, it struck me that offering Wi-Fi on Snellville’s Towne Green would be an excellent idea. But it didn’t strike me as a particularly good idea to follow another council member’s recommendation to spend over $10,000 for a Wi-Fi installation. Several other Council members agreed that the $10,000+ figure was excessive. Subsequently, that opinion was found to be correct. City Manager Butch Sanders did some research and determined that a suitable system would cost less than $3,000. A little more research turned up the fact that the Wi-Fi system could be combined with a new security camera system that’s scheduled to be installed– at essentially no cost. So the Council wasn’t standing in the way of a Wi-Fi installation, it was simply attempting to get it done at the lowest possible cost. Wi-Fi is coming to the Green at almost zero cost to taxpayers.
(Documentation- City Council meeting videos and minutes)
“Welcome to Snellville” Signs
Attractive, well-designed “Welcome to Snellville” signs would be a definite asset to the city. However, a formal, detailed proposal and budget for “Welcome” signs has never been brought before the Council. What was proposed was literally a last minute $50,000 “friendly amendment” to the city’s annual budget. Without ever having been discussed or even mentioned previously, that proposal was made immediately before the call for a vote to approve the budget during a Council meeting. As far as I know, all members of Council agree that “Welcome” signs are a good idea. However, asking for a $50,000 increase in the budget (which has to be offset by a $50,000 increase in revenue) is fiscally irresponsible and would have placed an unnecessary and unjustified burden on taxpayers.
(Documentation- City Council meeting videos and minutes)
Lower Johnson Lake Dam
Repair of the Lower Johnson Lake dam in Summit Chase is a story in itself. But it was a “done deal” several months ago. The Council approved an agreement wherein the City committed to pay for repair of the drain pipe beneath the city road that crosses the dam, and the Summit Chase HOA committed to pay for repair of the stand pipe which will allow the lake to be restored. As a result of efforts put forth by a majority of Council members, the contractor who was responsible for the original damage agreed to cover much of the expense and the final cost of repairs was less than half of the original estimate. Instead of the original $95,000+ estimate, the City paid $34,800 for drain pipe repairs and the HOA paid $7,000 for standpipe repairs. At this point, the actual repair work is almost completed and no additional expenses are under consideration.
(Documentation- City Council meeting videos and minutes, signed agreement and resolution)
In all of these instances, as with numerous others, the real issue is excessive and unjustified cost to taxpayers. Although some of the false claims that are circulating are the result of misunderstanding, others are typical “election season” falsehoods. That being the case, the manner and transparency with which taxpayer funds will be handled in the future is the core issue of the upcoming election.
As a current Council member and former Planning Commissioner, I have researched and observed the character and integrity of the candidates, their vision for the city and their concern with fiscal responsibility. They share my philosophy that government should put the interests of taxpayers first, just as a successful business puts the interests of its customers and stockholders first.
As a city taxpayer, I want Council members who are dedicated to improving the city and delivering maximum value for my tax dollars. Consequently, from both Council member and individual taxpayer perspectives, Barbara Bender, Bobby Howard and Tom Witts are the candidates who will best serve the City. All are long time residents of the City who have a history of service to the City and its citizens. I encourage you to ignore the gossip and false claims, and look at the actual record of each candidate. After you do, I’m confident you’ll reach the same conclusion.
The call to attack Syria is a response to the Assad regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons. Often referred to as weapons of mass destruction because of their indiscriminate killing properties, chemical weapons are universally viewed as unacceptable instruments of war– so unacceptable that even some of the most barbaric rulers on the planet are opposed to their use. If despots recoil at better killing through chemistry, surely more civilized world leaders should take action against any group that uses WMDs.
Yet with respect to Syria, the only leader who appears to be committed to military action is the president of the United States. He is proposing that the United States launches a military attack we can’t afford, to strike an enemy we don’t have so we can kill people in the name of humanitarianism. And in so doing, we will largely be aiding Al Qaeda, the same organization responsible for killing over 3,000 innocent Americans in the 9/11/01 attacks.
The lunacy of climbing into the same fox hole as your enemy is matched by the arrogance of launching an unjustified military strike against a nation because its leaders have handled civil strife in what is deemed to be an inappropriate manner. As horrendous and repugnant as a chemical attack is, it should not be used to sanction an unprovoked unilateral military strike. But it should raise the question, “Why now”?
The use of chemical weapons in the Middle East dates back to at least 1980, during the Iran-Iraq war. Iraq’s use of mustard gas, tabun and Sarin between 1980 and 1988 is fairly well documented, as is its use of chemical weapons to quell the rebellion of the Kurd and Shiite population in the 1990s. During that time period, the United States never proposed direct, unilateral action against Iraq.
It could be argued that as the world’s leading superpower, the United States has a responsibility to assist other nations when they are threatened. However, Syria is not threatening or attacking other countries; it is embroiled in a civil war. Consequently, a military strike becomes a direct aggressive action by one nation against another. Any form of attack on Syria by the United States, is in fact an act of war, and is not different than Syria launching a missile attack against the United States.
In his call for military action, Obama has yet to define, at least to the public, what he proposes to strike, the estimated casualties, the anticipated outcome of such an attack, the anticipated cost, or any other relevant information. Speculation from knowledgeable sources pegs the cost of the proposed attacks at $300+ million. For that princely sum, the world gets the equivalent of “punishing Johnny for being bad”, in hopes that Johnny won’t be bad again. Such an approach is as useless as it is ill conceived. Eliminating the chemicals Johnny uses when he’s bad could achieve the goal of preventing future unacceptable activities of the same sort. However, while an attack on the chemical weapons storage facility would undoubtedly deplete the stockpile, it would most likely cause an uncontrolled release of chemicals in the process– thereby triggering an unanticipated chemical attack. So the only viable options are to knock down a few buildings, destroy an airport or two, kill some people or some combination thereof. And to what purpose? How many people must be killed and how may buildings and runways have to be destroyed to have an effect on a country that has been immersed in a bloody civil war that has killed over 100,000 people during the past two years?
Had Obama not spoken of his imaginary red line in the sand, talk of a military strike would be muted, if it existed at all. It appears that all the melodrama is nothing more than political theater, designed for purposes other than eliminating the possibility of further use of chemical weapons. Unfortunately, the theater company is composed of the worst actors ever to take the political stage. Their performances aren’t merely unconvincing and embarrassing. They are utterly ineffective.
In a recent post to his blog, Jef Fincher created an analogy between ocean sailing and the course corrections needed to steer the Affordable Care Act (ACA) through turbulent waters without doing irreparable harm to the “SS United States”. That analogy brought to mind another one involving a ship and the ocean– “the unsinkable” Titanic.
Like the Titanic, the “SS United States” has been hailed as unsinkable. For over 200 years, through war, natural disasters, economic strife and cultural upheaval, it has been just that. But never before has there been an iceberg of the proportion of the ACA looming ahead. Nor has the SS United States ever been captained by a helmsman with such little regard for the consequences of running full steam ahead through the darkness. But alas, it appears that like the captain, many of the passengers and members of the crew have drunk too deeply of the free champagne to recognize the dangers of a high speed collision with an iceberg of titanic proportions.
Certainly, an experienced captain, warned of unknown and potentially dangerous conditions ahead, would remain vigilant and ready to moderate speed or change course in ample time to avoid disaster. But the captain of the SS United States seems incapable of understanding that dangers do lie in the darkness ahead, and resolute in his commitment to press on. While he has decided to proceed at a tick less than maximum speed, his decision to do so was motivated not by a desire to avoid a catastrophe, but by concern about running out of fuel. Fuel that will be of little use when the ship is injured and foundering.
To take the Titanic analogy a bit further, just as any possible encounter with an iceberg could have been avoided had the ship stayed in port, the potential for the SS United States to strike a metaphorical iceberg could have been eliminated had an inexperienced captain not taken the ship into the turbulent waters of health care reform. But ships, both real and metaphorical, can not serve the purpose for which they were created by staying in port.
And so the ship has sailed and is hurtling towards disaster while the captain and most of the crew ignore warnings of the dangers ahead. Fortunately, the SS United States has a sufficient number of lifeboats, and rescue ships are standing by. That will ease the pain, but it won’t prevent the disaster.