Facebook page offered gift cards for support of Milton candidates

Milton City Hall

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Milton City Hall

A Facebook page called "We Call Milton Home" caused some raised eyebrows this week when it offered gift cards to residents who showed support to candidates in an upcoming election.

The post has since been deleted, but appeared on the site on Tuesday. The page calls itself a place for discussion on “all things Milton” and has more than 3,000 followers.

The post read:

"Here is your chance to win a $30 gift card to Milton resident owned Campania Restaurant at 800 North Main St. We will give away 9 gift cards, 3 each day left in early voting for Milton City Council. Take a picture of yourself with an I voted sticker and with a (Laura) Bentley, (Peyton) Jamison or (Joe) Lockwood campaign sign, post it to your Facebook page and email us the picture to wecallmiltonhome@gmail.com. If your picture has all three campaign signs you will get 3 entries to win. Pictures taken with actual candidates get double entries and if you have voted early already you can still be entered in to win by posting your pictures. 3 gift cards will be awarded Wednesday, 3 Thursday and 3 Friday. Your reward could be a great lunch or dinner at a great restaurant. Get out and vote!"

The Official Code of Georgia — Title 21, Chapter 2, Article 15 — states "Any person who gives or receives, offers to give or receive, or participates in the giving or receiving of money or gifts for the purpose of registering as a voter, voting, or voting for a particular candidate in any primary or election shall be guilty of a felony."

The AJC reached out to the Facebook page, but its moderator did not respond to a request for comment. The owner of Campania, Jennifer Muller, addressed the issue on Wednesday, replying to a comment from another Facebook user.

“We had nothing to do with that post nor do we support or endorse any political candidate(s),” Muller wrote. “Sadly, we cannot prohibit people from giving our gift cards away and have been totally blindsided by this action.”

On Thursday, the "We Call Milton Home" page posted an apology of sorts, writing that they thought the post offering gift cards was "okay" but removed the post after reading up on Georgia's election laws. It added that the page is not affiliated with any candidate for city council or mayor.

“We are simple people who are passionate about the Milton City Council candidates we endorse and believe will guide Milton in a great direction over the coming years,” the post read.

The city's mayor, Joe Lockwood — who is seeking his fourth term this election — said he "wasn't really aware" of the post, doesn't follow the page and doesn't know who runs it, but said he hasn't seen anything like this before around an election.

“I don’t know that I had a whole lot of reaction to (the post). I didn’t really know anything about it,” he said. “I certainly would not have any part of that.”

Lockwood faces a challenger in the mayor’s race this year from Dr. Laura Rencher, who has lived in the city for a decade and is the co-founder of a non-profit, “Preserve Rural Milton.”

“There’s so many sites out there with so much stuff that sometimes, especially when you’re a candidate, you got to just put your blinders on and not look at it,” Lockwood said. “This is probably the first election in a long time (in Milton) where it’s been contested, so I’m sure there is a lot more energy going around.”

The other candidates mentioned in the post are Peyton Jamison and Laura Bentley. Jamison is running unopposed for the District 1 city council chair, while Bentley is challenging incumbent Bill Lusk for the District 2 post.

Lusk, 74, has been on the council since 2006. He called the post an “unethical tactic.”

“I’m also disappointed that the three candidates who appear to be the beneficiaries of the vote buying plan have kept quiet about this illegal conduct,” Lusk said in a statement. “I think the police should investigate this criminal activity. We have to protect the integrity of our elections.”

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Channel 2's Mike Petchenik obtained 911 calls from the incident.