The vote for the incorporation of Peachtree Corners came down to a fairly simple question: yes or no?
But the vote for the first mayor and city council of Peachtree Corners could boil down to this: who?
Residents of Gwinnett County’s newest city will go to the polls Tuesday to sort through a slate of nearly 20 candidates, most of them in agreement on the basic concepts of their new layer of government: keep taxes low and government small, and maintain the character of their community.
But that consensus could make it difficult for voters to choose among the contenders, most of whom have never run for public office.
“No one has really differentiated themselves in terms of policy,” said Scott Ehrlich, one of four candidates vying for Council Post 3. “It’s just a situation where there’s not much to judge anyone on now.”
Candidates for Post 1, Post 2 and Post 3 will be elected by voters from specific districts; Post 4, Post 5 and Post 6 are at-large seats and will be chosen by residents across the city.
In the mayoral race, Mike Mason, a leader of the movement to incorporate and founder of the powerful United Peachtree Corners Civic Association, was the sole candidate to qualify and will run unopposed.
That means residents can cast votes in at least five races, a potentially confusing quirk for those who show up at the polls unaware of the municipal elections.
“A lot of people don’t know who the candidates are and a lot of people have a misunderstanding of how to vote for the at-large posts,” said Robert Byars, one of four candidates in the Post 4 race.
“We’re going to have a highly uneducated” group of voters, said David Leader, who’s running for the Post 6 seat.
The candidates running for city council posts include several residents who played major roles in the campaign for cityhood, among them Ehrlich, Byars, Jeanne Aulbach and Alex Wright. Few opponents of the incorporation effort chose to run for office, indicating they preferred to operate as watchdogs of the new government.
They have all talked of allaying the concerns of cityhood opponents and healing divisions within the community following the closest incorporation vote in metro Atlanta over the past six years. Other referendums were approved by at least 81 percent of the vote; Peachtree Corners claimed just 57 percent.
As a result, most — if not all — of the candidates have promised to vigorously conform to the “city-lite” model, which means Peachtree Corners will provide limited services in planning and zoning, code enforcement and garbage collection. Gwinnett will be responsible for more costly services such as public safety and parks.
“It’s important to us that it stays as promised,” said Bob Martell, president of the Peachtree Corners Ballot Committee, a local watchdog group founded by several anti-incorporation supporters. “Government has a habit of growing; it doesn’t usually shrink. We’re going to keep an eye on them.”
Incorporating Peachtree Corners has long been discussed in Gwinnett, but the idea gathered steam in 2009 when Norcross considered annexation of the Technology Park area.
A study by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia estimated that Peachtree Corners, using the city-lite platform, could exist on general fees and low property taxes of 1 mill per household, or $120 on a $300,000 home.
The study assumed the city would raise money from planning and zoning fees, utility franchise fees and property taxes. Based on the cost of services for similar cities around the region, the study concluded Peachtree Corners could run a surplus of about $2.3 million annually.
For former cityhood opponents such as Leader, the lack of separation between candidates has been frustrating for candidates but promising for limiting the powers of the new city.
“I still don’t think this layer of government is necessary,” Leader said. “But I think we all have the same goals, and I think we can make this into a positive.”
About Peachtree Corners
Demographics: 50.39 percent white, 26.57 black, 12.04 Asian, 0.57 Native American and 10.43 other, of which 16.57 percent claim Hispanic ethnicity.
Median age: 33.6
Median home cost: $287,700
Household income: $63,931
Source: Census data for ZIP code 30092, which encompasses much of Peachtree Corners