3 council seats up for grabs in Snellville

SNELLVILLE — It seems the Snellville City Council has always been a contentious bunch — in-fighting, perpetually raised voices, quarrels aplenty over issues big and small.

The desire of newcomers, then, to come in and attempt to bring a little civility is nothing new. In this year’s election, political amateurs Dexter Harrison and Alisa Boykin are challenging incumbents Bobby Howard and Tom Witts, respectively, and say they want to do just that.

But it’s the Post 5 race — Mike Sabbagh vs. Barbara Bender — that’s the most intriguing.

Sabbagh, the incumbent, has been on the city council since 2009; he’s typically the lone ally of Mayor Kelly Kautz during heated discussions. Bender was a councilwoman herself from 2005 until 2011, when she stepped down to run for mayor; Kautz ultimately defeated her.

In Snellville, city council candidates can choose which seat they run for. Bender chose Sabbagh’s.

“I just don’t feel like (Sabbagh) has provided good representation for the citizens of Snellville,” Bender said. “I think he’s a little slow to understand some of the issues. And I’m not sure that he’s really understanding the issues, and then voting on that understanding.”

Barbs aside, Bender said the major issue confronting Snellville is work on its Towne Center and the Department of Transportation’s nearby intersection improvement at U.S. Highway 78 and Scenic Highway. The 49-year-old accountant and mother of two said 25 years experience in financial matters would be a huge benefit to the council.

She said that, if elected, dealing with heated debate isn’t something new to her — the councils she previously worked on were split 3-3 on many votes.

“I can work with people,” Bender said. “I worked with (Kautz), I was on the council with her for three or four years. You learn what you have to do to get things done. If things are important enough to get done, then somehow it’s going to get done.”

Sabbagh, 54, also said the city’s Towne Center and other aging infrastructure should be top priority for the council. The engineer and father of three said he wants to add sidewalks near South Gwinnett High School and bike lanes throughout the city.

Sabbagh called himself a conservative and said he would “monitor the line items on the city’s budget.” He said he wanted to hear from residents more often.

“I like to make sure we have a council that is respecting both the office and the citizens,” he said.

Along those lines, Sabbagh also said he wanted to work on the council’s divisive atmosphere.

“If given the opportunity again,” he said, “I will try my best to bridge the current chasm on council and plan on simply (bringing) the issues of the citizens to the city hall and keep that focus until we as council understand the situations and bring a resolution.”

Barbara Bender

Age: 49

Education: Parkview High School; Bachelor’s degree in accounting, Georgia State University

Occupation: Certified public accountant

Political Experience: Snellville City Councilmember, 2005-2011

Family: Husband Greg; son Nick, 24; daughter Katie, 20

Mike Sabbagh (i)

Age: 54

Education: Masters of Science in technology management

Occupation: Electronics engineer

Political Experience: Four years on Snellville City Council

Family: Wife Rita, three sons in college

Post 3: Dexter Harrison vs. incumbent Bobby Howard

Dexter Harrison, 69, is a veteran of the United States Navy, retired technician and current member of the Snellville Urban Redevelopment Authority. He’s taking on incumbent councilman Bobby Howard for the Post 3 seat.

Bickering, Harrison said, is the biggest problem facing the current council — and the city it’s supposed to represent.

“From what I have observed over the past two years,” Harrison said, “I don’t believe that the concerns of the citizens of Snellville are being represented by the current council. I’ll listen to every citizen’s concerns and will respect their opinion even if I disagree.”

“Elected officials never agree 100 percent of the time,” he added. “However, they must disagree in a professional manner.”

A grandfather of six, Harrison attended 9th and 10th grades at South Gwinnett High School before moving to Southwest DeKalb. He said he would have an open-door policy with constituents if elected.

Howard, 54, owns a home repair business and is completing his first four-year term on the council. He said the city must control spending but continue to make “necessary infrastructure repairs” to attract quality business investment.

The city’s Towne Center project and the U.S. Highway 78 continuous flow intersection “will reshape the city of Snellville for years to come,” he said, making them his top priorities.

“As a business owner who has met payrolls, worked within a budget and grown a successful business,” Howard said, “I understand the need to be diverse and agile as the business environment changes and our city is no different. Finding a balance between economic growth and the live, work, play community is key.”

Howard and his wife have one daughter and two grandchildren.

Dexter Harrison

Age: 69

Education: Attended 9th and 10th grade at South Gwinnett High School, graduate of Southwest Dekalb High School; Courses at Dekalb Technical College for Electronics

Occupation: Veteran of the United States Navy, retired technician

Political Experience: Appointed member of the Snellville Urban Redevelopment Authority

Family: Wife Mary; daughters, Kimberly, 42; Rebecca, 36; and twins Brooke and Bridget, 27; six grandchildren

Bobby Howard (i)

Age: 54

Education: High School and EMT Training

Occupation: Business Owner

Political Experience: Elected member of the Snellville City Council

Family: Wife Nancy, daughter Mindi, grandchildren Reese and Nash

Post 4: Alisa Boykin vs. incumbent Tom Witts

Alisa Boykin is a mother of seven, an entrepreneur and an appointed member of the Snellville Arts Commission. The 42-year-old is taking on current Mayor Pro Tem Tom Witts for Post 4 and said that her city deserves a council that will “stop bickering and begin to compromise.”

The council’s “divisiveness is the biggest obstacle facing Snellville,” Boykin said. “Purple is my campaign color because it represents compromise. As a mother, I’m a facilitator of compromise.”

As a black woman, the political newcomer would be the only minority on Snellville’s city council. She said she would represent the community’s “diversity, youth and families” and bring a common sense approach.

“I’ll be open-minded to everyone’s perspective and if necessary agree to disagree in a respectful manner,” Boykin said. “In the end I must do what is in the best interest of the greatest amount of citizens.”

Witts, 64, is the president and CEO of Georgia Property Restoration and has served on the council since 2009. He said Snellville should be operated like a fiscally responsible business.

“Being responsible to the taxpayers, earning their trust is major and should not be taken lightly,” he said.

Witts said the continuous flow intersection at Scenic Highway and U.S. Highway 78 — and “how it will impact our city” and quality of life — is the top issue facing Snellville. One of Mayor Kautz’s chief combatants, he said his experience on the council and successful endeavors in that role separate him from his opponent.

Things like the city’s nationally acclaimed farmer’s market, Spirit magazine, concerts on the green and festivals, as well as the additions of several commercial businesses, “show that I have been effective in my role on the city council,” he said.

Alisa Boykin

Party: Non-partisan

Age: 42

Education: Bachelor’s Degree in theology from Truth Bible College in Jacksonville, Fla.; pursuing Bachelor's Degree in psychology at South College

Occupation: Entrepreneur and small business owner

Political Experience: Unanimously appointed to the Snellville Arts Commission by the Snellville City Council; currently vice-chair

Family: Husband Lonnie and seven children: Javian, 13; Kylan, 11; Anale, 10; Nytere, 9; Alona, 6; Dynas, 4; and Nidan, 3

Tom Witts (i)

Age: 64

Education: Associates degree Lackawanna Junior College, attended Penn State University

Occupation: President/CEO Georgia Property Restoration

Political Experience: Elected to Snellville City Council 2009

Family: Wife Carol; sons Bobby, 43, and Rick, deceased; daughters Hollie, 41, and Kelly, deceased.; granddaughter Emily