Legislators fill council's shoes for Hometown Connection

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Brandon Lovett of Newnan Utilities gives an overview before starting a tour of the Hershall B. Norred Water Plant for GMA officials, legislators and a representative from Gov. Nathan Deal's office in town for the Hometown Connection program.

By W. WINSTON SKINNER
winston@newnan.com
For an hour or so, members of Coweta's legislative delegation, a Cobb County representative and a member of the governor's staff became members of the Newnan City Council.
Newnan is one of about 50 towns across the state participating in the Georgia Municipal Association's Hometown Connection project. Through Hometown Connection, GMA seeks to bring state level officials to cities and towns across the state – familiarizing them with what mayors and councils do and how municipalities function.
Newnan participated in the project last year, but a decision was made to take a different approach when the legislators and GMA officials came to town on Monday.
"We didn't want to bore you again with the same Newnan 101," Mayor Keith Brady told the visitors as they gathered in the city council chambers. "We're going to have a mock city council meeting."
Brady presided over the meeting, and Councilman Ray DuBose also occupied a seat. Other "council members" for the mock meeting were State Representative John Carson, State Senator Mike Crane, State Representative Carl Von Epps, State Representative Lynn Smith, and a member of Gov. Nathan Deal's staff, Stuart Wilkinson.

Crane is Coweta's state senator, and Epps and Smith represent portions of the county in the Georgia House. Wilkinson is Gov. Deal's liason for county and local government affairs.

Brady related that he met Carson, a state representative from Cobb County, at a meeting of the Municipal Electric Association of Georgia in July. "He is on the energy committee in the House," Brady said.

Brady learned there are no cities in Carson's district, so he invited him to attend Hometown Connection in Newnan.

Attending from GMA were Brian Wallace, who is a Coweta County resident, and Tom Gehl and Marcia Rubensohn.

The morning proceeded with an imaginative council agenda. Staff members made presentations – and also acted the part of participants in hearings.

There were moments of levity. Newnan Police Chief Buster Meadows at one point portrayed a citizen with a rambling, incoherent rant. For one agenda item, the city's landscape architect, Mike Furbush, rose to speak in the persona of Warren Peace, a resident of Tolstoy Lane.

Rubensohn even got into the spirit of the event and enacted the part of an aggravated neighbor during a hearing about a house being considered for demolition.

There were several offhand remarks about Marietta and Cobb County – gentle jabs at out-of-towner Carson.

Agenda items included a proposed new office for the human resources department, a proposed fine for repeat offenders of false burglar alarm signals, incentives for a new industry, an annexation request and a request for a stop sign.

During the unsafe structure hearing, it was stated that the dilapidated house was historic because Gov. Ellis Arnall had delivered newspapers there when he was a boy.

Mayor Pro-Tem Cynthia Jenkins and Councilman George Alexander were among those watching from the audience.

Following the mock council meeting, the group traveled to the Newnan Utilities water plant on Water Works Road. They toured the facility and were treated to lunch.

The mock council meeting was the brainchild of City Manager Cleatus Phillips. "What we decided to do was to change it up a little," he said.

The 2011 Hometown Connection essentially involved reports from department heads. Phillips set out to make this year's event "as interactive as possible," he said.

"I got a lot of my staff involved. We came up with a fake agenda. To protect some of the guilty, we have changed some names," Phillips said.

The goal was to help legislators experience "what the council goes through on a regular basis," Phillips noted.

"This is about developing relationships and getting everyone to understand what we do at our level," Brady told the legislators. "It's kind of difficult to understand what we do and how what you do impacts us."



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