A former council member’s endorsement and a request to explain campaign promises spiced a May 16 candidates forum for the Sandy Springs City Council District 3 seat.

Sandy Springs City Council District 3 candidates (from left) Larry Young, Suzi Voyles, Joe Houseman, Brian Eufinger and Chris Burnett talk after the May 16 forum at Riverwood International Charter School. (Photo John Ruch)

Sandy Springs City Council District 3 candidates (from left) Larry Young, Suzi Voyles, Joe Houseman, Brian Eufinger and Chris Burnett talk after the May 16 forum at Riverwood International Charter School. (Photo John Ruch)

All five candidates—Chris Burnett, Brian Eufinger, Joe Houseman, Suzi Voyles and Larry Young—appeared at the forum, hosted by the Riverside Homeowners Association at Riverwood International Charter School. With a crowd of about 150, they largely repeated the pitches they made at a May 4 forum hosted by Reporter Newspapers.

However, some sparks flew when Eufinger brought up Burnett’s recent endorsement from Chip Collins, an attorney who once held the District 3 seat and now sometimes handles local zoning cases. Eufinger noted that Collins was slated to appear before the City Council the next day to represent a developer seeking approval for a project “600 percent above the land-use [plan] maximum.”

“I’m not sad he didn’t endorse me. Why would he?…I’m not sure what kind of vote he expects [from Burnett],” Eufinger said. He added that Sandy Springs must stop its “revolving door” of politicians who become or represent developers.

“There’s been some inference bounced around that ‘Chris just wants this job so he can get some things approved for his developer buddies,’” Burnett, the market president of the Bank of Sandy Springs, replied later in the forum. But, he said, his community bank doesn’t fund such projects, and Collins’ endorsement was based on his leadership and vision.

Collins did not attend the forum, but in an email afterward said he endorsed Burnett due to his long business and community experience and readiness to serve on the council. Collins said he met Eufinger recently and offered to give him advice, but that Eufinger “never reached out to me, indicating to me that he didn’t really care what I had to say. So why he does care now?”

“The insinuation that I am supporting Chris or anyone else to gain a vote would be insulting if it wasn’t so predictable,” Collins said. “I consider everyone on the council to be a friend, yet I have by no means a perfect record on council votes when I have appeared before them as an attorney, nor do I expect to.”

Campaign promises

Forum moderator Reed Haggard, president of the Riverside HOA and a Sandy Springs Planning Commission member, pressed some of the candidates for details on their campaign promises.

Asked what he meant by “waste” to cut in the budget, Houseman struggled to name anything, saying he really meant reducing the property tax millage rate. “It’s more of just fiscal responsibility in general,” Houseman said, adding that “as far as putting my finger on one spending item, the city has done a pretty good job for the most part, but there’s room for improvement in any organization.”

Voyles previously referred to a “network of legislators” or other officials she can rely on for policy help. Asked who they are, she responded, “By name?” Haggard allowed her to not name anyone specifically, so she referred to “departmental people that I know” who could help with local alternative transportation systems and “relationships at the federal level” to aid her idea of express traffic lanes on I-75 in Cobb County.

Young has campaigned on his “smart solutions.” Asked what those are, he suggested one innovation may be a local stormwater utility to help with infrastructure. He also said the city must stick to its Comprehensive Plan, a land-use plan, and balance private and public property interests. “You do not have a right to make a profit. You have a right to try,” he said of his approach.

Expertise and experience

Burnett described an alternative plan he once floated for a new City Hall as a demonstration of his financial expertise. He had suggested the city purchase the Century Springs office buildings at Hammond Drive and Mount Vernon Highway for the City Hall, freeing up more retail and park space at the new City Springs site. “Those are the sort of things with my background I’m able to vet,” he said, running through some numbers.

Eufinger described his position as a prominent critic of the controversial Ashton Woods housing development along Abernathy Road. The community outcry resulted in a new 14-acre public park donated as a mitigation, he said, calling that a good compromise of the sort he seeks.

The District 3 seat will be filled in a May 24 city special election, held completely separately from the state primary election that happens on the same date. The seat is vacant because Graham McDonald resigned to make a state House run.