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City Government

Judy Putnam Retires as Communications Director for the City

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Judy Putnam. Photo By George Hunter

We have a good city council that is made up of intelligent and well-educated professionals. Even though none of them had held office before, they had a good understanding of it and have worked together to make the city what it is today.

Judy Putnam

Judy Putnam went from writing stories about golf to hitting metaphorical holes-in-one through shaping the voice and message of the city of Peachtree Corners. Now she is retiring after more than a decade of putting words to the keyboard, chronicling the birth and growth of Gwinnett County’s newest and largest city.

Putnam first carved out a solid career in the news media. Yes, she covered golf throughout the state for two different publications. “Amateur, the pros, anything that took place in Georgia. I did golf course reviews,” she reminisced.

“I have always loved writing feature stories,” Putnam added. “That was my favorite thing” during a career spent mostly in magazine writing.

Her work with Patch, an online news service, marked a somewhat harder-edged tilt to her career arc. Putnam covered various aspects of Peachtree Corner’s drive to become a city in 2012, along with its early buildup period that included election of a city council and establishment of departments and services. She established close relationships that proved key to her next phase.

The move to a city job

Then came a massive layoff in the early 20-teens, which put about 90 % of local community-covering Patch editors on the street.

Putnam rang up Mayor Mike Mason, saying, “I just wanted to let you know. There’s this massive layoff and I’m gone.”

She continued, “About two weeks later, he called back and said ‘We’re looking for a communications director. Would you like the job?’ I said yes, of course. I didn’t have to hesitate on that.”

Putnam went from the more arms-length relationship of a journalist covering a community to becoming a spokesperson for a locality and shaping its message. She became Peachtree Corner’s first communications director, supplanting an ad-hoc approach which had relied on outside vendors writing news releases on city happenings.

“I started March 1 of 2014 and sat down to a desk and a computer and had to create the department basically,” she recalled.

Already in possession of good journalism and public relations skills, she said, it was a natural fit. “Initially when I sat down at the desk there wasn’t a lot of news going on about the city,” she said. “It was news, less than three years old, and they were still putting things together to make it run efficiently.”

That changed after Peachtree Corners purchased the property across from the Forum for the Town Center development. It generated a lot of buzz and news, she said, as the city held a series of town hall meetings asking residents what they wanted in a community gathering place.

The Corners’ decision to pursue a multi-use trail network was another rich source of content, she indicated. The push to establish the Curiosity Lab, provide incentives for developers and establish a redevelopment authority provided still more grist for the mill.

Looking backward and forward

The building of the city and its programs over the years has been handled well over the past nine years, Putnam thinks. “We have a good city council that is made up of intelligent and well-educated professionals,” she said. “Even though none of them had held office before, they had a good understanding of it and have worked together to make the city what it is today.”

She also gives high marks to city manager Brian Johnson, a boss who sets guidelines, then gets out of the way and doesn’t micromanage.

Her job has been both fun and challenging, said Putnam. Fun in that when she’s out about and interacting with people, she finds that her outreach and projects have found a favorable audience. Challenging in that the pace is quite rapid.

Putnam is looking to shift gears to a different pace and an altered roster of plans and priorities with her retirement while keeping busy. She plans to travel to visit family who live out of state, including a son who lives in Arkansas, family members in Florida she hasn’t often gotten to lay eyes on and her grandkids, although she points out that with the pandemic, “there’s an asterisk next to the travel category.”

She also plans to help her husband in his business — he’s a certified pickleball instructor — while playing the game herself and renewing her acquaintance with golf.

As she steps off the municipal stage, Putnam feels that the city is in good hands and well-positioned for growth and change.

“It’ done remarkably well,” she said, “and they’ve had good support from the community. Of course, there are always naysayers; you go to any community and you’ll find that. But overall, we’ve gotten very favorable responses.

“There’s been nothing boring about it, that’s for sure.”

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City Government

Why Vote in the Upcoming Gwinnett County Elections? [May 21]

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On Tuesday, May 21, there will be county-wide elections to choose new judges, school board representatives and party primaries.

On Tuesday, May 21, there will be county-wide elections to choose new judges, school board representatives and party primaries.

For the first time since 1996, the school board District 3 seat (which includes most of Peachtree Corners) is open as Dr. Mary Kay Murphy is not seeking re-election after serving seven terms. Five candidates are running to succeed Dr. Murphy.

There are several open county judicial seats with multiple candidates running. There are also seats open for the Georgia Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.

Since no Republican candidates qualified for the Gwinnett District Attorney race, the winner of the Democratic Primary on May 21, will become the next District Attorney (DA). If the incumbent Patsy Austin-Gatson wins, she will continue as DA for the next four years.

If one of the other two Democratic candidates wins, they will be unopposed in November and will replace Ms. Austin-Gatson in January 2025. Any voter wishing to participate in the Gwinnett DA race would have to vote in the May 21 primary and request a Democratic ballot. If you’re ready for a new DA, waiting until November will be too late.

Where and when to vote

Voting precincts will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 21. Confirm your registration status and voting location at mvp.sos.ga.gov. You must go to your assigned home precinct to vote on Election Day.

Gwinnett offers in-person early voting every day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Friday, May 17 at 11 locations around the county. The closest location to Peachtree Corners is at the Pinckneyville Community Recreation Center.

The full list of locations is here. Voters can go to any early voting location, regardless of their home precinct.

Absentee ballots can be requested here and must arrive at the Board of Elections office by 7 p.m. on May 21 to be counted. The ballots can be mailed or put in an official drop box.

Due to changes by the State Legislature, counties are now limited to one drop box per 100,000 registered voters. Consequently, Gwinnett has only six drop boxes for the 2024 elections (as opposed to 23 boxes in 2020). Also drop boxes are not available 24/7, but only during early voting hours. The closest drop box to Peachtree Corners is at the Pinckneyville Community Recreation Center. The full list of drop box locations is here.

Primary Voting is a bit different from voting in the general election in November. You must select one of three ballots:

  • Non-Partisan Ballot: only includes the property tax referenda,  judicial candidates and the District 3 school board candidates.
  • Democratic Party Ballot: includes Democratic candidates for federal, state, and county positions, and the property tax referenda, judicial and school board candidates.
  • Republican Party Ballot: includes Republican candidates for federal, state, and county positions, property tax referenda, and the judicial and school board candidates.

Georgia has open primaries and voters do not register by party. You can select either the Democratic or Republican ballot for this primary election, regardless of how you voted in 2022 or prior years. For some races, like Gwinnett District Attorney there are only candidates from one party, so the winner of the primary will be unopposed in November.

View a sample ballot at My Voter Page.

Here are some of the local contested races on which voters in Peachtree Corners can weigh in by voting in the primary. (Many races on both sides of the aisle have only one person running, and are not listed here).

Referenda

Both of the referenda on the May 21 ballot relate to the Homestead Exemption, the reduction in assessed value on a property that serves as the primary residence for the taxpayer. For example, if the assessed value on a residential property in Gwinnett is $200,000 and you claim it as your primary residence, the assessed value is currently reduced by $4,000 to $196,000 for the purposes of calculating your property taxes. The lower assessed value is then multiplied by the millage rate to determine the amount of tax owed.

  • Referendum 1: Increase the existing Homestead Exemption from Gwinnett School Taxes from $4,000 to $8,000
    • If approved, residential property owners in Gwinnett would see a reduction in school taxes charged on their primary residence of $76.80 per year (based on the current school tax millage rate).
    • If rejected, the exemption would remain at $4,000.
  • Referendum 2: Create an additional Homestead Exemption from Gwinnett School Taxes of $2,000 just for Public Service Employees
    • If approved, “public service employees” (defined as firefighters, paramedics, police officers, teachers and staff of Gwinnett Public Schools, staff of Gwinnett hospitals, and members of the Armed Forces) who reside in Gwinnett would see a reduction in school taxes charged on their primary residence of $38.40 per year (based on the current school tax millage rate).
    • If rejected, public service employees would not receive an additional exemption but would continue to receive the same exemption as all other residential property owners.

Note: neither referenda, if passed, would affect county government property taxes or city property taxes. The new exemptions would only apply to school taxes and only to the regular school taxes, not any school taxes related to the repayment of bonds issued by the school system.

Judicial races

  • For Superior Court, Kimberly Gallant has received bi-partisan support to succeed retiring Judge Batchelor. Gallant has served on the Municipal Court, Juvenile Court, and State Court.
  • Also for Superior Court, Regina Mathews and Tuwanda Rush Willams have received strong recommendations and bi-partisan endorsements to succeed Judge Beyers.
  • Incumbent State Court Judge Shawn Bratton has also received similar bi-partisan support in his re-election campaign.

School board

For School Board District 3 (to succeed retiring Dr. Mary Kay Murphy), there are five candidates. This almost guarantees that no one will get a majority in the first round and the top two will advance to a run-off.

The first of the two leading candidates are Yanin Cortes, a graduate of Georgia State, a former teacher at Shiloh High School and a successful entrepreneur for the past 15 years.

The second, is Shana White, a graduate of Wake Forest, Winthrop University and Kennesaw State. White is a third-generation teacher (Summerour MS, Peachtree Ridge HS, Sweetwater MS, Creekland MS, and Pace Academy) and a computer science instruction consultant.

White has earned the endorsement of the Gwinnett County Association of Educators, while Cortes has been endorsed by Dr. Mary Kay Murphy and Peachtree Corners Mayor Mike Mason.

Key Republican primary races

  • For District Attorney, there are no Republicans running. The winner of the Democratic primary will be the next DA.
  • For County Commission Chair, there are two Republicans running, John Sabic and Justice Nwaigwe. Sabic ran in 2022 for Commission District 2, losing to incumbent Ben Ku. Sabic has been very visible in the community and is now running for Commission Chair. Nwaigwe is a first time candidate, but is also running a strong race.
  • For State Senate District 7 (which covers central and eastern Peachtree Corners), four Republican candidates are running: Fred Clayton, Gregory Howard, Louis Ligon, and Clara Richardson-Olguin.

    With four candidates, this race will likely go to a run-off between the top two contenders. Richardson-Olguin is running as a small business champion and has received several endorsements from state and local Republicans while Howard has focused his campaign on public safety and education.

The other local Republican races like Congressional District 4, State House Districts 48 and 97, State Senate District 40, and County Commission District 1 only have one Republican candidate each. Those candidates will automatically advance to the November general election.

Key Democratic primary races

  • For District Attorney (which prosecutes felony crimes in Gwinnett), career prosecutor Andrea Alabi has received bipartisan support as she seeks to oust Patsy Austin-Gatson. Alabi worked under former DA Danny Porter, has tried over 1,000 cases, and has never lost a single murder case. Alabi has been endorsed by eight mayors in Gwinnett, including Peachtree Corners Mayor Mike Mason. The third candidate is Daryl Manns, a former Assistant District Attorney who worked for Ms. Austin-Gatson until resigning in 2023. With no Republican candidates in this race, the primary winner will be the next District Attorney.
  • For County Commission Chair, incumbent Nicole Love Hendrickson faces former state representative Donna McLeod. Hendrickson, first elected in 2020, has been endorsed by 12 Gwinnett mayors including Peachtree Corners Mayor Mike Mason, Norcross Mayor Craig Newton, and Buford Mayor Phillip Beard. Dozens of state legislators have also endorsed Hendrickson.
  • For State Senate District 40 (which covers the western edge of Peachtree Corners), incumbent Senator Sally Harrell is opposed by David Lubin. Harrell has served in the Senate since 2018 and has been a strong supporter of the cities in her district, including Peachtree Corners.

The other local Democratic races like Congressional District 4, State House Districts 48 and 97, State Senate District 7, and County Commission District 1, only have one Democratic candidate each. Those candidates will automatically advance to the November general election.

This information was sourced from Peachtree Corners Councilman Eric Christ’s monthly digital newsletter. Sign up for his email list here.

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City Government

Crime and Safety Concerns Dominate Town Hall Meeting

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Eric Christ

Besides his monthly newsletter, Peachtree Corners City Councilman Eric Christ occasionally hosts town hall meetings to allow constituents to catch up on what’s going on and give him feedback on a variety of issues. 

On Sunday, March 24, several dozen residents and stakeholders gathered for updates at City Hall’s Community Chest room. Christ probably expected the gathering to last 90 minutes at the most, but the discussion lasted nearly three hours as he shared information about the Marshal program, development projects, the new dog park, deer and the May 21 primary election.

Cutting down on crime

Probably to nobody’s surprise, crime and public safety took up the bulk of the meeting. Christ wanted the audience to take away that crime in Peachtree Corners is down 25% from pre-pandemic times. He showed a chart with crime rates from 2019 through 2023 that showed a significant drop in crime overall.

  • Residential burglaries are down by 48%.
  • Thefts are down by 34%.
  • Robberies are down by 24%.

“Prior to the pandemic in 2017, 2018 and 2019 we were averaging about 100 total [part one crimes] every month, and that dropped almost by half during the pandemic. Then, in 2021, it went back up a little bit again,” said Christ. 

Even though the rate has increased year over year since 2020, it has not returned to pre-COVID levels. However, compared to the previous year, crime has increased by 23%. One solution may be the new City Marshal program that kicked off in November. 

Having a relatively small population, the most heinous crimes, such as homicide and aggravated assault, have stayed lower than in many other areas. However, auto thefts, car break-ins, robberies and other property crimes remain somewhat high.

The City Marshal’s involvement

Chief City Marshal Edward Restrepo gave anecdotal evidence that the marshal program is working and will continue to get better because it fills the gaps left between the Gwinnett Police Department and the city’s code enforcement department.

Edward Restrepo

“We had a jewelry store robbery, and about the time we came in, we had started building up the camera registry as well as the integration system of cameras all around the city,” said Restrepo. “With only three of us, we have to rely on technology as much as we can.”

Although the marshals didn’t apprehend the bad guys, their assistance helped other law enforcement officers do their jobs more effectively. Several residents asked if there were plans to increase the marshal force to provide 24-hour, 7-day-a-week service.

The initial cost was around $900,000, said Christ, and maintaining the three officers and an administrative assistant will require about $700,000. Although Peachtree Corners doesn’t levy a property tax, the city’s share of county taxes goes toward that type of expense.

“It’s up to the people of Peachtree Corners if they want to increase the program,” said Christ. “It will come at a price.”

Those in attendance indicated that they thought that would be money well spent. Several said they liked seeing marshals at city-sponsored events because it sent a message that Peachtree Corners is serious about keeping its residents and visitors safe.

Christ said he and the rest of the council would consider that, but he reminded everyone that they should still report crimes to the police.

“I’ve had people tell me that they left a message on the city’s answering machine on a Friday evening and hadn’t heard back,” he said. “I tell them the first step is always to call 911.”

Catch the episode of the UrbanEBB podcast featuring Edward Restrepo from this past January here:

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City Government

Ora B. Douglass Swears in as First Black Female City Council Member of Peachtree Corners

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After a successful run for the position of Post 5 Ora B. Douglass will be sworn in as Peachtree Corners’ first Black female city councilmember.
City Councilmember Ora B. Douglass

After a successful run for the position of Peachtree Corners City Council Post 5 Ora B. Douglass will be sworn in as Peachtree Corners’ first Black female city councilmember on Tuesday, Jan. 23 during the regular City Council meeting.

Upon her retirement, Douglass was elected to the seat vacated by Lorri Christopher, one of two females to serve on the Peachtree Corners City Council, the other was Jeanine Aulbach.

Douglass’ inauguration continues Peachtree Corners’ commitment to diversity and inclusion by not only electing its first woman of color, but by recognizing her status as a military veteran and an advocate for better health care, education and quality of life for all.

She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in nursing from Florida A&M University and earned a Master of Nursing degree at Emory University.

After graduating nursing school, Douglass was commissioned an officer in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. A veteran with over 13 years of service, she has been stationed in Hawaii and was part of the U.S. Army Reserves.

Douglass has chaired the most recent Veteran’s Day event in Peachtree Corners and looks forward to more efforts to recognize and celebrate the multiple cultures and contributions of the residents.

With her long history of community service in the area, her motto has always been “service first.”

In 2014, she led a group of members in chartering the Psi Omega Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. in Peachtree Corners where she served as president for over four years. 

Psi Omega Omega chapter provides community service to Peachtree Corners residents from high school students, senior citizens, entrepreneurs and those in need. In addition, the sorority has partnered with Gwinnett County to keep 1.6 miles of road clean on Peachtree Corners Circle. 

Douglass also established The Georgia Pearls of Service Foundation (GPOS), a 501(c)(3) fundraising arm of her chapter and serves currently as president of the foundation.

The GPOS foundation raises funds each year to provide scholarships to high school students and donations to selected community service organizations.

Douglass was appointed International Chair of Community Programming, a committee with representation from the 10 regions of the AKA sorority in providing direction and oversight of the program from 2018 to 2022.

The program defined the framework for Alpha Kappa Alpha’s commitment to service that is embraced by its 300,000 members and over 1,000 chapters located throughout the world.

Douglass and her team partnered with Walgreens and traveled to 36 states including a Native American reservation and to the country of Honduras during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group administered mammograms, COVID vaccines and provided testing to low-income citizens. 

Douglass was born at Atlanta’s Grady Hospital, but was raised in Fort Pierce, Florida. Orphaned at 18 months old, Douglass hasn’t lived a charmed life.

She has worked hard for her accomplishments and knows the importance of a good education, perseverance, dedication and service to all mankind. She promises to utilize these qualities in service to the citizens of Peachtree Corners.

She has worked at numerous hospitals in the Atlanta area including Emory University, and Grady Hospital.

At Northside Hospital she was vice president of Quality and Risk Management. She served as director of Community Home Based Nursing at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Atlanta and VA Medical Centers in Carrollton and Oakwood where she directed a $10 million grant to provide homecare services to our veterans.

Douglass has practiced progressive clinical, managerial and healthcare administration for over 30 years. 

Douglass currently serves on the board of the Fowler YMCA in Peachtree Corners and is also a member of the Peachtree Corners Rotary Club. Douglass enjoys playing pickleball, traveling, cooking, gardening and providing boxes in her yard for Eastern bluebirds to nest each spring.

Douglass is married to Dr. Adrian Douglass. They have four children and three grandchildren. She and her husband are members of Friendship Baptist Church in Duluth.

For more information, go to www.peachtreecornersga.gov.

Click here for more Peachtree Corners City Government news.

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