Ward 1, which encompasses the central portion of Marietta south of Roswell Road, is represented by Councilwoman Annette Lewis, who served on the Marietta school board from 1994 until 2005.
Contending for Lewis’ seat is Stuart Fleming, who is completing his first term on the Marietta school board for Ward 5, but was drawn out of the district and into Ward 1 when a new map was approved by the City Council.
Brett Bittner, who moved from Smyrna in 2009 and is the newest Marietta school board member, is being challenged by Chris Everett, who did not attend the event, and Justin Clarke, 36, who graduated from Harrison High School in 1996 and has not previously run for elected office.
Planning Commissioner Cheryl Richardson, who started off Saturday’s event, told the crowd all the candidates live within three-quarters of a mile from each other, and no matter who wins on Nov. 5, they will continue to be neighbors.
The neighborly feeling did not last long, as Flemming stated he was glad Ward 1 residents have a choice for the council post this year.
“There is a tremendous number of people who feel they are not being represented,” Flemming said.
Flemming added that the area he is hoping to represent is the most enticing location for new families moving into Marietta.
Jerry Mann, one of the 15 residents who attended the meeting, said he recently bought a home in Ward 1 that he hopes to turn into a rental property.
Mann said before the meeting he did not know much about the candidates and the forum was a chance to find out more.
“I am not sure how much we learn at these things,” Mann said.
Bittner said he was happy is see an “actively engaged group of citizens” at the event, ‘albeit small.”
The council debate
During the forum, each candidate was asked five questions with five minutes to answer each topic. City Council and Board of Education contenders were asked different questions.
The format was not a debate. There was no time allotted for rebuttals from opponents and the candidates did not receive the questions beforehand.
One of the most divisive questions was about discussions by the City Council, led by Mayor Steve Tumlin and the Vision 20/20 Committee, to silence railroad crossings within Marietta city limits.
Preliminary reports by city staff have shown it would cost nearly $2.6 million to upgrade five of the most concerning crossings.
Flemming said he fully supports using tax money to make the changes, which he said would improve experiences at downtown restaurants and church services. The improvements would also make the crossings safer, according to Flemming.
Lewis did not feel a sense of urgency on the matter, and said long-term residents grow accustomed to the whistles.
“Taking away the bells and whistles will not take away the noise of the trains on the tracks,” Lewis said. “It is an expensive fix for us to do.”
Another contentious item between the candidates for council was on imposing term limits for elected positions.
Lewis, who has represented Ward 1 since January 2006, said the four-year terms always end the same year, so each election there is a chance for a complete turnover.
Having term limits would make the concern greater, which could result in the loss of years of expertise all at once, Lewis said.
Flemming said if a change to the city ordinance to start term limits was brought before the City Council, he would vote “unequivocally” in favor of it.
“Reality is, once an incumbent is in, it is hard to get the person out of office,” Flemming said.
School board politics
The biggest contrast between the two school board candidates who were present Saturday was on compensation for Marietta teachers.
Bittner said he voted in favor of the latest proposal to redesign teacher compensation, which is not only based on test scores.
“Our current model is not sustainable,” said Bittner, who added the local board could be a pioneer in determining how educators are paid.
Clarke said teaching is an art, not a business, and the focus should be less on test scores and more on molding children to be productive citizens.
Bittner said, if re-elected, he would raise the graduation rate in Marietta by “five points” in the next four years.
Clarke said he would commit to a 100 percent graduation rate.
“We should not expect anything else,” said Clarke.
Clarke also said he is the only school board candidate running in Ward 1 who has a child in the school system. His daughter, Madilynn, 5, attends Hickory Hills Elementary School.