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Continuity on council not typical

Qualifying for city election this week

POSTED: August 25, 2013 12:29 a.m.
 

The city of Cumming’s long-tenured leadership is a feature that you don’t see often, according to one political expert.

Charles Bullock, professor of political science at the University of Georgia, said it’s rare to see the same elected officials remain in office as long as the city’s mayor and council have.

The municipal official with the shortest tenure is Councilman John D. Pugh, who was first elected in 1992. The other leaders have served since the 1960s or ’70s.

“That’s definitely atypical,” said Bullock, noting that such longtime leadership would “certainly bring continuity.”

On the flip side, however, Bullock noted that the situation can make discovering “new blood” a challenge.

“It may be difficult to recruit new blood from folks saying, ‘Ah, I don’t know that it makes a whole lot of sense to try and run against these people. They keep getting re-elected,’” Bullock said. “So then it becomes almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

That may be the case in Cumming, Forsyth County’s lone municipality, since the city hasn’t had to hold an election in a decade. And it may not need to hold one Nov. 5.

With qualifying set for this week, the incumbents in the three offices up for election — mayor and council posts 1 and 2 — have all said they will seek another four-year term.

H. Ford Gravitt, who has served as the city’s mayor since 1970, announced last week that he’ll seek a 15thterm. Prior to being elected mayor, Gravitt, 71, also served two, two-year terms as a councilman.

Councilmen Rupert Sexton, who represents Post 1, and Quincy Holton, Post 2, made similar announcements.

In announcing his decision, Gravitt cited his improved health and said the city has some projects he wants to see through.

“We want to try to keep our group together,” he said.

Whether city residents will have to go to the polls this fall remains unknown since, so far no other candidates have announced their intentions.

And it’s highly possible that no one will. The last time any member of the group faced opposition was in 2003, when Gravitt drew a challenger. Not since 1990 have all the members of the body had opposition.

“If you’re happy with the way things have been going, then that’s fine,” Bullock said. “Because if this team gets re-elected they’ll probably continue to do what they’ve done.

“But if you think there needs to be some change, something needs to be shaken up, then you’re going to have to get some new blood.”

Regardless of the outcome, that kind of longevity — particularly at the local level — is a rarity, Bullock said.

“These local government positions, they don’t pay a lot, if anything at all, so it’s not like you do it because you’re making a lot of money,” he said. “You have a degree of publicity there within the community, but it’s not the kind of public recognition that you get, if say, you were a member of Congress.

“Also because of the kinds of things that you deal with at the local level — you know, you’re not deciding to send us off to war or to support cancer research — but it is things that people really care about, which can make it difficult to get re-elected.”

For example, Bullock said, if a local government decides to “put in a new road some place or use the power of eminent domain to take over private property, it may stir up a hornet’s nest.”

Some of the city leadership’s long-term decisions, such as not assessing property taxes in Cumming, may have contributed to their longevity in office.

“That will definitely make you popular,” Bullock joked about the lack of taxes.

Why they have been in office so long with so few challengers may be a mystery to some and very clear to others. But either way, he said, it’s definitely unique.

“It is a bit extraordinary to have a number of people who have such long tenure,” he said. “Sometimes you find one person who has long tenure, but others kind of come and go, come and go.

“To have the same team in place that long is very unusual.”

 

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