Stockbridge addresses concerns on campaign activities
By Monroe Roark
Campaign season is already heating up in Stockbridge, and a number of citizens got hot - literally and figuratively - due to campaign-related activities at a recent city-sponsored event.
The most recent Sounds of Summer concert hosted downtown July 25 saw local residents showing their support for Neat Robinson, a ten-year Stock-bridge resident who has already made public her intent to run for City Council this fall even though qualifying has not yet taken place. Robinson’s supporters wore T-shirts identifying their support, and some of them passed out handheld fans for concert goers braving the 90-plus-degree heat that Saturday afternoon.
But some of them later reported being ordered by city officials to remove the shirts and take up the fans with Robinson’s name and likeness on them, citing a state code section that they said made such activities illegal on city property.
One of Robinson’s supporters at the event was Elton Alexander, who later took to his community-oriented Facebook page with more 12,000 fans to complain about what he called a potential violation of his candidate’s rights. He wrote that City Clerk Vanessa Holiday gave the orders to remove the shirts and fans, and a source told him it was at the behest of City Councilman Alphonso Thomas.
“I questioned what code we were violating,” he wrote. “Neat Robinson is now owed an apology because she lost valuable campaign time.”
A photo was posted of Henry County Commissioner Bruce Holmes, a Robinson supporter, wearing his shirt at the event. He was reportedly instructed to remove it as well but refused to do so.
Alexander joined with Dianne Jennings, Robinson’s campaign manager, on a conference call July 27 with Robert Lane, a staff attorney at the Georgia Govern-ment Transparency and Cam-paign Finance Commission. Both of them, in separate interviews with the Times, said that Lane told them the statute cited by Holiday, code 16-7-58, does not apply in this case but refers to the erecting of signs on government property.
“Some municipalities adopt their own rules but Stockbridge does not have a prohibition regarding this,” said Jennings. “We were not trying to be disrespectful or disrupt their events, so I just took up the shirts and we let it go. I think it’s a misinterpretation of the law, and they need to get a clearer understanding of that.”
Jennings said her candidate and supporters plan to be at future city events whenever possible and will conduct the campaign in a legal and appropriate manner.
“We don’t have to have permission. We will always do what is respectful, what is professional and what is right,” said Jennings. “We expect to be out at every event and let the citizens know what [Robinson] is all about.”
City manager Michael Harris released the following statement late Monday:
“The city is aware of the concerns expressed by Ms. Robinson. We are reviewing the city’s policy regarding campaign activities on city property and/or during city-sponsored community events. If after this review, a clarification needs to be made, the city will do so.”