Leesburg council seat will go to a newcomer

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

LEESBURG, Ga. -- Leesburg voters will decide between the "Blogger" and the "Phone Lady" Sept. 21 in a special election called to fill a vacant seat on the Leesburg City Council.

Political blogger/web designer Jeff Sexton will make a second attempt to gain a seat on the five-member council, while telecommunications business owner Rhonda Futch will have her first go at elected office in a showdown called to replace former Councilman Steve Kitchens.

Sexton has become a fixture at local government meetings since launching his political blog, videotaping Lee County Commission and Leesburg Council meetings for rebroadcast. Futch, for one, is not so keen on the practice.

"It's like he's trying to micromanage what's going on at the meetings; it sets a very uneasy tone," the political newcomer said. "I understand that the legitimate media should have an opportunity to report on what happens at these meetings to citizens, but I don't understand his motivation for taping all the meetings."

Sexton said he considers his involvement a public service.

"With a very few exceptions, I've been to all of the city and county meetings (the last year-plus)," Sexton said. "Since so few members of the public actually come to the meetings, they at least have an opportunity to see them online.

"My opponent admitted to me at the August (City Council) meeting that it was the first one she had attended since she was a little girl. I've stayed actively involved."

But Futch said such "involvement" means very little to the community.

"The issues change from month to month," she said. "You have to be in the community and live in the community to truly know the community. I've been in Lee County practically my whole life. I live here; I love this place. That means a whole lot more than just going to meetings."

Sexton, who is a computer technician with a Macon business, has lived in Lee County for the past three years. He turned his fascination with politics into an online blog that was among such forums recognized by the state House during this year's legislative session.

He cites his "relationships" with members of the state General Assembly as a plus for citizens of Leesburg and Lee County.

"When the census numbers are in, south Georgia is going to lose representation," Sexton said. "I think it would be important to have someone on the council who has good relationships with General Assembly members. I don't have to just rely on the Leesburg representative to try and influence our interests in Atlanta.

"Granted, the Leesburg representative (Republican Ed Rynders) is the only one who can pass local legislation, but I can at least let the other government representatives know how the people here feel about an issue."

Futch, who grew up in Leesburg and is the owner of a successful telecommunications business, said she was introduced to local politics early in her life. As a young girl she attended Lee City Council meetings with her father, former Councilman Bill Fleming.

"When my kids came along, my Tuesday nights were booked," the mother of three said. "But four years ago I started considering running for the council. There were issues that I felt weren't being addressed -- especially issues important to businesses in the city -- but when Judy Powell announced she planned to run for the council, I felt no one could do a better job.

"Then some members of the council approached me after this seat came open, so I decided to think about it and pray about it. I'm still quite busy, but I recently led a multi-year class reunion during a month that I had to install four phone systems. I don't do anything half-way, but I thought if I could do all that I did during the reunion, I could be available to serve on the council."

Sexton said he's working with Lee County Fire Department Chief James Howell on the possibility of utilizing the social networking site Twitter instead of installing a $25,000 reverse 911 system in the county, and he's become aware of citizens' concern about increasing utilities fees in the city.

Futch said not only courting new businesses but working with established businesses to increase awareness of their presence and what they offer citizens would be beneficial to the city's future.

"I'm an initiator; I'm proactive," she said. "I believe bringing younger people with new ideas into city government is important for our community. But anyone who comes in with an 'I'm going to change the world' attitude is not going to be successful. You have to respect and work with the people on the council.

"I know a lot of people in this community, but I will not take their support for granted. I don't expect people to vote for me unless I'm willing to go out and ask for their vote. I have leadership capability, and I want to be a leader. This is not about status for me; I feel I have something to offer this community."

Sexton, meanwhile, said he offers Leesburg voters a unique combination of old values and new technology.

"I'm seen in the state as something of a social media innovator, but I have the conservative values of most people in Leesburg's grandparents," he said. "I've developed a lot of relationships here, and many of my supporters have lived here all their lives.

"I've learned the city of Leesburg; I know what it's all about. And it's the kind of community I want to raise my family in. I think I'm someone who can make a difference in the community."

Leesburg voters will cast their ballots at the Leesburg EMS/fire station (Precinct 4). Early voting for the special election will start Tuesday and continue through Sept. 17.