JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – As the Johns City Creek Council draws closer to city elections and the specter of the mayor’s investigation lingers in the background, the tension among the councilmembers grows and has one member saying it is causing dysfunction in the council.
It became apparent at council’s election Sept. 9 of Councilwoman Karen Richardson to be mayor pro tempore. The vote was 4-2 with Councilwoman Kelly Stewart and Mayor Mike Bodker voting against Richardson.
The post is largely ceremonial and designates who will preside over meetings in the absence of the mayor. Usually one nomination is discussed among councilmembers and in normal times, the outcome is assured. The vote is unanimous with no other candidates nominated to show collegial fellowship and a united front on the council.
But these are not normal times. At the council meeting, Councilwoman Kelly Stewart pointedly broke ranks with fellow councilmembers and joined Bodker to vote against Richardson for mostly the ceremonial post.
Asked after the meeting why she made such a gesture, Stewart’s answer put her firmly in Bodker’s camp regarding the City Council’s investigation of him.
“I could not support anyone being mayor pro tem who has voted to investigate the mayor when there is nothing to investigate,” Stewart said. “This investigation feels purely political and the taxpayers are funding this.
“Typically when you vote for a mayor pro tem, you would pick someone who would support the mayor, work with mayor and be in line with the mayor,” she said.
Stewart said she does not believe there is any spirit of cooperation with the mayor and therefore can’t support it.
“That is part of the dysfunctionality among the council now, and this is just going to perpetuate that,” Stewart said.
She admitted that her vote against Richardson was to make a statement that there is a rift now on the council.
“It’s very interesting to me that the person nominated for mayor pro tem is the one who has two opponents in this election,” she said. “I think the investigation of the mayor is politically motivated, and that has been validated by [former Councilwoman and Mayor Pro Tem] Bev Miller running for mayor.
“So unfortunately, the majority of the council has brought politics into the policymaking body. And it has created dysfunction,” she said.
Richardson bristled at the suggestion that her election was a result of council politics.
“I find it curious that Kelly would suggest that this was political when she offered no comment and no alternative [for the pro tem vote],” Richardson said. “I suppose I could speculate as to why they voted as they did. And perhaps it could have a little something to do with the fact that they support my opponents.”
Richardson said the council has over the years “learned to value an independent and direct perspective.”
“Either Kelly and the mayor are afraid of that, or they don’t value it,” Richardson said. “I really don’t know which. But I tend to be independent and direct, and my fellow councilmembers have grown to respect that.”
She said she was honored to have received the votes of her colleagues for the position.
“It was Kelly who turned this investigation into one of taking sides,” Richardson said. “What we have been seeking is information and the truth behind allegations against the mayor. It was Kelly who chose to take a side.
“Yet she took a side when she did not take part in the conversation,” she said.
Richardson referred to the June executive session when council discussed and agreed to initiate its investigation of Bodker for unspecified allegations. Stewart was away on vacation that week.
“I think it is really easy to Monday-morning quarterback when you don’t have to put your neck out there and make the hard choices,” Richardson said.
“And that is exactly what she has done,” she said. “I think it is shameful that she would suggest that looking for the truth and the facts behind any allegation is simply political.”
Richardson said if there is discord at the table, it comes from her.
“I think people can have discourse without being polarized,” she said.
Asked if it is possible to launch such an investigation and not have it be political, Richardson said it does not change anything in the end.
“Minimized or not, it doesn’t change it. If you say it is in a political environment, what does that change? I think it changes nothing for the people for whom it is an affront to the mayor. It changes nothing for the people who want the information and who want the truth behind the allegations,” Richardson said. “I think it would have been more politically expedient to do what Kelly did, and ask to delay it.
“There is no political gain here for me,” she said. “It’s about doing the right thing.”