Johns Creek summer of unrest leaves house divided



It has been one long and bitter summer as the city has been divided as it has never been before.

Johns Creek had been busy constructing a “brand,” for itself. That is, leaders sought an identity, that certain element that captures what it means to live and work in Johns Creek and marketing this city to the state and to the nation.

Yes, it is about eight parts Johns Creek Chamber of Commerce boosterism. But it’s also PTA pride and homeowner pride of place. It’s turning to someone in a convention or on the golf course and saying, “I am from Johns Creek,” and seeing the light that goes on in the other person’s face.

Today, that light goes on but not for reasons that make residents happy. It is a most unusual step for a City Council to denounce its mayor and order an investigation of him. It is even more unusual to denounce that mayor but then politely decline to reveal the specific actions that are behind the call for this investigation.

It is certainly the talk of North Fulton in particular and all of metro Atlanta in general. What is going on in Johns Creek?

And whatever degree of success that the city may have made in creating a Johns Creek brand, that has now been eclipsed by the events that this city has had to suffer through.

If, as the five members of the City Council who initiated the investigation say, this investigation was occasioned by a long history of abuses by the mayor, then it begs the question, why wait so long?

These accusations have in some cases long histories, almost as long as the city itself. Yet they were not brought to light then. Most of the charges outlined in the thin report submitted for public inspection are rather petty in nature, and reflect early mistakes the mayor made.

Is it that the sum of theses transgressions has grown so large and the mayor so unrepentant in their commission that this ugly business had to be exposed? We were told in the beginning, yes, these actions have shown a pattern of abuse of power. And that in the interests of transparency, an independent investigation was the only solution.

But where was the transparency? No formal charges were made, only a whisper campaign just two months before qualifying for a re-election the mayor had announced he would seek. The timing was terrible, but the assurances were that it would be conducted as quickly as possible.

Then a challenger arose from the midst of the City Council to formally challenge the mayor for that post. The mayor’s supporters cried foul, and said this investigation was only to besmirch the character of the mayor in a way that was timed to do him the most political harm.

But would it have been better to sweep all this under the carpet? Let the skeletons remain secured in the closet? Members of the council (save one dissenter) said no, it was time to act. The public must be made to know. The timing was unfortunate, but so be it.

And now we do know what the furor was all about. Two weeks before the election, the report surfaced at the Oct. 22 City Council meeting. Apparently no one on council or staff knew was being released, but someone knew enough to reserve space for the television cameras at the meeting.

The resulting report was a series of vignettes pointing out some of the excesses of the mayor over the preceding seven years in which he made mistakes of judgment, certainly. Were there any of character? That is still being debated.

Indeed, it will be debated right up until the election. Certainly, there is no “smoking gun” that point to criminal or even ethics charges. The evidence is simply lacking of anything concrete. And it is probably of little note that the “conclusions,” as the report styled them, amount to very much.

And despite protestations that the report may be sent to the district attorney, the attorney general or the FBI, nothing will come of that. But it does leave open the question of whether the report did the job for which it was intended all along?

That would be the purpose that the mayor’s supporters have said from the beginning – that it was a simple character assassination released to do maximum damage just before the campaign.

The timing of events all along has played into the mayor’s supporters’ hands to the extent that they can claim it was all politically motivated.

But like just about everything in this sorry summer, it is open to liberal interpretation by those who are disposed to believe one way or the other.

Those who see the mayor as “the face of Johns Creek” and as a mayor who was worked tirelessly to put the city on the map say he should be vindicated. Through the virtue of the many associations he has volunteered to serve such as the Georgia Municipal Association, the Atlanta Regional Commission, the Mayors of Metropolitan Atlanta and others, he has worked hard to bring this new city to the attention of its peers.

To those who see the mayor as dictatorial, egotistical and self-serving by participating on all of those said organizations, he has not served the city. Instead, he has sought to exceed his authority time and again. It was either put a stop to him now or perhaps never.

Certainly, there is a huge disagreement between the majority of the council and mayor on what the role of the mayor should be. That has been the cause of much friction and it is at the heart of the conflict.

What is the role of the mayor for this city?

Council changed the charter to not only curtail the authority of the mayor but to make it so that the mayor may only serve “The Will of Council.”

His continued disobedience to that dictum of the charter is the main source of their displeasure with his actions and has culminated in this investigation. He continues to “sabotage” the decisions of council. He confers with other elected officials without direction from the council, and often leaving the council in ignorance of his consultations.

The mayor says he does not read the charter as a “gag order,” nor does he intend to give up advocating for what he thinks is best for the city. He does not see the role of mayor is merely to serve the majority of council.

I see it as a question of whether the council should act with one voice or with many. That is the question voters ultimate will decide.

As for this investigation that has plagued the city these four months, in the end, I think all will agree the game was not worth the candle.

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