JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — The Johns Creek City Council came one vote shy of overturning Mayor Mike Bodker’s veto of a decision to pursue multiple design options for widening Jones Bridge Road.
At its Dec. 10 meeting, the council fell short of a two-thirds majority, or five votes, to overturn the veto, which Bodker announced Dec. 7. Although the original vote Nov. 26 was 5-2, Councilman Jay Lin changed his position and voted with Bodker and Councilman Steve Broadbent to uphold the veto.
In November, the council voted to study multiple options for improving Jones Bridge Road between State Bridge Road and Waters Road. Those options included widening the road from two to four lanes — the recommendation of the Public Works Department — a three-lane road with a continuous center turn lane or adding turn lanes at neighborhood entrances.
Council members John Bradberry, Chris Coughlin, Stephanie Endres and Lenny Zaprowski voted to pursue alternative plans at an additional cost of $100,000.
Bodker argued that because the project was specified for four lanes in the transportation sales tax referendum — or TSPLOST — the city could not deviate, and there was no point to study other options.
“I think we all are sincerely debating at its very core a very simple question,” Bodker said. “How bound are we by the descriptions that were brought into TSPLOST? If we were released from that, then I’m not sure that there is any more controversy amongst us, because at that point we would simply explore the options and let the best result rise to the top.”
Assistant City Attorney Ronald Bennet’s recommendation has been that the council could study other options with TSPLOST funds, but could not build anything other than four lanes unless the project proved unfeasible.
Before enacting his veto power, the mayor received a courtesy review from the Georgia Attorney General Office Dec. 3. In line with the city attorney, the Attorney General concluded that if there is a general referendum question with supporting documentation describing a specific project, as is the case with Jones Bridge Road, the city must complete the specific project.
Lin cited this legal advice as justification for his change in vote.
“We focused a lot of the discussion on what the solutions are or what the solution should be, but to me this is really a legal issue,” Lin said. “I think none of us like what the process for this was, and I certainly don’t want us to fix this right problem with the wrong solution. I don’t feel comfortable overriding the veto without a second opinion, without legal counsel outside our city attorney.”
Some council members challenged the mayor’s interpretation of the law.
“The letter to the Attorney General’s office argued the side of why the council has no discretion and seems to have left out relevant law and facts,” Bradberry said. “Of course, of course the Attorney General agreed. Only the mayor and his point of view has been represented. This is why at our last retreat we had consensus that we wanted an independent, second legal opinion. This never happened.”
For now, the Jones Bridge project is tabled until the council votes to move forward with the four lanes or tries to find another way to pursue the project.
With council members split on the proper approach to TSPLOST projects, other initiatives funded by the tax could face a similar stalemate.
“The broader issue is if we don’t have discretion in this TSPLOST project, then we do not have discretion in the other TSPLOST widening projects like State Bridge, Old Alabama, 141, etc.,” Bradberry said.
The council discussed seeking a third legal opinion or trying to call for declaratory judgement, a kind of legally binding court ruling. However, Bennet said that this issue did not meet the requirements for calling for declaratory judgement.
“If we can settle the legal question, then obviously we can all get back on the same page for how we’re operating going forward,” Bodker said. “Doesn’t mean we’ll agree on the solution but at least we’ll have a common basis for dealing with it. Because if I turn around right now and try to bring up Jones Bridge or any other project, we’re still going to get back to the same central issue.”
Sixteen residents spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. About a quarter wanted to see the veto upheld, either because they supported the four-lane widening or because they agreed with the legal reasoning. The majority spoke in opposition to the widening.