Kudos to the Milton Herald for making citizens aware of this important controversy. This story has critical implications for good governance in Milton. The Milton Herald raises some important points that need further explaination and should make citizens question the fundamental integrity of Milton’s city administration and city council. Following are my observations:
Palazzo raises an essential point that was also recently broached by the President Emeritus of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation (read my previous blog post). The specter of being sued, having to hire an attorney, and spending tens of thousands of dollars will virtually guarantee that no citizen will ever again file a legitimate ethics complaint in Milton against a Council member. I have been making this very point since 2016. I have published blog posts and spoken before Council to plead for a more citizen-centric (and less politician-centric) ethics process in Milton. Unfortunately, my pleas have fallen on deaf ears . . . and predictably, Milton finds itself facing a serious ethics scandal. Lack of an effective and efficient ethics process means that citizens have been deprived of an important tool for holding local government accountable.It also means that politicians are more interested in protecting their privilege and power than in protecting citizens from political misdeeds and misbehavior. Even if Palazzo wins—and I am confident he will—the example of this case will certainly deter the vast majority of citizens from filing legitimate ethics complaints or otherwise challenging/criticizing their local government.
Mayor Jamison is losing his credibility with citizens and expending—and I believe wasting—vast political capital to bolster Paul Moore. Jamison claims this is a civil matter in which City cannot or should not take a position. He is parroting the City Attorney who asserts that the City is just a “bystander.” This is nonsense. On behalf of the panel, the City filed a pleading in which it requested that the case be dismissed, relief sought by Mr. Moore be denied, and all costs incurred by the City be paid by Mr. Moore. (The City should demand full compensation of its legal fees from Mr. Moore and sue him for these monies should he refuse. Citizens should insist on this.) Furthermore, I would contend that the City is obligated to vigorously defend its ethics process and its ethics panel. Instead, the City has shied away from its initial pleading and reversed course—now asserting its role is merely one of onlooker and file clerk.Recall also that it was Jamison who 1) made the motion that Moore not be punished for his ethics violations and 2) recently nominated Moore to be Mayor Pro Tempore (i.e., his number two on Council).
Note that the City has already spent over $14,000 of your tax dollars in payments to the City Attorney’s law firm. Nearly half of these fees (about $7000) were incurred since City Council refused to impose punishment on Mr. Moore, which I believe emboldened Mr. Moore to file the current suit . . . resulting in more of your tax dollars being wasted by the City. (By the way, these costs do not include the costs to pay the 3 attorneys that sat on the ethics panel. I have submitted an Open Records Request to determine these costs. And of course, the City has incurred significant costs associated with staff time spend on this ethics fiasco.) There is irony in the fact that the original issue at the heart of this case was consideration of $7000 that the City would contribute toward the purchase and installation of traffic calming devices . . . an issue so perfunctory that it had always been handled as a consent agenda item by Council . . . that is, until the White Columns HOA request . . . the same White Columns where City Manager Krokoff and Council Member Moore reside. Coincidence? I don’t think so. As Yogi Berra once said: That is too coincidental to be a coincidence.
Moore’s contention that Mr. Palazzo’ initial contact with him for advice, direction, assistance, etc. “belies Mr. Palazzo’s later contention that Councilman Moore should have recused himself” is a laughable non-sequitur. Citizens routinely reach out to Council Members to get advice and direction. It is nonsense to argue that such interactions somehow provide future protection against legitimate ethics complaints. However, such pathetic arguments only serve to highlight the flimsiness of Mr. Moore’s defenses. This includes Mr. Moore’s recent assertions that he is a victim who has refused to “lay down.” Anyone who has followed this sad saga from its inception understands that Mr. Palazzo was the underdog in this David-vs.-Goliath struggle. However, against all odds, Mr. Palazzo turned the tables on Mr. Moore. Nobody is asking Mr. Moore to LAY DOWN. Rather, Mr. Moore needs to MAN UP, admit to his misdeeds, and take his lumps. Integrity, fairness, accountability, and good governance demand it. What say yea, Mr. Moore?
In the past few days, both WSB and the Milton Herald have covered the Paul Moore ethics saga. This disgraceful scandal is enveloping the City and exposing a City Council and a City administration that consistently demonstrates that it cares more about protecting one of their own than about ethics and citizens. Over the past year, Milton’s city government has had many opportunities to reign in Mr. Moore, but instead has acted to encourage and support Mr. Moore, thereby perpetuating the ethics scandal and its damage to the community. Furthermore, the city’s strategy of ignoring the scandal and wishing it away have failed miserably. And increasingly the dysfunction at City Hall is alarming advocates of good governance, such as the President Emeritus of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, a non-partisan organization founded in 1994 to promote government transparency and free speech rights in Georgia. (Read more about this below.)
I am posting both the WSB video and a link to the WSB story.
The comments of Richard Griffiths of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation are troublingly enlightening. Mr. Griffith rightly contends that a citizen filing a complaint should not find himself the target of legal action, correctly stating “a legitimate complaint to the ethics commission was upheld and now that citizen is facing legal repercussions that are scary and potentially expensive and that’s not right.” Mr. Griffiths further stated “It’s very chilling. It’s frightening.” And it seems that Mr. Palazzo, who filed the ethics complaint, has already spent $30K on this matter . . . and he is likely to spend much more before all is said and done. I believe Mr. Palazzo should sue Mr. Moore and/or the City for these expenses.
The comments in the WSB story by City Attorney Ken Jarrard are also troubling. Mr. Jarrard has spoken out of both sides of his mouth on this matter. In its legal response to Mr. Moore’s lawsuit, the City argued for dismissal of the lawsuit:
However, lately Mr. Jarrard has changed his tune and stated that the City is merely “a bystander.” And in the WSB story, Mr. Jarrard states that the city will “honor and respect any decision of the court.” This is a nonsense answer. The City has no choice; the matter is out of its hands. Is Mr. Jarrard implying that the city has considered actions that would dishonor and disrespect the decision of the court?
The question that Mr. Jarrard should be answering is: Why isn’t the City of Milton honoring and respecting its own ethics process and its own ethics panel? Why is the City choosing to be a bystander? And who is involved in the decisions about the city’s response in this matter? Is City Manager Krokoff involved? Remember that Mr. Krokoff himself is “conflicted” in this matter as he lives in White Columns. Furthermore, it was Mr. Krokoff who advised Mr. Moore that he did not have a conflict in the White Columns traffic calming issue. Not only is Mr. Krokoff conflicted, but it is not his job to advise Council on conflict of interest . . . a fact that troubled the Milton ethics panel. So it strikes me that the City’s tepid and contradictory responses certainly protect Mr. Krokoff, who seems to have instituted a city government information blackout concerning the ethics scandal . . . again self-serving. If Mr. Krokoff is involved in crafting the City’s response to Mr. Moore’s lawsuit, I believe such involvement is unethical . . . and perhaps an ethics complaint should be filed against Mr. Krokoff.
I am quite sure that City Manager Krokoff and City Attorney Jarrard are not acting alone in this matter. Who from Council is involved? Mayor Peyton Jamison? Is Paul Moore involved? It would not surprise me. Is former Council Member Laura Bentley, Mr. Moore’s chief apologist, lobbying the City? Will the City be transparent and explain its stance? Or is the City going to hide behind the veil of attorney-client privilege? Citizens deserve transparency about how and why the City has chosen not to support and defend its own ethics process and panel. Perhaps Mr. Palazzo should sue the City to determine the truth in this matter. Mr. Palazzo has been consistently treated unfairly by the City of Milton. He deserves answers and justice.
Although hard to find, there is a silver lining in this matter. Through its actions, City Council has put a huge political target on its back.2023 elections are just around the corner. Not only is Paul Moore up for re-election, two of his biggest backers on Council, Carol Cookerly and Rick Mohrig, are also up for re-election. Ethics will be the dominant issue of the election. Any decent challenger (i.e., ANY FUNCTIONING ADULT) will have little difficulty unseating these three council members. And the Milton Coalition blog will certainly keep the ethics issue front-and-center during the 2023 election.
(I will also post the latest Milton Herald article on the scandal when it becomes available.)
Today, despite the City of Milton’s efforts to contain the crisis, the Paul Moore Ethic Scandal has once again reared its ugly head. The AJC published an article about Mr. Moore’s current lawsuit to reverse the findings of Milton’s ethics panel. Following is a link to the article. I am also attaching a PDF of the article.
Ethics is foundational to good government. Since 2016, to no avail, I have been warning Milton’s City government that Milton’s ethics policies and practices do not foster ethical behavior, but instead perversely incentivize misconduct by government officials. Milton’s ethics ordinance is the most citizen-unfriendly ethics ordinance in North Fulton County. I have spoken at council about ethics and published two blog posts that explained how Milton’s ethics ordinance fosters misconduct and dissuades legitimate ethics complaints from being brought forward. A few times, I have also notified the City Manager of clear ethical breaches that he chose to ignore.
So it is no surprise that with the Paul Moore ethics scandal, Milton is reaping what it has sown. The damage to the City is real and mounting. The damage is not just bad publicity, but also mounting legal costs (your tax dollars) for the City and a huge diversion of time and resources from important issues facing the City. The blame falls squarely on Mr. Moore, City Manager Krokoff, and City Council.
There are a few interesting aspects to the AJC article.
First, Paul Moore is now playing the victim. He claims that the his ethics conviction is doing him personal and professional “damage.” And this is perhaps true. However, this damage to Mr Moore is entirely self-inflicted. Paul Moore clearly had an inkling that he was treading on ethical thin ice when he waded into his HOA’s speeding issue. His doubts about the ethics of his participation prompted Mr. Moore to seek advice before the first White Columns hearing at City Council. Unfortunately, Mr. Moore sought advice from someone–the City Manager–who lacks expertise about conflict of interest and who himself is conflicted and admitted (at the White Columns hearing on traffic calming devices) that he might be “conflicted.” Furthermore, Paul Moore made the decision to drag his employer into this ethics matter by referencing his company in his court pleading, so that if a reader now searches on the names of Paul Moore’s employer and “Paul Moore,” the ethics case appears in the search results. (I have read Mr. Moore’s most recent affidavit in this matter and have to question his professional judgment in discussing sensitive company issues in his affidavit.) I believe Mr. Moore’s desperate appeal for sympathy is indicative of the weakness of his legal arguments in this matter.
If there is a victim here, it is Mr. Palazzo, president of the White Columns HOA. I am sure Mr. Palazzo never in his worst nightmares imagined that a routine matter of traffic calming devices (TCD), supported by 64% of White Columns residents, would be handled by the City in such a manner. In fact, this was a perfunctory matter that should have followed precedent and been consigned to a consent agenda, with no discussion or debate at Council. Rather, the TCD matter was moved to the regular agenda, but even so should have been handled as a routine matter . . . the only issue that should have been considered was the HOA’s cost and data sharing agreement with the City. Instead, indulged by his fellow council members, Mr. Moore derailed the May 2, 2022 City Council hearing and pursued a personal agenda against his HOA board that resulted in his motion (approved by Council) to erect further hurdles to approval of a routine data/cost-sharing agreement . . . hurdles that were easily cleared by the White Columns HOA board. Mr. Palazzo was clearly blindsided by Mr. Moore’s unmerciful and bullying beat-down at council. So it isironic and hypocritical that Mr. Moore is now claiming to be the victim. The current ethics debacle is actually a David-vs.-Goliath struggle. Council and the city administration have clearly and consistently lined up behind Mr. Moore. Mr. Moore is on the inside, with all the advantages that provides. Conversely, Mr. Palazzo is on the outside looking in and is decidedly disadvantaged. Despite the City administration and City Council’s transparent efforts to defeat Mr. Palazzo (including turning its back on its own ethics panel) so far Mr. Palazzo has prevailed in his quest for justice and fairness. David is once again beating Goliath. This should cheer the hearts of average hard-working, tax-paying citizens to see politicians getting their deserved comeuppance.
A second interesting element of this sad saga is the City’s position on Mr. Moore’s lawsuit. Mr. Jarrard, the City Attorney, is quoted as stating “We are just bystanders.” However, this is not true. In its pleading to Superior Court, the City actually states (on behalf of itself and the ethics panel) that City and the panel “pray” for dismissal of Mr. Moore’s lawsuit and recovery of City’s associated legal fees. Following is a screenshot of the City’s response to Mr. Moore’s lawsuit:
Granted the City’s response is incredibly LAME, so for all intents and purposes, the City is a “bystander.” However, the City is a bystander by choice. Through its bland pleading, the City has turned its back on its own ethics process and its own ethics panel . . . and by extension, turned its back on ethics, good governance, and citizens. Milton’s ethics panel deserves a much stronger defense from the city.
In closing, below is a copy-and-paste of the byline from the AJC article. It is the perfect byline in that it captures the biggest danger that lurks in this ethics scandal. If Paul Moore prevails in his lawsuit to overturn the ethics panel’s decision of guilt, ethics as a guiding principle of good governance in Milton is DEAD. Citizens can expect the Wild West when it comes to misconduct in Milton’s government. Mr. Palazzo is an extreme rarity in Milton . . . a citizen with the means (he is spending tens of thousands of dollars), the courage, and tenacity to expose and challenge self-dealing and favors for friends & family that has become all too prevalent in Milton. If Mr. Palazzo loses in his quest for justice, Miltonites will be the true losers. Citizens will be (even more) afraid to speak against elected officials. Our fundamental right to free speech will be further attenuated. AJC byline:
Advocating for High Ethical Standards in Milton’s Government,
Note: I am not including the name of Mr. Moore’s employer as naming his employer does not comport with my rules of engagement. Furthermore, I will not (at this time) discuss sensitive issues about Mr. Moore’s company that Mr. Moore incomprehensibly and recklessly raises in his pleadings. Mr. Moore is doing enough damage to himself with his pleadings; he needs no further help from anyone else. Mr. Moore is his own worst enemy. He never learned the lesson that when you find yourself in a hole, you should stopping digging. Mr. Moore is on a path to seal his fate through his pleadings. I believe Mr. Moore will be soundly defeated in Superior Court; the ethics case seems open-and-shut to me. If Mr. Moore had been smart, once the ethics charges were levied against him, he would have sought accommodation with Mr. Palazzo. He did not seek rapprochement, but rather has consistently doubled down on a losing and increasingly incoherent and desperate strategy. Although Mr. Moore blames many people, including me, for his demise, Mr. Moore has only himself to blame.
I am interested in hearing from Mr. Moore on this matter. I am open to providing him an opportunity to plead his case at this forum, but I suspect Mr. Moore will not take me up on my offer.
On February 21st (Wednesday) City Council will consider a plan to craft a comprehensive strategy for Milton’s 400+ acres of greenspace. When I read about this, all manner of alarm bells began sounding and warning lights began blinking.
To begin this post, I am going to make a prediction:
The 89-acre property at the corner of Bethany Road and Providence Road will never be opened to the public or else will be given the lowest priority (i.e., it will be many years before it is opened to the public).
I hope I am wrong in making this prediction or perhaps through my warnings, I can influence City Council’s decision-making in favor of Milton’s citizens . . . but don’t hold your breath.
So that brings us to the question of why I am particularly skeptical/suspicious about this specific property? What is underlying my prediction? Answer: The property at Bethany and Providence borders Council Member Carol Cookerly’s estate. I find it odd that this property has not been already opened to the public. I say this because it was purchased over 3 ½ years ago for $5.79M. It is the most expensive greenspace property purchased by the City (representing nearly 30% of the greenspace monies that have been spent). (The land is mostly swamp or steeply sloped . . . as with other purchased properties, it is my firm belief that the City overpaid for this property.) Since its purchase, nothing seems to have been done to ready the property for public use. This strikes me as odd given the closeproximity of the property to the more heavily populated areas of Milton; it is ideally situated between the Highway 9/Windward Parkway area and Crabapple. And given that the parcel borders Ms. Cookerly’s property, I would have thought the City would be keen to expedite public access to demonstrate no favoritism is being shown to Ms. Cookerly.
I urge Milton’s citizens to deeply engage in this green space planning process. Frankly, given my extensive past experience with the City, I am skeptical about the motives behind this new plan. Often in Milton, process is cynically used to avoid/delay decision-making or to provide cover for decisions that do not reflect citizen sentiment. Just because citizens are given opportunities for input does not mean that such input is actually used or even considered. Frankly, I am not sure why more citizen input is even needed. Myriad surveys, focus groups, etc. have already been conducted over many years . . . the City should know what citizens want, which is why I think this plan is just more delay and obfuscation by the City . . . just more kicking the can down the road.
At tomorrow night’s City Council meeting, I hope that Council will go on record and firmly establish some aggressive and definitive principles for staff to follow:
ALL greenspace land will be expeditiously opened to the public. Every square inch.
All currently non-public greenspace properties will be simultaneously (rather than sequentially) made ready for public use.
To expedite access, properties will be improved to a minimal standard—e.g., basic trails cut and gravel parking laid down—with the goal of additional improvement over time.
All properties should be made available to the public within a reasonable timeperiod (e.g., 18 months). Enough with the foot-dragging.
Top priority will be given to providing public access to the property at Bethany and Providence.
My hope is that Council Member Cookerly take the lead in tomorrow’s discussion and propose adoption of the above principles. Furthermore, it would be reassuring to citizens if Ms. Cookerly were to go on record supporting expeditiously providing public access to the property at Bethany and Providence.
Advocating For Expeditious Public Access to Greenspace in Milton,
Following is an update on the Paul Moore Ethics Scandal in Milton. There is so much wrongdoing here on the part of so many people in Milton’s city government, it is a bit overwhelming to process and difficult to know where to start. Fortunately, I have invested a lot of time and effort in my (perhaps quixotic) quest to foster principles of good governance in Milton, such as transparency, accountability, honest, rigor, and fairness. My knowledge and experience allow me to make sense of Milton city government for citizens—to the extent it makes sense, which it sometimes does not . . . at least not to honest and rational citizens. There is much that occurs in city government that is just plain nonsense or worse . . . it only makes sense to dishonest and self-serving politicians (and their lackeys), who regrettably abound in Milton.
Continuing Information Blackout. Unfortunately, the City continues its information blackout about Council Member Paul Moore’s ethics scandal. The City has provided the bare minimum of information to citizens—only what is legally required (e.g., legal notices of ethics hearings at the rear of the Milton Herald and hearing dates/times listed at the city calendar). The city has posted nothing at Facebook or sent any informative emails to citizens. The proceedings have not been publicized in any way. Citizens were not provided an opportunity to watch a live stream of the proceedings. And no videos of the proceedings were recorded and provided for viewing by citizens. No documents have been made available to citizens. And since Mr. Moore’s conviction on 3 ethics violations, the City of Milton has provided no information to citizens, not even notification of the conclusions and recommendations of the ethics panel. In his recent State of the City address, Mayor Jamison uttered not a single word about ethics. The City’s consistent lack of communication with citizens about a serious ethics issue constitutes an egregious (but sadly typical) lack of transparency.It raises serious questions about basic integrity in our city government. The City is deciding what is important for citizens to know, instead of providing citizens with information and letting them decide what is important. To deny citizens important information is to fundamentally undermine democracy and good governance; it is the opposite of the citizen-centric government (that Mayor Jamison touted in his recent State of the City address). The City’s current slanted, PR-driven communications border on Orwellian. Right now, my blog is the only source of objective information in Milton about the Paul Moore ethics scandal and more generally the state of governance and politics in Milton.
Moore’s Ethics Conviction Appeal. Given this information black-out, I suppose nearly all citizens would be surprised to learn that the ethics case against Paul Moore is still active. Paul Moore has filed a suit that names as defendants: Tony Pallazo (the ethics complainant), the City of Milton, and the ethics panel. This means the City will waste even more time and money on this ethics fiasco and will continue to be distracted from more pressing matters. It did not have to be this way . . . keep reading.
Moore’s Ethics Conviction. Make no mistake about it, this ethics scandal and the damage it has done to the city are self-inflicted wounds. For years, the City has turned a blind eye to ethical misconduct.And with the current ethics scandal, City Council and the city administration have made a bad situation much worse through their actions (and sometimes inactions). Recall that on August 30, 2022, Paul Moore was found guilty of not one . . . not two . . . (drumroll) . . . but three ethics charges concerning installation of traffic calming devices (TCDs) in White Columns. He was found guilty by a panel of three attorneys randomly selected from a pool of attorneys vetted by the City, who the City (at the start of the ethics hearing) rightfully asserted are experts in due process. The ethics panel’s conclusions and recommendations follow:
City Council’s Back-Stabs Ethics Panel and Refuses to Uphold Ethics in Milton. So did City Council follow the ethics panel’s recommendation to give Paul Moore “a written censure or reprimand” and publicly announce this action at a regular City Council meeting? Did City Council honor and respect its own ethics process and support its own ethics panel? Did council take advantage of a golden opportunity to declare to citizens its commitment to the highest ethical standards? The answer to all of these questions is an emphatic NO.
Rather Milton City Council rejected the recommendations of the ethics panel, shirking its responsibility to impose punishment. No punishment was imposed. Council stated that with the ethics panel’s finding of guilt in this matter, Mr. Moore (in Mayor Jamison’s words) had been “sufficiently sanctioned.” Inexplicably, Councilshowed disrespect for its own ethics panel, for the city’s own ethics ordinance, and for ethics generally . . . sending a clear message to citizens that ethics do not matter in Milton.
Council cannot overturn the panel’s finding of guilt. If they could, I believe Council would have overturned Moore’s guilty conviction. Nevertheless, with their failure to impose punishment, council tacitly signaled their disagreement with the panel’s decision. I remind citizens that no member of council is a lawyer. The ethics panel’s decision was well reasoned and the recommended punishment was light, considering the number and nature of Mr. Moore’s ethics violations. The case was the epitome of an open-and-shut case.
Council is standing with Paul Moore against the ethics panel, against high ethical standards, and ultimately against citizens. And if you have any doubt about this, continue reading the blog to learn about further actions recently taken by council to undermine the ethics panel, to assist Paul Moore in his lawsuit, and aid Mr. Moore’s likely future bid for re-election.
My next blog post will recount other city government actions since Mr. Moore’s conviction and place them in the context of city politics. Buckle up and grab your barf bag . . . it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
(For local government junkies, I provide additional commentary and analysis at the Bits and Pieces page at the Blog. Some of these shorter segments are expanded and later published as full blog posts that are disseminated to subscribers. Following is the link to the Bits and Pieces page: https://wordpress.com/page/miltoncoalition.blog/3531My most recent post is about Mayor Jamison’s recent State of the City speech . . . very disappointing.)
Advocating For Good Governance,
Postscript: I want to be clear that with my blog posts,I am exercising my right to political free speech. I invest much time in research and analysis. I strive to be truthful and base my expressed opinions on facts. Of course, if a reader finds a factual error, I will make appropriate corrections. On rare occasions (less than half a dozen), readers have contacted me about factual errors that I did correct. Of course, my opinions are my opinions, and they may differ from yours. And I am open to publishing opposing opinions that are well-written, logical, and factual. And of course, if you are so inclined, you can start your own blog. Milton would benefit from competing blogs that debate the important issues facing the city . . . but I warn you that a well-done blog requires a lot of work.
Today, a panel of three attorneys ruled that Milton Council Member Paul Moore violated 3 sections of Milton’s Ethics Ordinance. I have to admit to a certain sense of satisfaction with the verdict. For the past 4 years, at this blog, I have been warning Milton’s citizens about serious problems at City Hall. Now an independent panel of judges has validated my concerns. Milton is reaping what it has sown. I hope this judgment will be a clarion call to citizens in Milton that all is not well in Milton’s government . . . that Milton desperately needs capable and ethical elected officials focused on important priorities rather than minutiae and personal agendas. Following is the conclusion of the ethics panel:
The issues here run much deeper than bad behavior by a single council member. City Manager Krokoff was also a bad actor in this shameful episode. Even though he himself lives in White Columns and therefore has a conflict of interest, he nevertheless felt it was appropriate to advise Mr. Moore in this matter. Furthermore, it is not Mr. Krokoff’s job to advise council members on conflicts of interest; that is the function of the City Attorney. And if you read the ethics ruling, you will find that the ethics panel was similarly troubled by Mr. Krokoff’s actions. Some city council members also share some blame in this matter, as they indulged Mr. Moore in his pursuit of a personal agenda at council. Council Members Cookerly, Verhoff, Jacobus, and Mohrig all voted to defer a decision on the traffic calming devices rather than routinely approve the proposed cost-sharing agreement as has been the standard practice in the past. This set in motion the ethics charges against Mr. Moore. This episode will result in the City expending a considerable sum of money on the ethics panel and City Attorney fees . . . not to mention lots and lots of wasted staff time and resources . . . never mind the embarrassment to the city. Worst of all, this sordid episode has exposed a city council that seems to have its priorities all wrong. In Alpharetta, the city government is busy working out the details of the first phase ($500M) of the redevelopment of Northpoint Mall, while in Milton, City Council is wasting hours of time debating a $7,000 cost-sharing agreement for traffic calming devices. Shameful.
I am attaching the ethics panel’s 9-page ruling. I will have more to say on this matter when time allows.
The City of Milton continues its information blackout concerning ethics charges against Council Member Paul Moore. I suspect the City’s lack of transparency around this issue has much to do with City Manager’s misbehavior in this matter . . . more about that later in the post. Mr. Krokoff will not tell you the truth, so I will. And judging from recent traffic to the blog, quite a few Miltonites are starting to pay attention to this scandal. Thanks for tuning in.
Last Monday, I attended the City Council meeting where once again the matter of cost-sharing for White Columns traffic calming devices was discussed . . . and after more dithering by City Council, finally decided in favor of the White Columns Board. Last Tuesday, I attended Paul Moore’s ethics hearing, which lasted most of the day. The ethics panel did not render a decision, but rather is allowing the parties to submit additional information (especially case law supporting their positions). The panel also needs time to digest the extensive testimony and voluminous documentation provided at the hearing. Following are some of my impressions of the City Council meeting and the ethics hearing.
City Council Meeting. After foolishly deferring the issue of cost-sharing for traffic calming devices in White Columns for 90 days, City Council again took up the issue last Monday night. Paul Moore stated that “out of an abundance of caution” he was not going to participate in the discussion or vote on the matter. This would be cited—justifiably in my opinion—in the next day’s ethics hearing as a tacit admission by Mr. Moore that he has a conflict of interest in the White Columns matter. I agree. If Mr. Moore is so confident of his innocence, why not participate in the discussion and vote? And conversely, if Mr. Moore is tacitly admitting to guilt, why not MAN UP, admit it, apologize, and take your lumps? When at first we practice to deceive . . .
What most struck me about this City Council hearing (and the previous hearing) is the triviality of the underlying issue . . . and the associated pettiness and cluelessness of several council members, who made an Everest-sized mountain out of a pimple of a molehill, costing the City lots of money and much embarrassment.
Despite all the confusion to the contrary—much of it created by Mr. Moore–the only issue to be decided was whether the City would agree to share 50% (<$7000) of the costs of 4 installed traffic calming devices—a cost it has shared with 8 to 12 (estimates vary) other subdivisions, without any drama or debate at Council. White Columns HOA had followed—with a few insignificant deviations–the City’s process and satisfied all of its City’s criteria. This was a matter that deserved little attention from staff (apart from standard due diligence) or Council, but which has consumed vast quantities of time from both and will certainly end up costing the City many multiples of the $7000 at issue (making a mockery of Council Member Mohrig’s assertions that he cares about taxpayer money). This cost to citizens includes some/all of Paul Moore’s legal fees; City Attorney fees; and the mounting costs of the 3-judge ethics panel—never mind all the additional staff time that has been invested in this issue. The ethics complainant will be blamed for the costs associated with the ethics charges, but it must be understood that the ethics panel has already ruled that sufficient evidence existed to justify an ethics complaint. Rather the blame lies first and foremost with Mr. Moore and Mr. Krokoff, but some blame also rests with the 4 council members—Morhig, Verhoff, Jacobus, and Cookerly—that have indulged Mr. Moore’s crusade against his HOA board. Does any rational citizen really believe that this minor issue would have made it onto Council’s agenda and received so much attention if not for the fact that Council Member Moore and City Manager Krokoff both live in White Columns?
This cost-sharing issue never should have been a standalone item on Council’s agenda. And originally it was NOT a standalone item, but rather was appropriately consigned council’s consent agenda, where perfunctory issues are lumped together as a single agenda item and voted on without any debate. This is historically how these cost-sharing agreements—and there have been many—have always been handled. So the question that has been asked, but not yet answered, is why Mr. Krokoff, who lives in White Columns and is also conflicted in this matter, chose to transfer the WC issue from the consent agenda to Council’s agenda for discussion and debate? Was Mr. Krokoff lobbied by Mr. Moore? Or did Krokoff’s own prejudices in the matter come into play? And these questions beg bigger questions about how much Moore and Krokoff—both conflicted in this matter—have colluded and are colluding? I think the City’s silence in this matter speaks volumes. Remember that it is decidedly NOT Mr. Krokoff’s job to dispense legal advice to Council Members; rather it is the City Attorney’s job . . . never mind Mr. Krokoff’s own conflict of interest in this matter. Milton deserves (much) better from a City Manager on the job for 6+ years. Maybe the time has come for an intrepid citizen to file an ethics complaint against Mr. Krokoff in this matter . . .
Unfortunately, once this cost-sharing issue returned to Council for consideration last week, several council members continued Mr. Moore’s quixotic quest to micro-manage the affairs of White Columns and second-guess the decisions of a duly elected and properly chartered HOA board that had worked for many months with City staff, which had granted WC its needed permits. Council Member Rick Mohrig—cluelessness personified—led council in last week’s assault on common sense and good judgment. Unfortunately, Mr. Mohrig was assisted by recently elected council members Andrea Verhoff and Jan Jacobus. (Mayor Jamison and Council Member Johnson once again wisely remained mostly silent during round 2 of this City Hall circus.) Completely lacking situational awareness and lost in the weeds, Ms. Verhoff and Mr. Jacobus ignored long-held wisdom that when you find yourself in a hole, you should stop digging. Ms. Verhoff even furrowed her brow about the placement of one sign and wrung her hands about minor process discrepancies, while seemingly blind to the bigger picture process issues relating to conflict of interest, formulation of council agendas, and sensible prioritization of real issues facing the city. Unfortunately for these council members, facts are stubborn things (John Adams). The (four) hurdles Council had erected at the May Council meeting to derail a routine approval process were easily cleared by the WC HOA Board. A new (a 2019 study wasn’t good enough) traffic study confirmed the need for traffic-calming devices. And a survey of WC residents revealed that 63% supported the traffic calming devices. Council’s attempt to move the goal posts had failed miserably. At the May 3 Council Meeting, Paul Moore asserted that should the HOA board clear these new hurdles that we should “let the chips fall where they may.” Well, it seems an avalanche of chips fell on Mr. Moore. Despite his being on Council and his efforts to bend council to his will, Mr. Moore failed in his attempts to do an end-run around HOA’s democratic process and ended up looking quite foolish. Mr. Moore clearly is not well regarded . . . even in his own subdivision—perhaps early indicator of how he may fare in a re-election bid. As for the Council Members that indulged Mr. Moore (and I believe were easily led astray by him), they have many questions to answer. Is this level of intrusiveness in minor HOA affairs justified and can we expect more of the same in the future? Is Council comfortable with Moore and Krokoff’s perceived conflicts of interest? How will Council explain the funds and resources that were wasted to decide whether to approve a routine <$7000 expenditure? Why was this issue even taken up by Council in the first place and should there be more rigor and transparency around the drafting of Council agendas? And lastly and perhaps most importantly, what does Council’s dithering on this issue say about Council’s mis-prioritization of much bigger issues facing Milton . . . what important issues are not getting addressed because Council so easily gets lost in the weeds and caught up in politics?
I hope this issue and others like it (that seem to arise on a regular basis) prompt citizens to engage and perhaps recruit smarter candidates for Council that will uphold the rule of law and citizen prerogatives (vs. pursuing personal agendas and granting favors for friends). I hope this matter will prompt citizens to demand the highest standards of integrity from both elected and appointed officials . . . officials that will strive to not only do what is legal but more importantly what is right.
(My next post will address Paul Moore’s ethics hearing on August 2nd . . . suffice to say, things are not looking good for Mr. Moore.)
Advocating for good governance,
Note: I want to again emphasize that I am not taking sides in the White Columns dispute. The residents of White Columns need to decide what is best for their community, without interference from the Milton City Council. Council needs to let the democratic process work in White Columns.
After a hiatus of 6+ months, I feel compelled to write about the latest debacle at Milton City Hall. Once again, misconduct and gross incompetence are fouling the political landscape in Milton and eclipsing good governance. Seven serious ethics charges have been filed against Council Member Paul Moore. Unfortunately, the Milton City government has decided that the less you know about this scandal, the better. . . hence today’s post. It seems that the City of Milton has imposed an information blackout regarding the latest fiasco involving Paul Moore and the White Columns subdivision: no City of Milton Facebook postings . . . no City of Milton emails to citizens . . . no livestreams or recordings of the judicial proceedings. Even the City’s calendar does not show the date/time of the next ethics hearing . . . July 28th I am told. The City of Milton’s normally puffing-and-clanking propaganda machine is eerily quiet. Why? I suspect that one reason is City Manager Steve Krokoff’s complicity in the scandal . . . more about that later in the post. Miltonites should not tolerate sacrificing government transparency at the altar of Public Relations. Unfortunately, Milton really is a Tale of Two Cities: the fake PR-drenched Milton with its non-stop stream of confectionary look-good/feel-good Facebook posts and the real Milton that is mired in incompetence and questionable ethics. I urge readers to forward my blog email and/or the blog URL to concerned citizens, so that the dysfunction at Milton City Hall is exposed. Don’t let City Manager Krokoff and his PR staff get away with its current information embargo.
Fortunately, the Milton Herald has stepped up to report on this important story. Following are links to three Milton Herald stories with some context and history provided by me to help readers better understand the deeper back-story around this ethics scandal . . . and in Milton, there is nearly always a seamy back story.
May 6, 2022: Traffic Calming Devices in White Columns Draws Pushback.
The initial issue that prompted this ethics scandal is a dispute within the White Columns subdivision over the installation of traffic calming devices in White Columns.And I want to be clear that I am not taking sides in this HOA dispute. It is an important safety issue for White Columns that needs to be addressed by the residents of White Columns, without outside interference. However, from the standpoint of the community and City Council,the underlying issue is minor and should have consumed little attention/resources from city staff and City Council; it’s the sort of item that City Manager Krokoff, who creates Council’s agenda, might have better included on a consent agenda . . . or even handled internally without Council involvement. (Mr. Krokoff needs to explain why this issue was given such high priority.) In any case, Council merely needed to decide whether the City would assume some of the costs for these traffic calming devices (or not)—a cost it has shared with eight other subdivisions where the City determined (as it has in White Columns) that speeding presented a safety issue.
Unfortunately, Council Member Paul Moore, who lives in White Columns, chose to insert himself into this issue . . . to escalate it and blow it out of proportion. He is a guy who thrives on drama and over the years has stirred up quite a bit of drama at City Hall. The result of Mr. Moore’s recent meddling has been diversion of precious city resources, erosion of trust in Milton’s government, and much embarrassment to the City. You see, it seems Mr. Moore is aligned with a group in White Columns that has long been battling with the White Columns HOA board. Accordingly, the White Columns HOA President has asserted (rightfully, I believe) that during the City Council hearing on this matter, Mr. Moore should have 1) revealed his residency in White Columns and 2) recused himself because of a real/perceived conflict of interest. I agree. That would have beenthe fair, honorable, and honest course of action.
Unfortunately, rather than expeditiously dispose of the narrow issue of cost-sharing, City Council, in a discussion often driven and dominated by Mr. Moore, chose to defer a vote on the matter. The vote for deferral was 5-2; only Mayor Peyton Jamison and Council Member Juliette Johnson dissented. (Ms. Johnson is a small business owner with first-hand experience with Mr. Moore’s predilection for government overreach and bullying). Both Mr. Jamison and Ms. Johnson had the good sense to oppose deferral, arguing that the charter of White Columns HOA board should be respected and that the underlying issue (of cost-sharing) was a rather perfunctory one. Both understood that deferral meant City Council was wading into an internal HOA dispute and taking sides in that dispute against a duly elected HOA board (and thereby tacitly denying/disrespecting the HOA board’s authority).Do the citizens of Milton really want City Council second-guessing the decisions of HOAs? Do citizens want this sort of intrusiveness from Milton city government? Although some Council Members will argue—unconvincingly—that deferral was intended to “let the residents work things out,” they knew (or should have known) that deferral would advantage the HOA board opposition, would only serve to heighten tensions and ultimately would escalate an already nasty battle in White Columns. Predictably, Council locked both White Columns residents and the broader community into a very public and embarrassing dispute about a relatively minor HOA issue, with each side seeking to gain advantage in the run-up to City’s Council future vote on this issue . . . hence, the ethics complaint against Mr. Moore . . . highly justified given the evidence I have seen.
Unfortunately, no matter the outcome, Milton’s citizens and White Columns residents will bear the high costs of Mr. Moore’s meddling . . . costs that will likely far exceed the City’s share of costs of the traffic calming devices. Citizens may end up paying some/all of Mr. Moore’s legal costs. Citizens will also bear the entire burden of the City’s incurred legal costs (e.g., for the lawyers on the ethics panel and City Attorney fees). Of course, significant City resources have been diverted from more pressing priorities. And such bad publicity will likely hurt property values for White Columns homeowners. For all this, the community can thank Paul Moore and Steve Krokoff.
June 13, 2022: HOA Lodges Ethics Complaint Against Milton Official.
(The Herald’s headline is not completely accurate. The HOA did not file a complaint; rather the HOA president filed a complaint as a private citizen; no HOA resources are being expended.)
Through an Open Records Request, I have obtained both the ethics complaint and Mr. Moore’s response. If City Manager Krokoff cared about transparency, he would make citizens aware of these documents through the city’s communications platforms and provide easy access to these documents. Mr. Krokoff won’t . . . so I will. The documents are attached. Of course, Mr. Krokoff has to defend his own lapses in this matter, as I will explain. The City’s silence on this matter speaks volumes.
Mr. Pallazo, the complainant, argues that given Mr. Moore’s personal (and perhaps financial) interest in this matter, he should have recused himself. Mr. Moore’s defense is laughable. First, Mr. Moore asserts that the ethics complaint is meant to intimidate. The truth is that Mr. Pallazo is engaged in a David-and-Goliath battle. Most of the power resides with Mr. Moore. He is a 20+ year veteran of city politics that knows the ins-and-outs of city government. He has ready access to staff and documents. He has an appointed city administration, particularly the City Manager, that seems sympathetic to his cause. To make matters worse, Milton has a home-grown, onerous (and I believe unconstitutional) ethics ordinance that seems designed to discourage ethics complaints. For example, Milton’s wrongful use clause (in the ethics ordinance) does not follow Georgia Municipal Association guidelines; 3 of our 4 North Fulton sister cities do not even include a wrongful use clause in their ethics ordinances. Milton is also unique among our sister cities in its recompense for legal fees (up to $5000 per charge) for all not-guilty verdicts . . . that’s right, citizens will likely be paying for Mr. Moore’s meddling, not Mr. Moore, who has lawyered up. This recompense measure was Mr. Krokoff’s brainchild . . . one of his first acts as City Manager (in 2016) was to protect himself and City Council. And Mr. Moore’s ethics hearing was flooded with supporters wearing “Paul” stickers, begging the question of who is trying to intimidate whom? (Note: I have lobbied—without success so far—to reform Milton’s ethic’s ordinance to make it compliant with Georgia Municipal Association guidelines and to make it conform to the more citizen-friendly ethics ordinances adopted by Milton’s sister cities.)
Mr. Moore’s other defense is to blame everyone else: the City Manager and his fellow council members. Mr. Moore claims (and Mr Krokoff admits in an affidavit) that the City Manager Krokoff advised him that his participation in and vote on the White Columns matter did not constitute a conflict of interest. This is interesting for a few reasons. First, it is not Mr. Krokoff’s job to dispense legal advice. The City Attorney should have been consulted; he was not. However, the second and bigger issue is that Mr. Krokoff lives in White Columns. He himself has a conflict of interest in this matter. You can’t make this stuff up! That Mr. Krokoff would act with such recklessness does not speak well of a City Manager with 6 years in the job . . . it indicates either gross incompetence or serious ethical failings or perhaps both. This is Good Governance 101 . . . citizens should take Mr. Krokoff to task. (Worse, over a long period of time, through his actions and sometimes his inactions, Mr. Krokoff has created a culture that encourages unethical behavior . . . more in a later separate post.)
Interestingly, Mr. Moore also implicitly (and ridiculously) blames his fellow council members for his ethical lapses. He asserts that they knew that he lived in White Columns, thereby implying that therefore they were fine with his participation. In Mr. Moore’s world, silence is assent. And as if to highlight this point, Mr. Moore extracted affidavits from 5 of 6 fellow council members affirming they knew he lived in White Columns. I rather doubt any member of the ethics panel (or any person with half a brain) will buy such a defense; the obligation to reveal his conflicts of interest rests solely with Mr. Moore. (It is akin to asserting that witnesses to a crime are accomplices if they do not call the police, intervene, etc.). And I suspect that one or more council members were intentionally silent . . . more than willing to let Mr. Moore commit ethical hari-kari.
July 1, 2022: Ethics Complaint Against Milton Official Moves Forward
Despite hiring an attorney who pled his case and flooding the ethics hearing with supporters wearing “Paul” stickers, Paul Moore clearly lost the first round of the ethics inquiry. The ethics panel found there was “sufficient substantiated evidence to support a reasonable belief that there had been a violation” (quoting the Milton Herald) and therefore directed that another hearing be scheduled to settle the claims against Moore. (The next hearing date is July 28th.) Mr. Moore’s efforts to have the case dismissed were denied. In fact, it would seem the Mr. Moore experienced a smackdown at the hearing. The panel rejected Mr. Moore’s assertion that Georgia’s Anti-SLAPP, or Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation, statute was applicable; rather the panel ruled that Georgia’s Anti-SLAPP did not apply to elected officials. The panel was also troubled by the fact that Mr. Moore only revealed his residency in White Columns 45 minutes into City Council’s hearing on traffic calming issue. The panel was also troubled that a conflicted Mr. Krokoff advised Mr. Moore, rather than the City Attorney, whose job is to counsel the council members in such matters. (Hopefully, Mr. Krokoff will be cross-examined by the complainant . . . the City Manager has many unanswered questions about his complicity in this matter.)
One interesting element of the ethics panel hearing is that supporters of Paul Moore were allowed by the City to sport stickers with “Paul” written on them. Keep in mind that the ethics panel is a judicial body. Such public demonstrations would never be allowed in an actual courtroom. Given City Manager’s complicity in this matter and the City’s information black-out about the ethics scandal, allowing such public pressure on the ethics panel seems to fit a pattern. The City seems to be fine with turning the ethics hearing into a circus and perhaps thereby sending a subtle signal to the ethics panel about how it should rule. (However, it seems the City is also giving the complainant ample ammunition if the event he chooses to appeal the decision of the Ethics Panel . . . or sue the City.)
I will continue to blog on this ethics scandal. Future blog posts will include other instances where Paul Moore has gone rogue and City Manager’s Krokoff’s pivotal role in fostering Mr. Moore’s rogue behavior.
Before I get to today’s blog post, thank you citizens for your loyalty and support. You are the reason that I invest so much time and effort into the Milton Coalition Blog. My goal is to provide a source of objective information about Milton’s government that is free from politicians’ spin. Since re-activation in mid-August of 2021, the Milton Coalition Blog has received over 4,000 views. And subscribership (readers that subscribe to the blog to receive it by email) has increased by more than 50%. Now that the election is past, I will be publishing fewer posts. However, I did want to let you know that I am creating a page called “Bits and Pieces” where I will publish shorter, less-polished writings about Milton politics and government. These writings will not be pushed out to email subscribers, so you will have to periodically visit the Bits and Pieces page to read the latest. (Some of these pieces may eventually evolve into full-blown separately published posts.) Following is a link to the Bits and Pieces page:
This website is managed by the Georgia Government Campaign Transparency and Finance Commission (GGCTFC), formerly the State Ethics Commission, and is an easier and quicker means for accessing campaign finance reports than the previous method of submitting Open Records Requests to local government authorities. I am also attaching a pdf file of instructions for accessing campaign finance reports (that was provided to me by the City of Milton.)
Georgia law requires the periodic submission of campaign finance reports from candidates for political office. This begins with the filing of a Declaration of Intent (DOI) prior to any fund-raising or any campaign expenditure. Subsequent to the DOI, periodic reports (Campaign Contribution Disclosure Reports, or CCDRs) are required to be submitted that show sources of financing and uses of funds. CCDRs are a kind of combined income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement. A breakdown of uses and sources of funds is also provided.
For all contributions > $100, the exact amount of the contribution (and date of contribution) must be provided along with information on the contributor: name, mailing address, employer, and occupation. In-kind (i.e., non-monetary) contributions must also be listed, with an estimate of the value of the contribution. For example, if a supporter hosts a meet-and-greet for a candidate, that meet-and-greet cost must be included in the CCDR. (Tip to Citizens: Contribute less than $100 if you desire not to be identified in a candidate’s CCDR.)
CCDRs must be completed perfectly. If a mistake is made and found by an unscrupulous adversary of a candidate, an ethics complaint can be lodged with the GGCTFC.Although a mistake may be trivial and honest (a calculational error or unintentional omission), the originators of such complaints will claim that you are “under investigation.” The GGCTFC’s bar for admissibility of such complaints is low and the GGCTFC is painfully slow in adjudicating complaints, so that some complaints—even those based on nothing—can take years to resolve . . . meanwhile, your opponents will bash you for months with claims that “you are under investigation.” Such strategies are clearly dishonest, but unfortunately effective. And Milton has a very long and sordid history of such complaints. I know this because a frivolous complaint was leveled at me. However, I can proudly state that my opponents could not even nail me on a technicality. I strongly believe that the GGCTFC does more harm than good. The Commission has allowed itself to become a weapon for unscrupulous political miscreants, often aligned with establishment politicians (who know all the angles), to bully honest citizens and to interfere with citizens’ exercise of First Amendment liberties.
The CCDRs can be an interesting read. Particularly interesting are reading about the sources of funding. In Milton, citizens need to be particularly alert to developer money being contributed to campaigns, although often developers will not identify as “developers” but use other occupational titles, like “retired”, to disguise themselves. So sometimes a little detective work is needed. And often the funny money in Milton comes out after the election when Special Interests seeking favors pay off a candidate’s campaign debts.
Another tip for citizens. If you intend to speak at council at zoning hearings AGAINST developers’ applications, you might consider contributing <$250 to a candidate. In you contribute $250+, then you have to complete a disclosure form 5 days before the pertinent matter is heard by the Planning Commission, which normally occurs a few weeks before the date for Council to address the matter (and long before most citizens engage on zoning issues). This state law only applies if you are speaking AGAINST a developer’s proposal. I believe that this law is an unconstitutional means for silencing Free Speech and was clearly the result of successful lobbying by the Georgia’s powerful development industry. I have urged the Milton City government to lobby for repeal of this law, but my plea has so far fallen on deaf ears. Jan Jones is Milton’s representative in the Georgia Assembly, where she serves as Speaker Pro Tem, making her the second most powerful representative in the Assembly. Milton needs to engage her to change this unfair and unconstitutional law.
Citizens should be able to use the above link in the future to access additional future CCDRs for the 2021 Milton election. I am also attaching a pdf with instructions on how to access CCDRs.
Advocating For Good Governance,
Note: I believe that the City should be publicizing the availability of these CCDRs to citizens or even prominently posting these reports at their website or FB page. In general, the City’s communications are far too slanted toward Public Relations rather than providing important information to engage citizens in the governance of the City.
The above graphic provides the results of Tuesday’s run-off for Milton City Council District 1, Post 1. Congratulations to Ms. Andrea Verhoff, who won with nearly 63% of the vote. Thank you to both candidates, Ms. Verhoff and Ms. Tucker, for running for Milton City Council. Our community benefits from competitive elections. Unfortunately, Milton historically has had very few competitive races. In 2021, 100% of the races in our sister cities (Johns Creek, Alpharetta, Roswell, and Sandy Springs) were competitive. However, in Milton, only 1 in 4 races (25%) in 2021 were competitive. This is not a statistic that citizens should be proud about. A lack of competitive races has negative consequences for Milton’s governance. I’ll have more to say about this in a future blog post.
Today’s post provides some perspectives on the District 1 run-off. The most interesting story of the race was the steep drop-off in support for Ms. Tucker between the general election and the run-off. In the general election, Ms. Tucker garnered nearly 46% of the vote; in the run-off, only 37%. What happened? It seemed that a run-off victory was easily within Ms. Tucker’s grasp. Ms. Tucker needed to capture only a sliver of the votes for the 3rd place finisher, Adam D’Anella, and/or else persuade a small number of new voters to come aboard. A distant second in the general election (with 34% of the vote), Ms. Verhoff had a much steeper hill to climb to capture a majority of voters. Surprisingly, given Ms. Tucker’s garnering 37% of the vote (vs. 46% in the general election), it seems that not only did Ms. Verhoff capture nearly all of the earlier D’Anella votes, but she stripped away significant support from Ms. Tucker—i.e., voters changed their minds about Ms. Tucker—and perhaps attracted a large number of new voters. So what were the factors contributing to this dramatic change of fortunes for the candidates? Following is my take on the five factors that resulted in such as big swing in support away from Ms. Tucker and toward Ms. Verhoff.
Endorsements. Two endorsements were key. The first was the endorsement of Adam D’Anella, the 3rd place finisher in the general election, which netted Ms. Verhoff perhaps a few hundred votes. The second, and more important, endorsement was that of incoming mayor, Peyton Jamison, who right now is an immensely popular politician in Milton. (Caution: With such popularity comes high expectations for Mr. Jamison. Delivering on these expectations will be a challenge and require significant expenditure of Mr. Jamison’s accumulated political capital.)
Tucker’s Links to Lusk, Kunz, and Mega-developers. In the run-up to the run-off, Ms. Tucker’s ties to the Lusk-Kunz faction (and certain associated developers) came into sharp focus. After Ms. Tucker’s first place finish and sensing a certain victory (and perhaps wanting to take credit for it), these political operators became quite public in their support for Ms. Tucker . . . a kiss of death in my opinion. Quite frankly, Miltonites are fed up with the factional politics (Moore-Bentley vs. Lusk-Kunz) and are looking to make a clean break with the past. In Ms. Verhoff, they perceived (hopefully they are correct) an alternative to Milton’s long-warring factions. I suspect that none of the District 1 candidates were wise to Milton’s past politics, and Ms. Verhoff was fortunate to not have a date to Milton’s political dance, enabling her to strike a stance of independence. However, it seems Paul Moore, needing a lifeline now that Laura Bentley is rolling off council, is now sidling up to Ms. Verhoff; she would be wise not to attend to his advances. (I suspect Mr. Moore will be a casualty in the 2023 elections, unless he decides it is in his best interest to step aside “to spend more time with his family.”)
Character Issues.In the run-off, questions about Ms. Tucker’s character were raised that damaged Ms. Tucker’s candidacy.A website, therealjamitucker.com, was created (and thankfully has now been taken down) that provided screenshots from Google searches about Ms. Tucker. While some (not all) of the assembled information (if true) was troubling to me, most of the information did not meet my standards for inclusion at the blog because it lacked context, related to non-local issues, or was partisan. And some of the provided information was just plain out-of-bounds (and probably counter-productive), particularly questions about Ms. Tucker’s military service. (Clearly Ms. Tucker is a veteran, although I was baffled by her vagueness in describing her service.) The only issue I felt worthy of mention at the blog was Ms. Tucker’s views on 5G, which are not supported by the fundamental concepts of physics. I do not believe that Ms. Verhoff was behind the Real Jami Tucker website, but rather it was the creation of progressive activists in Milton—ironically, some of whom were previously closely aligned with Bill Lusk and Matt Kunz.
Partisanship. Republican-Right-Conservative Vs. Democrat-Left-Progressive distinctions were an important factor in the election. This is unfortunate as partisan politics do not translate at the local level. The predominant issue in Milton is land use and on this issue, citizens across the political spectrum are closely aligned. Democrat, Republican, and Independent Miltonites are united in their desire for low intensity development, preserving Milton’s rural heritage, conserving greenspace, and most importantly strict adherence to Milton’s zoning laws. Accordingly, partisan appeals are a dangerous distraction . . . and frankly, a way for Milton’s Mega-developers to change the conversation. Partisan appeals provide cover for Council Members misbehavior in zoning matters. In 2019, needing to draw attention away from his advocacy of a music venue at Birmingham Crossroads, Paul Moore resorted to this tactic in securing Republican establishment endorsements—a significant factor in his victory. In 2021, partisan appeals were again made (but this time backfired). Understanding that Milton is deeply red, the Tucker campaign made a partisan pitch to Conservatives. This pitch energized Progressives, who overwhelmingly supported Ms. Verhoff . . . much of this support based on Ms. Tucker’s stance on partisan state/national issues with little relevance to local politics. However, the partisan pitch did not resonate with a big chunk of more discerning Conservatives (and some more discerning Progressives) that rightfully focused on issues of land-use (and good governance). So although it seems that a majority of Milton’s citizens likely voted based on partisanship, a discerning plurality (that focused on smart land use, not partisanship) swung the election decidedly in Ms. Verhoff’s direction.
Election Expertise. Ms. Verhoff benefited from election consultants that engaged her after the general election and provided invaluable advice and assistance. Conversely, Ms. Tucker cast her lot with political meddlers that fancy themselves to be political savants; they are clever by half. Their playbook is Ron Wallace’s Power of the Campaign Pyramid: Hope is Not a Strategy. I bought Mr. Wallace’s book in 2017 and read enough of it to realize that Laura Bentley could easily thwart Bill Lusk’s re-election if Team Lusk followed Mr. Wallace’s playbook. And in fact, our 2017 campaign resulted in the biggest blow-out in Milton politics, with Laura Bentley garnering 71+% of the vote against an entrenched incumbent that had served on Council since the City’s founding. And it seems a modified version of the Campaign Pyramid playbook was followed by Ms. Tucker’s campaign, with predictable (and losing) results. Just a handful of people in Milton truly know how to win elections and fortunately Ms. Verhoff tapped into a few of these people; Ms. Tucker did not.
Obviously, with 63% of the vote, Ms. Verhoff’s victory was decisive. However, was it a mandate? And if so, a mandate for what? I would contend that Ms. Verhoff’s win was not a mandate (for anything) because it was achieved on a shaky foundation (and her platform was too vague and feel-good). Most Verhoff votes were more anti-Tucker than pro-Verhoff. Clearly, Adam D’Anella was the first choice of 1) Milton’s minority of progressives and 2) the Moore-Bentley-Cookerly faction . . . interesting because Moore got the endorsement of the Republican establishment in 2019 and Cookerly has hosted Republican events at her home. Both progressives and Moore-Bentley-Cookerly supporters swung to Ms. Verhoff when it became obvious that Ms. Tucker 1) was a favorite of many on the far right end of the political spectrum and 2) was backed by Lusk and Kunz. However, there is a more important Verhoff segment of voters (that span the political spectrum) that voted for Verhoff because Ms. Tucker seemed aligned with Milton’s Mega-developers. These voters are more hopeful about Ms. Verhoff than confident in her, given her failure to provide any substantive policy specifics. These same voters are also tired of factional politics. This is all to say that Ms. Verhoff needs to reassure her voters, particularly those concerned about development and factionalism, that she is going to 1) push for strict adherence to Milton’s zoning laws and 2) be an independent voice for citizens (not Council factions or their Special Interests). Bucolic bromides about smart land use won’t pass muster with Milton’s more discerning voters who crave precise policy prescriptions . . . and who ultimately provide the winning margin in Milton’s elections.
As for Ms. Tucker, I hope that she stays engaged in Milton’s politics, as she has promised. The community benefits from viewpoint diversity and from spirited debate. However, to be effective as a community advocate, Ms. Tucker will need to put distance between herself and the Lusk-Kunz faction. And she will need to maintain a laser-like focus on smart land use and good governance. And lastly she must assiduously avoid appeals to partisanship and steer far clear of state and national issues that lack relevance to local government. Milton’s government is rich in opportunities—some quite obvious—for improvement, so Ms. Tucker should have no problem finding issues ripe for advocacy.
My wishes for both Ms. Tucker and Ms. Verhoff are wisdom and fortitude in their future political ventures.