Third, I have provided a page that provides my story about my involvement in Milton politics. This is an on-going project. I have provided an initial posting on my initial introduction to City politics. I will add to this story over time, so please return for subsequent chapters.
Today I am publishing Part 2 of my post on the 2021 City Council elections. I will briefly discuss each of the 4 seats up for election in 2021, beginning with the uncompetitive races.
Mayor. Council Member Peyton Jamison is running un-opposed and is succeeding Mayor Joe Lockwood, who has served as Mayor since the City’s founding in 2006. I know Peyton quite well, as we worked closely together on Laura Bentley’s 8-member campaign team in 2017. (Peyton and I actually organized the campaign team, which always met at my home, but that is a story for another blog post.) In 2017, I exposed the clandestine redrawing of the boundaries for District 1 (see below link to TheMilton Herald’s Black Box article). In the wake of this scandal, the incumbent Council Member opted not to run for re-election, and Peyton ran unopposed for his current council seat.
I have spoken frequently with Peyton since his election. We don’t always agree, but I appreciate Peyton’s willingness to listen to all citizens and to consider all sides of an issue. Peyton has a lot of energy and has matured during his 4 years in office. However, to be successful as mayor, Peyton must be his own man—i.e., step out of Lockwood’s shadow. He also must surround himself with smart people who offer him differing perspectives on Milton’s pressing issues. He must stay above the fray and focus on process and principles, separating himself from the personality politics being pursued by Council Members Moore and Bentley—the sort of middle school nonsense that has plagued the city since its founding (and once necessitated the hiring of an industrial psychologist to address Council’s dysfunction). Peyton must also demonstrate more courage (than in the past) in the face of threats to the community. And lastly, Peyton must adopt a much stronger approach to ensuring accountability of the City’s non-elected leadership; the City is currently experiencing a serious Crisis of Competence.
District 3covers the Highway 9 and Windward Parkway areas of Milton (and includes the expansive Crooked Creek subdivision). District 3 is Milton’s most dense district. Jan Jacobus is the only candidate to qualify in District 3. Mr. Jacobus has served on the Planning Commission for several years, so has some familiarity with City government, particularly land-use issues. I do not know Mr. Jacobus, but have heard good things about him. Even though running unopposed, I hope Mr. Jacobus nevertheless creates a web page that lays out his positions on issues of concern to citizens. I hope his stances emphasize the critical importance of adhering to the highest principles of good governance.
District 1encompasses Crabapple and the surrounding areas. Three candidates are running for the District 1 seat. Relatively speaking, all three candidates are political newbies. The candidates are Adam D’Anella, Jami Tucker, and Andrea Verhoff. At a later date, I will post links to their campaign websites. My advice to these candidates is to focus on elements of good governance: integrity/honesty, fairness, accountability, rigor, and transparency. Good governance is prerequisite to good policy-making, but has not been a focus for the City of Milton, with predictably bad results.
District 2 encompasses the more rural, (much) less dense and mostly AG1 areas of Milton. Insurgent candidate Juliette Johnson is taking on Old Guard candidate Laura Bentley. Ms. Johnson is one of the owners of The Painted Horse. Ms. Johnson has been accused of “running for the wrong reason”—i.e., revenge for the levying of (overly severe) restrictions on The Painted Horse. However, such accusations are ridiculous . . . and self-serving, I might add. Ms. Johnson and Ms. Jackson (the other co-owner of The Painted Horse) have experienced first-hand the dysfunction at City Hall and have been the victims of Milton’s version of a Star Chamber where they’ve had no opportunity to hear–moreover defend themselves from–“charges” leveled against them. It is certainly a right (and excellent) reason to run (for Council) to expose and eliminate the governmental excesses and abuses that Ms. Johnson has directly experienced. Furthermore, Integrity is an appropriate plank in Ms. Johnson’s campaign platform, given the low road being travelled by some politicians in Milton. However, to win, Ms. Johnson must make her campaign about more than the Painted Horse, although her experience with Council overreach is certainly an issue she can (and should) lead with. However, the past 4 years of city government are rich with failures, unsolved problems, broken campaign promises, abuses of power, etc. that Ms. Johnson can tap into.
In contrast to Ms. Johnson, Ms. Bentley represents the Old Guard in Milton. In 2017, like Ms. Johnson (in 2021), Ms. Bentley ran as an insurgent (that I believed she was), but the reality is that Ms. Bentley (along Council Member Paul Moore) is an old hand at Milton politics—her involvement stretching back to the first city elections when she was a foot soldier for one of the two factions battling it out in Milton. And unfortunately once in office, Ms. Bentley almost immediately put on her old faction’s jersey. Laura reverted to the tired politics (e.g., favors for friends) of days past when Milton’s two factions spent much more time battling each other than focusing on pressing City problems. Citizens need to carefully consider whether the time has come to reject the unproductive factionalism of yesteryear and to chart a new course for the City—a Milton united by principles of good governance.
The focus of the blog will be on the District 2 race, as that election really provides the best basis for discussing and understanding current city politics and governance.
The focus of today’s post is the 2021 City Council elections. I will start with some of the basics as there are quite few new subscribers to the blog. There will be 2 parts to this post, with the second part published tomorrow.
On August 19th, qualifying for upcoming City Council elections ended. The qualification period lasted 3 days. Qualification is when candidates officially declare their candidacy, filing the necessary paperwork at City Hall and paying fees to the City Clerk. The City ascertains that filing candidates are residents of Milton and running in the correct district. Qualifying ensures that candidates’ names appear on the November ballot.
Milton’s elected government consists of a mayor plus a city council, comprised of 6 members–two from each of Milton’s three districts. The Mayor sits on Council and has a vote; he/she also retains some special powers and serves as a kind of “head of state” for ceremonial functions (ribbon-cuttings, etc.). In Milton, in 2021, voters will elect the Mayor and 3 Council members–one from each of Milton’s three districts. (Elections are staggered every 2 years, so the remaining three Council members will be elected in 2023.) The Mayor and Council Members serve four-year terms. Voting is at-large, meaning that all Milton citizens vote for all council members, regardless of the candidate’s or the voter’s district. So in 2021, all voters will vote for the Mayor and for three Council members.
Two of the four 2021 races will be competitive. That is both good news and bad news. The good news is that two races are competitive. Milton needs competitive races to keep politicians honest and to foster debates about important city issues. And one of the races features an upstart against an incumbent. This race is especially encouraging as it gives citizens an opportunity to send a message to our city government about citizens’ satisfaction with the status quo and with the City government’s accomplishments (or lack thereof) over the past 4 years. (I will have much more to say about this topic as I strongly believe things are not well in Milton and governance has sadly regressed over the past 4 years.)
The bad news is that only 2 races are competitive. It is troubling that more citizens do not enter the political arena; Milton desperately needs smart, honest, and caring elected representatives. However, citizens’ reluctance to run is understandable given the often dysfunctional (and sometimes toxic) political environment in Milton (the Matilda’s and Painted Horse fiascos are Exhibits A and B of the dysfunction at City Hall.) Many eminently qualified citizens do not run out of fear, disgust, or both. In 2013 and 2015, things were so bad that there were actually no competitive elections in Milton. However, through the hard work of a small group of citizens that I was proud to be a part of (and sometimes lead), citizens rebelled and ejected several City Council members in 2017 and 2019.
Milton actually has a good track record when it comes to “throwing the bums out.” Many incumbents have been voted out of office (or sometimes saw the writing on the wall and declined to run). It is helpful that Milton’s elections occur in odd-numbered years, when there are (usually) no state or federal candidates on the ballot. This means that only the most committed and informed voters show up at the polls . . . folks like you who are willing to invest to understand the election landscape and are much less likely to be persuaded by appeals based on incumbency and “experience.”
In tomorrow’s post, I will provide my observations on the four City Council seats up for election.
A few days ago, I sent an email to my email distribution list. Thousands of Milton’s citizens received my email announcing that I had re-launched the Milton Coalition blog in advance of the 2021 City Council elections. I was encouraged by the response. My email program and my blog both provide aggregated statistics on citizen responses. My dashboard shows that 44.1% of citizens opened my email and that 21.6% of these readers clicked through to the Milton Coalition Blog. This compares with an average open rate of 19.34% and clickthrough rate of 12.66% for political emails. Also, my dashboard indicates that, on average, each person opening the email forwarded the email to one other person, thereby doubling the email’s distribution. Thank you. My blog dashboard shows that the blog has been viewed over 450 times (over 10% coming from citizens’ posts on social media) in the past 48 hours. Around two dozen citizens became new subscribers. Welcome. I am humbled by your trust and confidence as indicated by these statistics. And I am (once again) encouraged by the engagement of so many Miltonites in local good governance. It is my firm belief that excellent local governance correlates closely with citizen engagement and that education is a necessary prerequisite to such engagement.
When I first engaged in city government in late 2015, it was obvious to me that there was a need for well-reasoned, well-researched perspectives on City government. The Milton Herald provided some coverage, but it lacked depth and analysis. And the paper’s editor also seemed to be biased toward one of the two factions battling it out in Milton. There were also communications from the City, but most were the equivalent of cotton candy—a lot of air and very little nutritional value. And finally there were several partisan Facebook pages, where the back-and-forth dialogue resembled the verbal equivalent of a food fight. A lot of nastiness, but little insight. Does anyone really change their minds based on these Facebook battles? In view of this dearth of accurate and actionable information, I launched the Milton Coalition Blog and slowly built up readership. It has been a labor of love for me. Since the blog’s inception, I have published over 275 blog posts. At times (the run-up to the 2017 election or key City Council meetings), the blog has attracted many hundreds of readers daily.
My hope is that the blog will once again provide citizens with a source of useful informationand insights in the run-up to the City Council Elections. Please feel free to reach out to me with comments and questions. Please let me know if you find any factual errors, but realize that my opinions are my opinions (supported by facts). Please feel free to challenge me . . . I welcome an honest, respectful debate.
I had intended a different post, but as often happens in Milton, better material (for the blog post) presented itself. Today’s post is Painted Horse (Part 2). (I will often post about Matilda’s and The Painted Horse as the proceedings for these venues bracket Council Member Bentley’s first term in office, and they tell TheTale of Two Zoning Hearings.) Citizens are raging at each other about The Painted Horse on various social media platforms. However, what these citizens don’t understand is that their ire is misdirected. Through its poor decision-making, Milton’s City Council has pitted citizens against each other (while Council and staff have stepped aside to enjoy the show). This happens on a regular basis, the result of either cronyism or incompetence (or both) at City Hall. For example, most citizens may not realize that the bruising battle over the Southeast corner of Birmingham Crossroads, where single family homes are being built, resulted from Milton Community Development’s error in not documenting the conditions of a 2014 rezoning. (And yet the some of same people are still employed and making the same mistakes. There is no accountability, but that is a topic for another blog post.) These regular battles pitting citizens against each other are hugely destructive to the community. They consume vast resources, set dangerous precedents, divide the community, demoralize City staff, and erode trust in government. And worst of all, they are often unnecessary—again, the result of incompetence or cronyism or both. Citizens need to wake up and direct their ire not at each other but at their City government. Miltonites deserve better from their elected representatives and from City leadership staff.
To get to the point, Council Members Laura Bentley and Paul Moore have a Matilda’s problem. Laura and Paul were the primary champions on Council for Matilda’s. (Ms. Bentley eventually recused herself from the Matilda’s vote—a disingenuous recusal that will be the subject of another blog post.) Matilda’s was all about cronyism and set the threshold quite low for what development is acceptable in Milton.A total of twelve variances were approved for Matilda’s—some eliminating fundamental zoning protections for the community. For example, council eliminated buffers around the entire property.Council allowed a developer to bastardize the festival use permit to create a music venue at Birmingham Crossroads that pumps out loud music every Saturday night (more than 30 times per year) to the quietude of the most rural area of the City of Milton; I have heard the music 1½ miles from the venue. (With enough variances you can re-purpose a use permit to do nearly anything in Milton. This must stop!) The precedents set by Matilda’s will long haunt our community. It is certainly true that you reap what you sow (Galatians 6:8).
Before Matilda’s, I might not have been very sympathetic to The Painted Horse’s owners. Rule-of-law considerations and other principles of good governance might have prompted me to express concerns about the Painted Horse. However, with the Matilda’s decision (and other recent decisions), Council has put principles of good governance, which are usually mutually re-enforcing, in conflict with each other. Specifically, the rule of law has been put in conflict with the principle of fairness. Viewed through the lens of Matilda’s, the severe restrictions put on The Painted Horse appear unfair. Yes, there are differences between Matilda’s and the Painted Horse, but those differences seem to mostly militate for (not against) The Painted Horse. And our city government officials know this. They know that decisions on Matilda’s (and in other matters) create a strong case (in legal courts and the court of public opinion) for The Painted Horse and endanger re-election prospects for certain politicians. The City cannot win on the merits of the issue. This is why Painted Horse opponents are engaging in a behind-the-scenes campaign to disparage the owners and their patrons.The Painted Horse is being characterized as a den of iniquity by Milton’s own self-appointed Morals Police. The intent is to make the owners and even patrons pariahs in the community. This is WRONG. I will not dignify or give currency to the allegations (being made against The Painted Horse) by describing them, as such descriptions would only serve to perpetuate the rumors. If Council members have justifications for restrictions on The Painted Horse that they will not publicly state, then I question the veracity of these justifications and the motives of those spreading scurrilous gossip. Certain politicians in Milton know no boundaries. The politics of personal destruction are alive and well in Milton. As my readers know, I believe Miltonites need to have ferocious debate among friends about issues and governmental process. This includes debate about the comportment of Council Members in the conduct of their office; that is fair game. However, personal attacks having nothing to do with policy or principles should be off-limits. And the debate needs to occur in the light of day and not in the shadows.
Speaking Truth to Power,
Note: I encourage readers to notify me if my blogs contain any factual errors. I will expeditiously correct any errors of fact. Of course, my opinions are my opinions . . . which I support with facts.
Our local city government steadily provides a rich source of material for this blog. Yesterday was no exception. Yesterday, the City published a Facebook post about the Painted Horse Winery that promotes the farm-winery. Following is a link to the City’s Facebook page. Scroll down to see the Painted Horse post:
And as with so much that happens in our local city government, there is the strong, fetid smell of a back story. After 2 years steeped in city politics, I’ve developed a sixth sense for the ongoing shenanigans at City Hall. For readers not following the story of the Painted Horse, let me connect a few dots for you.
First dot: The City, led by a few Council Members, who have appointed themselves the Morals Police (the Taliban would be proud), has attempted to choke off this business. Unfortunately, many of the main arguments against this enterprise—some irrelevant—are not being made in a public hearing but are rather being whispered in the shadows where the Painted Horse owners cannot defend themselves. These sorts of whisper campaigns are all too common in Milton.
Second dot: One of the owners of a business at this property, Juliette Johnson, is running for the City Council seat against a member of Council, Laura Bentley, who has strongly opposed The Painted Horse.
Third dot: This week is qualification week for the upcoming City Council elections. This is when Council candidates register their candidacy with the City and pay their qualification fees.
The timing of the City’s Facebook post is not a coincidence. This posting (to quote Yogi Berra) is “too coincidental to be a coincidence.” (This is true of many “coincidences” in Milton; I will post more about this in the future.) Read the comments below the City’s Facebook post. Citizens are smart; they have figured out what is going on. CYA? Definitely! Politically motivated? Of course! Are Council members worried about keeping their seats? Absolutely! Are Council members worried about having to defend their bad behavior over the past four years? Certainly! Is the City’s posting a way to persuade Ms. Johnson (one owner of the Painted Horse and a candidate for City Council) to withdraw from the race—the carrot in the City’s “carrot-and-stick” strategy? Positively. And is it appropriate for city staff, who are supposed to be “above the fray” (a favorite phrase of City Manager Krokoff) to be using the City’s communications apparatus for thinly veiled political purposes? NO. (Over the past 4 years, the City has frequently waded into the fray. The City government has increasingly adopted corporate and Washington tactics to promote/protect itself and certain politicians. A recent example was the signing of a settlement agreement with a City employee that bought his/her silence. The City Manager has done much to beef up his PR apparatus over the past 4 years.)
Ironically, the council members leading the charge against the Painted Horse are the same council members that led the charge for—that’s right FOR–the music venue, Matilda’s, approved for the northwest corner of Birmingham Crossroads. Matilda’s regularly pumps out music every Saturday night, sometimes so loud it can be heard 1+ miles away. The concern over alcohol consumption (and children) at Painted Horse is curious when Matilda’s is contrasted with the Painted Horse. Matilda’s is BYOB (no regulation of alcohol consumption), any sort of alcohol is allowed, and children are present. Contrast this with the Painted Horse, where an attendant is regulating alcohol consumption, only wine is served, and the farm is separated from the winery. There are many such differences between Matilda’s and the Painted Horse, most of which militate in favor of the Painted Horse.
I have heard the “real reasons” why Painted Horse was restricted in its uses. And these “reasons” have nothing to do with “intensity of use.” If untrue, these allegations against Painted Horse are surely slanderous/libelous. If true, these allegations need to be argued by Council Members in a public hearing where the Painted Horse owners can defend themselves. Enough with the whisper campaign . . . a campaign of personal destruction all too common in Milton.
Advocating for Good Governance,
Disclosure: I do not know the owners of the Painted Horse nor have I ever communicated with them. I have never been to the Pamelot property. I am not endorsing the farm-winery or any candidates for Milton City Council. However, I do know well 6 of the 7 current council members; most have been to my home multiple times. I know Laura Bentley especially well. Laura and I partnered together for 2 years in furtherance of good governance in Milton. I negotiated Laura’s candidacy, and organized and served on her campaign team, which always met at my home. I was her longest and strongest supporter, working tirelessly for her election to Council. (I will have much more to say about my role in the 2017 campaign as my involvement is germane to the central issue of this blog: good governance, accountability, and clean politics . . . or the lack thereof.)
In re-launching the Milton Coalition blog, to support my conclusions and recommendations, I will be providing citizens with email correspondence, texts, voicemails, and even a few hand-written notes. I have kept every scrap of documentation from my civic activities. (This will prove decidedly inconvenient and uncomfortable for some city officials.)
Following is an email exchange with Steve Krokoff, the City Manager, which is typical of exchanges I’ve had with the City Attorney, Mayor, and most council members (especially Council Member Laura Bentley). I provide this email because it concisely summarizes my reasons for getting into city politics, staying in city politics, and most importantly, my deep passion/care for good governance. To sum up, how things get done in Milton is much more important than what things get done. My long experience with my clients has taught me that good outcomes (i.e., what gets done) are inevitably the result of good processes (i.e., how things get done). To achieve good outcomes, you have work hard to implement and consistently execute good processes. Good processes are characterized by honesty, fairness, transparency, rigor, and accountability. And mostly importantly, a good process upholds the rule of law. If suboptimal outcomes occur, then processes should be revised . . . rather than circumvented.
There is danger, and ultimately failure, in ignoring or circumventing good governance to achieve so-called good outcomes, which predictably usually promote the interests of politicians and their friends/family but not citizens’ interests. Things have gone badly wrong in Milton because certain politicians—some of whom regretfully I supported—have ignored our laws and have abused/disregarded established city processes and good governance principles to promote their own personal agendas or friends/family’s agendas. And what these politicians fundamentally do not understand is that the ultimate good outcome—and the basis for all other truly good outcomes–is trust and confidence in government. Such trust is hard to gain and easy to lose . . . it takes but a few big lies (and some council members have told some whoppers). In fact, big lies by some city council members in Milton have caused trust and confidence in local government to dramatically decline, causing increasing division among citizens. Milton is doomed to divisiveness until we elect officials that are passionate about principles and process and act on that passion.
One glaring example of abuse of process (and a resulting loss of trust) is council’s practice of allowing developers to bastardize use permits with variances (exceptions to zoning laws) to put properties to use in ways contrary to the law, reasonable expectations of citizens, and Milton’s rural character. Granting such variances sets legal precedents that ensure that Milton City Council’s poor decisions metastasize across the community. In future posts, I will cite specific examples of process abuses (and their reverberations across the community) and call out particular politicians and government officials for their roles in eroding public trust.
Thank you very much, Tim. Based on what you have said, I believe that we are very much like-minded. I have almost 25 years in public service with over a decade in top leadership roles. Much of the success that I have been a part of has been rooted in forming outstanding leadership teams and inspiring public trust and confidence. I am confident that we can achieve all of what you seek for Milton and more. I look forward to working with you as well. Have a great weekend.
City Manager/Interim-Chief of Police
From: Tim Becker Sent: Wednesday, July 13, 2016 7:15 PM To: Steven Krokoff <Steven.Krokoff@cityofmiltonga.us> Subject: Congratulations on Your Appointment
Congratulations on your appointment to City Manager. I think the City made a good and wise choice.
I look forward to working with you.
Please understand that my primary interest is in City processes. I strongly believe that if our processes are fair, rigorous, honest, and transparent, the City will achieve the right outcomes . . . which may not be the outcomes I would prefer. If we get the process right, then citizens will have trust and confidence in our City government. This is critical. I know this to be true based on my 30+ years in the military and in business.
I wish you success in your new job. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me if I can help you in any way.
After the 2017 Milton elections, I received a call from newly elected Council Member Laura Bentley (paraphrasing): “OK Tim, you are the first one I am calling. I wanted to (again) give you the opportunity to serve as one of my appointees to one of Milton’s committees. You can choose any appointed position that you want.” Laura’s offer was in recognition of my role—some would claim it was dispositive—in Laura’s historic landslide victory (she garnered 71% of the vote) over an 11-year incumbent who had served on City Council since the founding of the City of Milton. In Laura’s words I had done the “very messy heavy lifting.” (In future blog posts, I will relate some of tasks I performed. Readers will clearly understand what Laura meant by “very messy heavy lifting” and they might be surprised by the role I played.)
I appreciated the call, but Laura knew my answer. I told Laura: “I have to decline. I think I can best serve the community in my current role. Some citizens need to remain outside of government and hold it accountable. I think I need to continue what I have been doing.” I wanted to continue to objectively blog about city politics, to speak freely before council, and to take other actions to keep our government accountable. I felt a committee appointment might constrain me in these activities. Laura knew this, but I did appreciate her extending the courtesy of asking me one last time to serve on a committee. (Laura and I did discuss other appointees for various appointed positions. And I did convey to Laura that I would like to serve on the Charter Commission, which meets every 5 years to review Milton’s Charter; Milton’s Charter is roughly akin to the city’s constitution. More about the Charter in another blog post.)
With the 2021 elections approaching, I strongly believe that holding Milton’s government accountable is now more important than ever. Accordingly, in advance of the 2021 elections in Milton, I have decided to re-launch the Milton Coalition blog. My purpose is the same as always . . . to promote good governance in the local community. I have always strongly believed that Milton deserves (to quote the title of a book from President Jimmy Carter) “a government as good as it’s people.” A key component of a good government is accountability, which ultimately is the job of ordinary citizens, like you and me. I learned much from my experience of being steeped in City government and politics for 2 years. I want to convey some of these lessons to Milton’s citizens so that they might better engage local government and demand greater accountability. I believe good governance is strongly correlated with citizen engagement in our government. (And that is why I primarily supported Laura Bentley because she made “shifting power to citizens” one of her 3 primary campaign promises. More about this promise in future blog posts.)
My humble hope is that, in advance of the 2021 election, citizens will once again visit the Milton Coalition Blog. It is during elections, particularly competitive races, that citizens are afforded their best opportunities to question government officials and flush out their stances on issues of greatest importance to citizens. I hope my blog will help citizens to better formulate questions for the candidates and to better convey their concerns to these candidates. Please let your friends and neighbors know about the blog and encourage them to subscribe. And please reach out if you have specific questions or would like me to address a specific issue.