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 been the 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.
Advocating for ethics in government,