Paul Moore Found Guilty of Ethics Charges

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.

Advocating For Ethical Governance,

Tim

Misbehavior, Politics, & Cluelessness at City Council Leave Milton’s Priorities Languishing

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 . . .

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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,

Tim

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.

Ethics Scandal in Milton Casts Spotlight on Good Governance

Former Council Member Laura Bentley and Council Member Paul Moore

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.

https://www.appenmedia.com/milton/traffic-calming-devices-in-white-columns-draws-pushback/article_fa800e64-cd5b-11ec-8747-eb0553b50686.html

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.

https://www.appenmedia.com/milton/hoa-lodges-ethics-complaint-against-milton-official/article_81c44fb2-e8e5-11ec-a7bf-cbc57c7dce40.html

(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

https://www.appenmedia.com/milton/ethics-complaint-against-milton-official-moves-forward/article_fa1e7c8c-f964-11ec-b0fe-2356458b53a4.html

First Ethics Hearing. Notice citizens wearing Paul stickers at a judicial hearing.

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.)

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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,

Tim

Campaign Contribution Disclosure Reports Provide Window into Campaign Finance

Citizens:

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:

Bits and Pieces

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Following is a link to the campaign finance reports for the 2021 election cycle in Milton:

Milton Campaign Finance Reports

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,

Tim

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.

(More) Reflections on Elections: The Back Story on Milton’s Run-off

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.

Conclusion. 

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.

Advocating For Good Governance,

Tim

A Letter to the District 1 Candidates: City Government & Politics Lessons Learned

Following is a letter sent to District 1 Candidates For City Council thanking them for their strong stances advocating for Town Hall meetings with City Council (and separately with appointed City leadership). Included is advice to the winner, based on my experience with city government/politics and the lessons I learned . . . often the hard way.

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Ms. Verhoff and Ms. Tucker:

First, thank you for both responding to my Town Hall challenge.  And more importantly, thank you for taking a strong stand to advocate for Town Hall meetings.  Beyond the ballot box, it is important to provide myriad and substantive mechanisms to citizens for holding government accountable.  One of you will have the honor and privilege of representing citizens on council.  Whoever it is, I hope you will advocate for other best practices for improving accountability, such as increased transparency—for example, making available in a consolidated document the voting and attendance records of council members.

More generally, I hope that you will focus more attention on good governance—i.e., how Milton is governed, with a focus on process and principles (vs. policy/outcomes).  Good outcomes can only be achieved through good processes characterized by fairness, transparency, rigor, accountability, and honesty.  Milton’s government—both council and staff—routinely deviate from principles of good governance . . . with predictable results:  unnecessary community division and a loss of trust/confidence in government, often involving a diversion of precious resources.

Every major battle I have witnessed in Milton ultimately issued from gross failures in governance . . . and ignoring legitimate concerns of citizens.  It is critical for council members and our staff to be proactive in engaging citizens—not just passively listening to the community, but actually providing mechanisms for citizens to engage in governance.  Consent of the governed consists of much more than conducting clean elections; consent might begin at the ballot box, but it does not end there.  Consent of the governed means securing the rights of citizens to participate in government . . . it means protecting and even encouraging the exercise of fundamental liberties, like freedoms of speech, assembly, and protest.  We must make it easy for citizens to engage; the health of our republic depends on it.  (I have been the target of multiple attempts to limit my exercise of my fundamental freedoms.)

Please also never forget that the collective wisdom of citizens always trumps the wisdom of any individual council member or even the council as a whole.  A council member may have more data/information than citizens, but citizens are collectively wiser.  A key responsibility of council members is to tap into the vast reservoir of community wisdom to improve our government, and ultimately, improve the community.  I initially got involved in politics because I wanted to truly “shift power back to citizens,” but unfortunately power has actually shifted away from citizens over the past 4 years.  Ultimately, your responsibility is to manifest the will of the community within the boundaries of the rule of law and through the application of good governance principles (including maximizing citizen engagement in governance).

Usually underrated as a virtue and always in short supply, courage is a necessity for success in representing citizens.  The development industry has infiltrated our city government and has distorted politics in Milton.  Powerful developers recruit candidates, manage/finance campaigns, and exert undue influence through their proxies.  And yes, they buy influence in our city government.  What is it they seek?  Generally they seek higher intensity of use.  For residential development, this usually means higher density enabled by sewer extension and granting of variances.  An example is the subdivision across from Cambridge High School.  For commercial development, it often means bastardizing use permits and again liberal granting of variances.  An example is approval of the music venue at Birmingham Crossroads, which involved many unchallenged misrepresentations, a re-purposed festival use permit, and 12 variances . . . and egregious abuse of process and blatant disregard/disrespect for the legitimate concerns of nearby residents.  You will have to display backbone in fending off Special Interests and their requests.

It is also important to put aside ego in the exercise of your duty of representing citizens.  Take your duties seriously, but not personally.  Do not follow the lead of many of your predecessors and wrap your identity up in city politics.  Unfortunately, Milton politics often attracts the unaccomplished and the insecure in their sad and elusive quest for relevance and achievement.

In Milton, politicians have been routinely ejected office (or dissuaded from seeking re-election).  To understand Milton politics requires a study of past divisive issues, such as:  the CSO; the Ebenezer re-zonings; fights over community septic and sewer extension; approval of 28 variances and a bastardized use permit at Birmingham Crossroads; and the Painted Horse fiasco.  Please invest the time to understand these issues and be careful not to buy into the political narratives (as I did) posited by Milton’s two warring factions (Lusk-Kunz and Moore-Bentley) that have been waging a war based on personality politics (rather than on policy or principles/process) since the City’s founding . . . to the detriment of the community.  Be careful not to align with either faction.  Both factions are pushing false storylines.  They are only united in their mutual animus toward each other and their advocacy for the prerogatives of their Special Interests.  And on issues of policy, there is really not a dime’s worth of difference between the two factions.

Above all, citizens must trust you.  There is incredible power in the truth.  Trust is foundational to good governance.  Miltonites have not been shy about rejecting representatives that have lost their trust and confidence.  Always remember that trust is hard to earn but easily lost.  Say what you mean and do what you say.  Make very clear to citizens the principles that you will apply to reach decisions.  Make it very clear that you will respect your oath to uphold the law, especially local zoning laws.

My apologies for the long letter.  I wanted to convey to both of you some of the lessons that I learned while immersed in city politics.  Win or lose, I hope you will stay engaged in local government and encourage other citizens to engage.  The quality of our local government is highly correlated with citizen engagement.

All the Best,

Tim

Tim Becker

Candidate Promises:  Important Victory In Up-Hill Struggle For Town Hall Meetings

Last week, I issued a challenge to both District 1 candidates, Jami Tucker and Andrea Verhoff.  And great news . . . both candidates rose to the challenge and unequivocally promised to advocate for quarterly, video-taped Town Hall meetings with the City Council and (separately) City Staff leadership (i.e., City Manager Krokoff and his direct reports).  Town hall meetings are a best practice that the City of Milton has been grossly negligent in NOT adopting.  And done right (as I have described above), town hall meetings could be a game-changer for good governance.  Town Hall meetings are the single most effective tool in ensuring government accountability . . . and that is why Milton’s government has been roundly reluctant to implement Town Hall meetings.

Citizens, I am not naïve that the promise made by the District 2 candidates is . . . well, just a promise . . . and of course, politicians are promiscuous with promises and virtually virginal when it comes to keeping such promises.  However, you have to start somewhere . . . and an unequivocal promise to advocate for Town Hall meetings is an essential first step. 

I am also not naïve that there will not be stubbornly strong resistance from certain quarters.  I fully expect Council Members Moore and Cookerly will be defiant.  Mr. Moore is the consummate backroom politician and has much to answer for.  Will he really want to face the Milton mob?  And whatever does one wear to a tar-and-feathering?  As for Ms. Cookerly, I doubt she wants to mix with Milton’s commoners.  On Veterans Day a few years ago, she would not stoop to extend her hand to veterans (I was one of them) that came forward for the Mayor’s Veterans Day proclamation.  (I was frankly offended and embarrassed for our City.)  And does Ms. Cookerly really want to field questions about the city making a passive park out of the greenspace it bought (in my opinion, overpaid for) contiguous with her estate?  (My hope is that Adam D’Anella might challenge Ms. Cookerly in 2023. 🙂 )  And the strongest pushback is likely to come from City Manager Steve Krokoff, who for 4+ years has diligently dug moats between the city government fortress and its subjects.  Krokoff’s finely tuned corporate-like Public Relations machine regularly spews out look good/feel-good stories and other propaganda to distract citizens from Krokoff’s problem-plagued administration.  Krokoff controls the City Council meeting agendas . . . does he really want to let citizens see behind the curtain?

So yes, the city’s acceptance of Town Hall meetings will be an up-hill battle, but a battle well worth waging . . . and a great way for newly elected council members to demonstrate to citizens that they care about good governance and about advancing citizens’ prerogatives.  No more business as usual at City Hall!

Following are the responses I received from candidates Verhoff and Tucker.  Thank you to both candidates!

Ms. Verhoff’s response follows:

Ms. Tucker’s response follows.  I have edited out some of Ms. Tucker’s email that was not directly relevant to the issue of Town Hall meetings.  However, in fairness to Ms. Tucker, I have included her full response along with my initial challenge email as a pdf file.

Unfortunately, the current campaign is mostly focused on extraneous issues.  My candidate challenges are intended to re-focus the campaign on critical and potentially differentiating issues:  good governance and smart land use.  Accordingly, I am pleased that both candidates have made an unequivocal commitment to Town Hall meetingsI urge other citizens to take the opportunity to challenge the candidates on issues of policy and process.  One great benefit of campaigns is that they (can) force debate on issues of importance to the community.  A competitive race requires candidates to take stands . . . that is, if we citizens challenge them to take such stands.  I do hope that both candidates communicate stronger, more specific stances on land use, particularly the approval of variances.

Advocating for Accountability,

Tim

Town Hall Meetings – First Failed Attempt in 2019.  I have previously experienced the pain of defeat in my quest for Town Hall meetings.  I lobbied Council Member Laura Bentley in early 2019 to advocate for Town Hall meetings.  I believed that she needed to make amends for her advocacy in 2018 for 28 variances (and a bastardized use permit for a music venue) at Birmingham Crossroads.  However, shortly after I began lobbying for Town Hall meetings, Laura hastily announced she would be conducting her own “community update.”  It was her first and only such meeting during her 4 years in office.  And in a carefully parsed email, Laura expressed her opposition to public Town Hall meetings (with full council) . . . so much for her promise to “shift power back to citizens” . . . yet another broken campaign promise in Milton.  Laura did promise to take up the matter with City Manager Krokoff.  However, not unsurprisingly, neither Laura nor Krokoff ever got back to me about Town Hall meetings, and Krokoff never put Town Hall meetings on council’s agenda.  (This highlights an important issue in Milton.  Citizens need more transparency and more influence in the process for developing City Council meeting agendas.  I will blog more about this in a future blog post.)  Hopefully, citizens will prevail in Round 2 of the battle for Town Hall meetings.

Variances Are a Four-letter Word in the 2021 District 1 Race

I have scanned the Facebook pages, websites, and other communications from the two District 1 candidates:  Jami Tucker and Andrea Verhoff.  And oddly, neither candidate mentions zoning variances, never mind states a position on variances.  It seems that variance is a dirty word on the campaign trail . . . danger lurks in even the mention of the word.  However, I would contend that variance is the most important word of the campaign.  Why?  Because the most contentious land-use issues in Milton invariably involve the granting of variances . . . often, heaps of variances.  And the reality is that with enough variances, a developer can get away with building nearly anything in Milton—no matter how smelly, unsightly, or loud.  Liberal granting of variances means that citizens have no reasonable certainty about what gets located near their properties, including development that would seriously diminish enjoyment of their property and/or lower their property’s value.  That is wrong!  In our wildest nightmares, none of us living near Birmingham Crossroads could have reasonably contemplated approval of a music venue (in the most rural part of Milton) that pumps out loud music 30+ Saturday nights per year.  And worse, slews of variances are granted on a regular basis in Milton, regardless of the composition of council.  In fact, over the past 4 years, the granting of variances has increased dramatically . . . for example, 28 variances were granted at Birmingham Crossroads alone in the span of less than a year (2018).

Of course, securing valuable variances often means befriending enough council members and/or paying them off (legally) by buying the product/services of their businesses, etc.  And Miltonites should not kid themselves that this is not happening.  It is happening and unfortunately it is all legal. 

Furthermore, both of the long-feuding factions in Milton—the Lusk-Kunz faction and Moore-Bentley faction—are united by their stance on variances.  Both factions conveniently assert that “citizens don’t understand or care about variances.”  Both factions cynically ignore the perspectives of nearby residents that will be most impacted by the variances.  Both factions self-servingly assert that their projects are “special” and “good for the community” and therefore justify granting major exceptions to Milton’s variance ordinances.  The sad truth is what differentiates the long-battling factions in Milton is not their views on policy or governance but ONLY their representation of different Special Interests.  What we rather need in Milton are representatives that uphold the rule of law and that represent citizens (not Special Interests or personal interests).  We need candidates that are not afraid to talk about variances and to take a strong stance against the liberal granting of variances . . . and then follow through on their campaign stances when they sit on Council.

And what might constitute a strong stance on variances?  I would like to hear both candidates pledge:

  • I will only grant variances for minor zoning deviations where hardship is clearly proven.  This accords with historical variance practice and with Milton’s strict variance law.
  • In very rare cases when granting variances for major zoning deviations might be prudent, I will only vote for major variances if there is overwhelmingly (80+%) support from nearby residents most impacted by the variances.
  • I will never allow use permits to be re-purposed by variances to allow uses not explicitly listed in Milton’s laws.

Wow!  Wouldn’t it be great to hear a politician actually commit to upholding the law (that BTW they swear to uphold) and to protect the property rights and property values of residents?  Wouldn’t it be great to have Council members that don’t cravenly cave and cater to the Special Interests (and personal interests) and instead make duty to the community their first and only priority?

Unfortunately, what citizens so far have heard from the District 1 candidates are mostly platitudes about land use meant to offend no one, but also guaranteed not to impress or inspire anyone.  These are what I call “pro-puppy” stances on issues . . . pledges that all candidates make and about which no one disagrees . . . pledges to uphold the Comprehensive Land Use Plan.  Kumbayah!  Or to preserve what makes Milton “special.”  Kumbayah!  Or to preserve greenspace.  Kumbayah!  These sorts of cotton-candy promises—sugary sweet and mostly air—do nothing to advance the land-use discussion or to address the important issues facing Milton—most especially the wanton granting of variances to Special Interests.  These District 1 candidates’ promises are appeals to populism rather than practical policy prescriptions.  Citizens deserve better.

So my message to candidates Tucker and Verhoff is don’t bob and weave on the issue of variances.  Rather speak loudly and clearly about variances.  Let there be no doubt that you stand with citizens (and against Special Interests) and for the rule of law.  Let your views on variances ring out across the Milton you have pledged to preserve. Keeping Milton “special” means being a Grinch and a Scrooge when it comes to gifting variances.

Advocating For Honesty and Clarity About Variances,

Tim

Note:  It has come to my attention that some citizens believe I am behind anonymous websites and posts about the District 1 candidates.  I want to be very clear.  My ONLY platform for my views has been (and is) this blog.  I do not run or otherwise direct any other websites, Twitter accounts, or other platforms.  I do not anonymously post my views anywhere.  Furthermore, my standards for this blog are high.  I am strictly non-partisan, as I do not believe partisanship translates well at the local level; my readers span the ideological political spectrum.  I do not address state or national issues.  I do not address personal issues and steer well clear of criticisms that might be perceived as personal attacks.  (However, I make no apologies for being harsh and direct in my criticism.)  I only ever mention politicians by name; private citizens, even those who are politically active, are off-limits.  My focus is primarily on process and principles, but also on policy.  However, the comportment of politicians in the conduct of their office or campaigns is also fair game.  My focus is on issues where there is broad consensus in the community—i.e., eliminating the influence of Special Interests, particularly favors for developers.  Above all else, my goals are good governance in Milton and increasing citizen engagement/education.  I welcome the frequent feedback and input I receive from readers—whether they agree with me or not.

I do not intend to endorse a candidate in the District 1 race at this blog.  Rather my intent is to provide my perspectives, backed by facts, to assist voters in drawing their own conclusions about which candidate will best serve the citizens of Milton.  Another purpose of the blog is to press the candidates to address the most serious issues in Milton and to hopefully elevate the political discussion.  The community benefits from honest and ferocious debate among friends about policy, principles, and process.  (Conversely, the community suffers when that debate degenerates—often on social media platforms—into vicious personal attacks and character assassination.)

A Challenge to the District 1 Post 1 Candidates to Take a Position on Town Hall Meetings

First, I want to thank readers of the Milton Coalition Blog. Since the blog was reactivated 3 months ago, the blog has received over 3000 views (and this does not include views by the many readers that receive blog posts by email).  Blog traffic is trending sharply upward. The blog is now being read by more than 200 citizens each day.  One purpose of the blog is to stimulate engagement of Milton’s citizens, as I believe good governance and citizen engagement are highly correlated.  Another purpose of the blog is to promote accountability in our government.  The high traffic to the blog means that the Milton Coalition blog often shows up on the first page of search engine results for local candidates and current/former elected officials, ensuring that an alternative exists to candidate/council member narratives and the City of Milton’s PR (and the Milton Herald‘s vanilla reporting).  So whether you agree with me or not, thank you for visiting the blog and considering my perspectives.  Vigorous debate and an informed citizenry are essential elements of a well-functioning democracy.

Below is the text of an email that I sent to the 2 candidates for Milton City Council for District 1 Post 1.  I strongly believe that town hall meetings are an excellent means for ensuring accountability, honesty, and transparency from both elected representatives and Milton’s appointed leaders.  On a regular basis, citizens should be afforded the opportunity to engage in respectful public dialogue with government officials to understand their stances on major issues facing Milton and the principles by which decisions are made.  Town hall meetings are a governance best practice that Milton is long overdue in adopting.  Town hall meetings are a key mechanism for shifting power back to citizens.  I will publish the responses of both candidates to my challenge (once my Friday deadline passes).  From my perspective, candidate stances on town hall meetings are an important indicator of whether candidates are truly interested in good governance and in constructively and substantively engaging citizens to ensure community prerogatives are the top priority.

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Ms. Tucker and Ms. Verhoff: 

First, congratulations on earning your way to the run-off election for District 1 Post 1.  Representing the citizens of Milton is a great honor and privilege.  Thank you for stepping up to run.  Having been immersed in Council Member Bentley’s campaign in 2017, I know that running for local office requires a lot of time and effort and sometimes is painful.

As you might know, I have been steeped in Milton politics for over 6 years as an advocate for good governance, so my focus has been more on process and principles, and less on policy.  I believe more attention needs to be devoted to the architecture of government.  As a former naval officer and a strategy consultant, I know that good outcomes (i.e., policy) are only possible through good processes.  And good process is a result applying the following principles to government design:  rigor, fairness, transparency, honesty, and accountability.  Milton deserves a government as good as its citizens.  At my blog, I have floated many no-brainer, easily implementable suggestions for improving governance.  However, there is one idea that stands above the rest and could be a game-changer for good governance in Milton:  town hall meetings.  Town hall meetings are a widely recognized best practice in municipal government.  So I am issuing a challenge to the both of you to take a position on town hall meetings and provide an answer to the following question: 

Do you support and will you advocate for quarterly, videotaped (and live-streamed) town hall meetings of citizens with City Council and separately with appointed city leadership (i.e., the City Manager and his leadership team) to engage in two-way, respectful Q&A and dialogue? 

A simple YES or NO answer will suffice.  However, if you wish to elaborate on your answer, please feel free to do so (but limit responses to 200 words and to the issue of town hall meetings).  If you do not respond by November 19th at noon, I will assume that your answer is NO.  I will publish each candidate’s responses at the blog.  In responding, please understand that many of Milton’s most concerned citizens (my conservative estimate is 200+) are blog subscribers or are non-subscribers who visit the blog on a regular basis.  Furthermore, recent blog traffic has been increasing dramatically in the run-up to early voting; voters are hungry for substantive information on the candidates.  Blog readers are not only informed citizens that vote but often citizens that care enough to exercise influence within their social networks to advocate on issues and/or promote candidates.  This is an opportunity to reach those citizens.

I look forward to your responses. 

Advocating for transparency, honesty, and accountability through town hall meetings, 

Tim Becker

District 1 Candidates Need to Make Honest, Clear, and Specific Land-Use Commitments to Citizens

The run-off for Milton’s District 1 City Council seat is November 30th.  The two District 1 candidates are Ms. Jami Tucker and Ms. Andrea Verhoff.  So far, both candidates have disseminated mostly vague and vanilla positions on various issues.  However, playing it safe in Milton does not win elections.  Milton’s voters are smart, caring, and discerning.  Voters can usually smell BS, and right now the there is a fetid odor permeating Milton.  Candidates have been especially ambiguous about their stances on land use.  However, I strongly believe the winning candidate will be the one that enunciates specific positions on land use that best align with citizens’ perspectives. 

As I have often discussed at this blog, land use issues overshadow all other issues in Milton.  Council spends 70-80% of its time on land use.  The remaining development potential of land in Milton is $1B to $3B.  That much development money sloshing around is bound to distort politics/governance in Milton . . . and it has . . . to the detriment of the community.  Developers have not been shy about recruiting and financing candidates that will do their bidding at Council.  And that developer influence has metastasized in myriad ways:  rezonings to higher density; approvals of bushels of variances; repurposing of use permits through variances; 5 extensions of sewer; passage of developer-friendly ordinances; and selective enforcement of zoning regulations by staff.

I suspect that neither District 1 candidate really understands much about land use processes or policy . . . or has even given them much thought . . . not unlike many sitting members of Council.  Like all politicians in Milton, Ms. Tucker and Ms. Verhoff have paid obligatory homage to Milton’s rural heritage.  And they have promised to uphold Milton’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP).  However, the CLUP is not legally binding and it is often vague, and thus open to differing interpretations.  Conversely, Milton’s zoning laws are legally binding and much more precise.  Milton’s zoning laws have been honed over time and reflect case law and long-standing land-use practices.  Ideally, zoning codes should also incorporate into law the intent of the CLUP.  Accordingly, it is much more important that candidates pledge to uphold Milton’s zoning laws (than Milton’s CLUP).  

Through this blog post, my objective is to assist the candidates in refining their positions and more importantly, to help citizens make better decisions about the two District 1 candidates.  Accordingly, I have formulated a baker’s dozen of land-use commitments that I hope both candidates will embrace and that might serve as a guide to citizens in sizing up the candidates.  These 13 land-use commitments reflect common sense and long-standing zoning practices.  They are not radical in the least.  These commitments also offer a solution to many land-use problems in Milton that have caused deep division . . . they offer a reasonable path to a logical, coherent, consistent and citizen-centric land-use policy that respects the rule-of-law—a bedrock principle of good governance.  The commitments are based on principles of fairness, transparency, rigor, and accountability.  These principles are meant to level the playing field for citizens, with an emphasis on protecting citizens’ property rights and values, while blunting the pernicious backroom influence of Special Interests in Milton.  My strong belief is that a candidate unwilling to make and honor these 13 land-use commitments does not deserve the votes of Milton’s fine citizens.

  1. Citizens Right to Enjoyment of Their Property.  I believe citizens have a right to enjoyment of their property and therefore citizens are entitled to reasonable certainty regarding: 1) permissible uses of nearby properties and 2) granting of variances (or other deviations from our zoning law).
  2. Granting of Variances.  I will follow historic zoning practice and I will only vote to approve variances for minor deviations (from zoning law) and only when hardship is clearly proven.  I agree with and will follow the City Attorney’s advice on variances (as articulated in the video at the bottom).
  3. Use Permits.  I am opposed to re-purposing of special use permits with variances to sanction uses not currently allowed under Milton’s zoning laws.  If the community desires that properties be approved for new purposes not currently allowed, then council must follow the process for creating a use permit for that new purpose and only approve new uses that are overwhelmingly supported by the community.
  4. (Rare) Exceptions for Major Variances.  For exceptional cases where a variance seems prudent for a major zoning deviation and/or hardship cannot proven, I will insist on overwhelming support (80+%) from nearby residents.  I will not interpret lack of community opposition as support for such variances; I will proactively seek the input of nearby residents when major variances are being considered.  In exchange for approval of exceptional major variances, I will insist upon conditions that provide benefits to the community commensurate with benefits provided to the developer-applicants who are being granted a major variance.
  5. Upholding the Rule of LawI advocate for strict adherence to Milton’s zoning ordinances.  I will always uphold the rule of law.  I understand that some discretion is allowed within the boundaries of the rule.  Within such boundaries, I will bow to the will of citizens.
  6. Maintaining/Strengthening Milton’s Zoning LawsI will never vote for any proposal that relaxes Milton’s zoning laws, except to approve 1) new use permits or 2) re-zonings that are overwhelmingly supported by the community—most especially nearby residents.  I will work hard to close loopholes, eliminate inconsistencies, and increase clarity in Milton’s zoning laws.
  7. Fairness for CitizensI pledge to work to improve Milton’s zoning processes and level the playing field for citizens.  This includes giving citizens equal opportunities to speak and the last opportunity to speak at all zoning hearings.  It also includes providing document packets for all zoning hearings at least 10 days in advance of such hearings (to allow citizens sufficient time to review the zoning application and supporting documents).  I pledge to work with Milton’s representatives to the Georgia State Assembly to revise state laws that present hurdles to citizen participation in the zoning process (and more broadly in local politics/governance).
  8. Campaign Contributions from DevelopersI will never accept campaign contributions from developers or from others with a substantive interest in development. 
  9. Meeting With DevelopersI will never meet one-on-one with developers or their representatives.  I will only participate in such meetings with staff present.
  10. Comportment of Developers Before CouncilI will not tolerate developers or their representatives threatening or lying to Council/staff or otherwise acting in bad faith.  I will not tolerate developers or their representatives interrupting or demonstrating other disruptive behavior at Council.  When appropriate, I will use “point of order” to appropriately admonish developers at Council meetings.
  11. Videotaping CZIMsI advocate video-taping of all Community Zoning Information Meetings.
  12. Sewer ExtensionI will never vote to extend sewer beyond areas where it is currently permitted by sewer maps.
  13. Town Hall Meetings.  I support transparency and honesty in zoning hearings.  Accordingly, I support quarterly video-taped town-hall meetings where citizens can engage council in respectful, two-way dialogue to better understand Council members’ reasoning in zoning (and other) matters.

Land-use is complex and I could elaborate much more . . . but won’t.  The above 13 commitments represent a good starting point for putting Milton on a better path to sensible land use and attractive community development that reflect the prerogatives of citizens while respecting the rule of law.  However, I encourage Ms. Tucker and Ms. Verhoff to supplement and strengthen this list of commitments and make it their own. Citizens deserve honest, clear, and specific commitments about land use from candidates for Council.

Advocating For Smart Land-Use,

Tim

In 2018, Council flagrantly disregarded the advice of the City Attorney and Milton’s variance laws to approve the elimination of buffers at Birmingham Crossroads, thereby creating legal precedents that have the potential to eliminate important zoning protections for the community.