Weirdness and Wackiness in Milton’s Politics . . . Candidate Tucker’s Opposition to 5G

As trust in government wanes and politics becomes increasingly contentious, more and more average citizens are withdrawing from politics.  This is understandable.  From my personal experience, I know that a concerned citizen puts a huge target on his/her back when he/she wades into Milton’s political quagmire and challenges Milton’s power structure.  Local politics is not for sissies; that’s for sure.  Unfortunately, the exit of smart, honest, and reasonable citizens leaves the political playing field to the corrupt, clueless . . . and sometimes the crazy . . . serious tin-foil-hat sorts of people.  And social media often accelerates and amplifies today’s political lunacy.  Political apathy also means Special Interests are essentially granted free reign . . . in Milton, this means developers buy elections and are showered with favors from compliant council members. And it is these trends that motivated me to start my blog . . . to elevate the political discussion, to motivate citizens to engage, and to speak truth to power.

Today, I want to talk about wackiness in politics in the context of the run-off for District 1, Post 1 pitting Jami Tucker against Andrea Verhoff.  (I will leave discussion of the influence of Special Interests to another day.)  Much of the current discussion among citizens is focused on Ms. Tucker.  According to my sources, Ms. Tucker has history of activism on social media—much of which seems to have been scrubbed from the Internet.  However, I have been provided with a number of screen shots supposedly posted by Ms. Tucker (or asserted to have been posted by Ms. Tucker).  And frankly, many of these posts are indeed troubling.  Unfortunately, the posts lack context, sometimes involve partisan politics, or sometimes pertain to state and national issues . . . so these posts don’t clear my threshold for inclusion in my blog.  However, one issue, Ms. Tucker’s stance on 5G wireless networks, did capture my attention.  5G is an important local issue, and Ms. Tucker’s 5G perspectives are likely indicative of Ms. Tucker’s broader approach to politics and government.  Ms. Tucker is dead wrong on 5G. The facts simply do not support Ms. Tucker’s position that 5G is “not safe to be deployed near people.” And frankly, Ms. Tucker’s stance is just plain wacky.

In California, Ms. Tucker led efforts against deployment of 5G.  And Ms. Tucker left a trail of evidence supporting her positions on this issue. 

Following are some links to Ms. Tucker’s advocacy against deployment of 5G.  Read and listen for yourself . . .

Tucker 5G LinkedIn Article

Jami Tucker Warns Us About 5G

Jami Tucker’s Go Fund Me campaign against 5G

To be blunt, this sort of tin-foil-hat thinking falls in the same constellation of conspiracy theories as Bigfoot (and Elvis) sightings, alligators living in NYC’s sewers, abductions by aliens, and other pseudo-scientific baloney that often finds expression in the likes of the National Enquirer.  I say this as a former nuclear-trained Navy submarine officer and thus knowledgeable about radiation—both ionizing and non-ionizing, which is a key distinction.   Also, as a consultant, I worked with wireless technologies (for reading meters and other uses) for 10+ years. 

Based on both my Navy and consulting experience, I published or contributed to a number of papers/articles on wireless (and wired) technologies.  Attached below is a published paper (that I helped write) for the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative that debunks myths about wireless technologies.  (I am also including a paper that I wrote that was input to the SGCC paper.)  Although written in the context of lower frequency, less usage-intensive meter reading, the same general principles apply to 5G technologies.  Many of the claims about the dangers of 5G (and wireless technologies more generally) are wildly exaggerated or just plain false.  While I do believe municipalities should have some control over 5G deployment (for example, the aesthetics and location of transceivers), I find Ms. Tucker’s extreme views on 5G deeply troubling.  Milton needs council members who can think clearly and logically and who deal in facts not fakery.  There should be no place in Milton for political wackiness and fringe ideologies.

Advocating For Rationality and Facts in Local Politics,


Note:  Sadly, it is often the case in Milton that scientific facts and clear logic are cavalierly brushed aside in Milton’s policy-making.  The approval of the music venue at Birmingham Crossroads involved willful ignorance of basic scientific principles of sound and acoustics.  City staff, the Planning Commission, and City Council all turned a blind eye—and deaf ear—to the scientific facts and legitimate citizen concerns.  For example, both staff and the Planning Commission (Council Member Paul Moore was the chairman) recommended a maximum sound level of 85 DB (at the property line) for the AG-1 zoned music venue.  This is equivalent to the loudness of a freight train at 100 yards and it is the sound level at which OSHA requires companies to institute hearing protection programs!  And it is because of such willful ignorance that Crossroads residents have to endure loud music 30+ Saturday nights per year–a blatant infringement on citizens’ rights to enjoy their property and a total disregard for basic community protections inherent in Milton’s zoning laws.

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,


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.

Reflections on Elections:  Seismic Shifts and Successful Strategies

Source: Fulton County Election website

On election day, traffic to the Milton Coalition blog spiked.  It seemed that citizens were seeking perspectives on the Milton City Council District 1 election—sadly the only competitive race in Milton.  And seeing no recent comments on this race at my blog, voters reached out to me by text, phone, and email to get some sense about how to vote.  Voters expressed understandable frustration that candidate communications lacked substance and were undifferentiated.  True.  Specifics were lacking and candidates were playing it safe.  True.  Every candidate was pledging to preserve Milton’s rural heritage, to ensure public safety, and serving up various other versions of motherhood-and-apple-pie.  True.  For many voters, it seemed the District 1 race was a crap shoot.  True.  However, as I have often explained at this blog, to understand Milton politics requires 1) knowing the political back stories (and there is always a back story) and 2) relying on intuition, based on experience. 

Having been steeped in Milton politics for 2+ years, I have learned to connect seemingly random dots (Facebook likes from certain people, placement of yard signs on certain properties, comments from well-placed sources, etc.) to discern patterns.  For example, it was very clear (and not terribly surprising) to me that each of the long-battling factions in Milton had their preferred candidate, leaving one unaligned candidate.  Clearly, Jami Tucker is supported by the Lusk-Kunz (LK) faction and less clearly (but clearly enough) Adam D’Annela was favored by the Moore-Bentley-Cookerly (MBC) faction, with Andrea Verhoff the odd person out . . . perhaps not a bad place to be, if Ms. Verhoff plays her cards right. 

At the top of this blog post, I have provided the final results from Tuesday’s election (a screenshot from the Fulton County Elections website), and the 2021 election results actually speak volumes about the state of politics in Milton . . . when compared to the elections of 2017 and 2019.  In 2017, Laura Bentley secured 71+% of the vote, beating incumbent Bill Lusk; it was the biggest blow-out in Milton’s election history and the result of a superior campaign strategy and a hyper-diligent ground game.  It was the culmination of two years of hard-fought victories against existential threats to the community and the cultivation of a large cadre of passionate citizen advocates.  Paul Moore was a beneficiary of the momentum of the 2017 election, riding the Bentley wave to garner 63% of the vote in 2019.  Accordingly, viewed in the light of the previous two elections, D’Annela’s poor third-place finish (22.6%) in 2021 represents a seismic shift in Milton politics . . . a swing of nearly 50 percentage points relative to Bentley’s 2017 victory and a thorough repudiation of the status quo. 

Now I suspect some D’Annela backers will assert that Mr. D’Annela ran an anemic campaign.  And perhaps this is true, but frankly difficult to argue given the lack of differentiation among the candidates.  I would posit an alternative explanation, supported by my conversations with citizens and with long-time watchers of City politics.  I strongly believe that Tuesday’s results were a rejection of the Moore-Bentley-Cookerly (MBC) faction and a clear message from citizens that they expect much better from their elected representatives.  Our council members must mean what they say and must do what they say.  If you promise to shift power back to citizens, then DO IT (or at least try to do it).  Milton’s citizens want coherent and logical policy-making that is free of personal animosities and the influence of Special (or personal) Interests. Sadly, the 28 variances granted at Birmingham Crossroads and, worse, the abuse of process associated with these variances, were the undoing of the MBC faction.  However, it took the sordid Painted Horse saga to bring into stark relief the inherent hypocrisy and illogic of the Birmingham Crossroads decisions.  It was clear to all but the most blinkered citizens that the owners of The Painted Horse were treated unfairly in light of the preferential treatment given to the Birmingham Crossroads music venue.  And I believe it is this realization that caused voters to reject Mr. D’Annela, who unwittingly became a proxy for the status quo in Milton. 

Unfortunately, Tuesday’s results raise more questions than they answer . . . questions that appropriately addressed will lead to electoral success for Ms. Tucker or Ms. Verhoff.  For example, now that Ms. Tucker’s alignment with Lusk-Kunz and big Milton developers has become obvious, are voters willing to jump from the frying pan into the fire and give the Lusk-Kunz faction (and their Mega Developer friends) a second chance?  Should/will Ms. Tucker distance herself from the Lusk-Kunz faction?  If not, how will Ms. Tucker justify her alignment with Lusk and Kunz?  How will Ms. Tucker explain her support from Milton’s developers?  And does Ms. Tucker, a newcomer to Milton, understand the history of Milton’s politics and specifically the citizen backlash that occurred in 2015 – 2017, culminating in Ms. Bentley’s election?  Does Ms. Tucker understand citizens’ legitimate concerns about the strong influence of developers in Milton, who aggressively recruit and fund candidates that will push their agendas (e.g., liberal granting of variances) at Council?

And Ms. Verhoff has perhaps more difficult issues to navigate.  Will Ms. Verhoff realize she is the underdog and take the risks needed to win?  Will Ms. Verhoff present a true third alternative to the two factions (that have dominated politics since its Milton’s founding) or will she align with the MBC faction, in the hopes that D’Annela voters will swing to her side?   Will the latter strategy alienate much of her base who seem to desire a non-aligned candidate and a clean break with Milton’s political past?  Will she differentiate her positions with specifics or continue to play it safe?  Will Ms. Verhoff talk more about good governance and less about policy?  Will she draw a (much) starker contrast with her opponent and her opponent’s backers?

Bottomline.  Ms. Tucker has the advantage of momentum associated with a near-victory in Tuesday’s election.  Ms. Tucker’s disadvantage is her now obvious alignment with the Lusk-Kunz bloc of Milton politics and the potential continuation of the long-running, destructive battle between Milton’s factions (and the continuing influence of Special Interests each side represents).  Ms. Verhoff has the advantage of non-alignment with Milton’s traditional factions and the opportunity to present herself as a fresh, independent voice on council . . . a break with Milton’s political past.  Ms. Verhoff’s disadvantage is that she is an underdog that so far has played it safe and is a largely a cipher to citizens.  Ms. Verhoff has only a short period of time to differentiate herself from her opponent and to make a strong positive impression with voters.  And unless Ms. Verhoff distinguishes herself, Milton’s voters may play it safe and go with the leading candidate, Ms. Tucker, and the devil they know, the Lusk-Kunz faction.

My advice to both candidates is to not underestimate the intelligence and the concern of Milton’s voters.  In the past, the citizens of Milton have not shy about unceremoniously kicking dishonest, uncaring, and incompetent politicians to the curb.  Ms. Tucker and Ms. Verhoff need to both up their games.  Listen to citizens.  Respect citizens.  Be honest and straightforward.  Provide policy specifics.  Stress your commitment to the rule of law and fairness.  Emphasize accountability and competence. Lead with integrity.  Unequivocally repudiate the influence of Special Interests in Milton. Demonstrate courage.

I will continue to blog about the upcoming run-off election in Milton in hopes of elevating the discussion and nudging the candidates to stake out specific positions and to reveal their true allegiances.  My desire is that more attention be directed to issues of good governance (i.e., improving the process for how things get accomplished in Milton).

Advocating for Good Governance,


Note:  I have not met with or otherwise communicated with either Ms. Tucker or Ms. Verhoff or their campaigns.  I am not endorsing either candidate (at least not at this time).  Right now, I have substantive concerns about both candidates. Many rumors have been swirling about Ms. Tucker’s political past (and present).  Certainly, informed voters would be well advised to perform internet searches on both candidates to better understand their backgrounds—political and otherwise.  My blog is fact-based, so I will not relate or otherwise perpetuate rumors about candidates unless citizens provide me with direct evidence (e.g. screenshots) that would substantiate relevant concerns about either Ms. Tucker or Ms. Verhoff.

Painted Horse (Part 3):  Milton’s Ghost of Politics Past Rears It’s Ugly Head

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

–William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

Unfortunately, Milton continues to be haunted by the ghosts of its sordid political past (which seems a fitting topic for the Halloween and election season).  The recent City Council hearings pertaining to The Painted Horse are a stark reminder that Milton’s politics and government remain mired in political rivalries dating back to the founding of the city.  Fittingly, these hearings come at the end of Laura Bentley’s first and perhaps last (she has opted not to run for re-election) term on Council.  On Monday night, I attended the hearing on Milton’s alcohol ordinance involving myriad changes that clearly targeted The Painted Horse and are intended to effectively shut down this winery.   The hearing was a clear abuse of process and yet another embarrassing example of Milton’s politics of personal destruction.  The gravity of Milton’s long history of dirty politics is strong.  While the cast of characters changes, Milton’s political shenanigans remain drearily the same, with citizens perennially on the proverbial short end of the stick.

Monday’s hearing was painful for those of us who previously were so hopeful about the future of Milton and invested heavily in the cause of reform.  For 2 years (2015 – 2017), a citizens’ rebellion defied Milton’s political forces that so often drag our government down into the muck and mud.  Good governance was on the march.  Organized citizen advocacy achieved important victories on critical issues of policy by fending off cluster housing ordinances, re-zonings to higher density, HOA-run community septic systems, and other existential threats to the community.  I was proud to play a leadership role in these victories through this blog, the posting of petitions, emails to concerned citizens, and other advocacy.  Over time, those of us in the vanguard of change realized that sustainable change would only be achievable through substantive reform of Milton’s governance processes.  We determined to invest our accumulated political capital in such reform.  Through revisions to Milton’s municipal code, the very architecture of government would be changed to ensure greater fairness, transparency, accountability, and rigor.  (James Madison would be proud.)  Milton would become a model for other cities.  But to effect such a transformation, we needed a caring, tireless and courageous advocate on City Council . . . enter Laura Bentley. 

2017 Campaign Theme: Shifting Power Back to Citizens

In December of 2016, Laura Bentley convened a meeting of six of us to choose a candidate for District 2 Post 1 in the upcoming 2017 elections . . . we chose Laura.  And Laura’s defining campaign plank was “shifting power back to citizens” . . . that is, permanent changes to the framework of government that would survive Laura’s tenure on Council and put Milton on a steady, steeper upward trajectory . . . defying the downward pull of special interests and personality politics.  Within the rule of law, the prerogatives of citizens would reign supreme.  Most importantly, Milton would actually follow its laws (and long-established zoning practice) in only granting variances for minor discrepancies that met all 4 tests for hardship (prescribed in Milton’s zoning laws). 

To effect such reform, we knew that Laura would need a landslide victory.  Through various platforms, an appeal was made to volunteers and voters.  Thankfully, citizens answered our clarion call to action, enthusiastically contributing in various ways to Laura’s candidacy.  The groundswell for good governance was undeniable . . . Laura captured 71+% of the vote, defeating a well-financed, politically-experienced incumbent who had been on council since Milton’s founding.  The investment of our hard-earned political capital had paid off at the polls.  Good governance was within grasp . . . Laura surely would make it happen . . . citizens were clearly behind her . . . Laura’s election was mandate for change . . . Laura would be unstoppable.

But alas, it was not meant to be.  To the great dismay of her supporters, within 3 months of her election, Laura disavowed the core principles of the citizens’ movement that elected her.  In the context of her support for a multitude of variances (28 in total for 3 separate properties) at Birmingham Crossroads, Laura stated to me “Tim, I know how you feel about process, but citizens don’t care about process; they only care about outcomes.  They don’t understand or care about variances.”  (Laura was parroting Joe Lockwood.)  Laura further stated that the City Attorney had advised her that council had “discretion” in granting variances, which Laura interpreted as nearly limitless discretion.  (Interestingly, the City Attorney asserted otherwise in the Crossroads hearings, stating that Milton’s ordinances do not allow granting of variances to improve outcomes and advised—in lawyer speak—against approving the very variances that Laura supported. Click on the below link to hear Jarrard’s guidance.)  Laura’s flip-flop on variances (and more broadly on re-architecting government), whereby she wholeheartedly adopted the stance of her 2017 opponent, caused a permanent rupture in Laura’s relationship with me and many other staunch supporters.

City Attorney’s Advising Against Granting Variances

And so it was that Laura became untethered from principles of good governance and alienated from most of her supporters.  Milton’s politics quickly reverted to the old ways.  Nothing substantive has been accomplished to fundamentally change the architecture of government, to further good governance, or (in Laura’s words) to “shift power back to citizens.”  In fact, in many respects, Milton governance has regressed since I became involved 6 years ago.  For example, earlier in 2021, the Charter Commission, which previously met every 5 years and was one of the few checks on Council power, was disbanded by City Council.  This fundamental change to Milton’s charter went virtually unnoticed by citizens.

Milton is Often Not Friendly to Small Businesses

This brings me back to The Painted Horse.  On Monday night, Laura (and Paul Moore) led the charge against the Painted Horse.  For 3+ hours, City Council mercilessly pencil-whipped Milton’s alcohol ordinance.  Some 100 changes were considered by Council.  The result is a complex and convoluted alcohol ordinance that likely will drag Milton into a legal quagmire about what sorts of entertainment/recreational venues are acceptable in Milton . . . a most unadmirable legacy bequeathed to citizens by Ms. Bentley.  And council’s actions beg a number of questions.  Is it really Council’s role to wallow in the details and write ordinances?  Or rather isn’t Council’s role to provide guidance to staff and then hold them accountable for writing sensible ordinances?  Of course, it must be remembered that a farm-winery is a by-right use established under state law.  Accordingly, is it reasonable to suppose that a court will uphold an alcohol ordinance (or other measures) clearly intended to subvert state law and effectively ban farm-wineries in Milton?  Will Council Members Bentley, Moore, et al dip into their pockets to cover the legal expenses for the City and the Painted Horse should a court rule against Milton’s interference?  Consider that Milton’s alcohol ordinance includes a ridiculous provision that prohibits Painted Horse patrons from straying more than 20 feet from the tasting room building (and enjoying the beauty of the farm with its vineyards).  The 20-foot adjacency restriction appears an unreasonable encumbrance, meant (along with other interference) by Lilliputian members of Council to tie down and tangle up The Painted Horse and to carry out a personal vendetta against the owners.

Unfortunately, the Painted Horse saga is a sad reminder that Laura’s election did not result in shifting power back to citizens and that good governance continues to elude Milton.  However, I suppose there is a certain measure of poetic justice in the fact that a co-operator of The Painted Horse, Juliette Johnson, will succeed Ms. Bentley as the District 2, Post 1 City Council representative.  Perhaps, Painted Horse’s owner, Pam Jackson, will run against and displace the last remaining representative of Milton’s Old Guard (and other District 2 representative) Paul Moore (who political slithering dates back to the City’s first election when he was a candidate).  Based on her background, Ms. Jackson seems a smart, accomplished, and courageous professional and business owner . . . just the sort of person we need on council.  And, of course, Milton certainly has a storied reputation for ejecting misbehaving Council members (or else prompting them not to run to run for re-election to avoid certain defeat at the ballot box).  I remain hopeful.

Advocating For a Break With Milton’s Political Past,


Note: In future posts, I will speak to 1) Paul Moore’s central role in past and present dysfunction in the Milton City government and 2) City’s Manager Krokoff’s failure in his basic responsibilities as chief executive at City Hall.

District 2 Council Members: Posturing as Protectors of the People and Promoters of Principle and Process

Tonight’s City Council meeting agenda includes issues having impact on two local businesses:  The Painted Horse and Billy Allen’s Piano Bar.  And these issues shine a bright light on a sad state of affairs in Milton.  Unfortunately, the misbehavior of Milton’s two District 2 Council Members, Paul Moore and Laura Bentley, is bearing bitter fruit for the community.  Citizens’ trust in Milton’s City government is waning (notwithstanding the City’s non-stop stream of look-good/feel good Facebook posts).  And increasingly, it is difficult to distinguish local politics from Washington politics.  This loss of confidence in Milton’s municipal government was both predicted and predictable.  Both Paul and Laura led the variance parade at Birmingham Crossroads . . . with 28 variances and a bastardized special use permit granted in 4 separate hearings over the span of less than a year.  In the case of Matilda’s,  Paul and Laura cavalierly disregarded both the rule of law and citizens’ concerns in favor of their own and their friends’ personal interests . . . to the detriment of the community. 

Now the results of Council’s poor decisions are metastasizing elsewhere in Milton.  Other applicants before council are demanding equal treatment—aka fairness.  And they make a good (and probably legally sound) case for such like treatment.  You see, Council’s approval of Matilda’s at Birmingham Crossroads set the bar very low for what is accepted and acceptable in Milton . . . “open borders” for all sorts of businesses.  The owners of the Painted Horse (a winery) and now Billy Allen’s (a piano bar) are asking for (much) less than was granted to Matilda’s.  And when you contrast The Painted Horse with Matilda’s, you see the obvious illogic and incoherence in Milton City Council’s land use approach.  After all, The Painted Horse owners are saving an equestrian property, operating a by-right business, regulating alcohol consumption, and abiding by Milton’s noise ordinance.  This is in stark contrast to Matilda’s, which is located on a marginal property (bisected by high voltage transmission lines), operates under a bastardized (by 12 variances) festival use permit, is BYOB, and pumps out music that is 15 DB above Milton’s approved noise limits and sometimes can be heard 1.5 miles away.  The “intensity of use” (a term of art at Council) is much lower at The Painted Horse.  It strikes me that farm-wineries actually 1) offer a wonderful opportunity to save equestrian properties and 2) align well with Milton’s rural character.  The same cannot be reasonably asserted about Matilda’s.  Farm wineries might actually provide apposite means for Milton to distinguish itself in Atlanta’s north metro area.

Realizing they’ve lost the trust of Milton’s voters, Paul and Laura are now posturing as protectors of the people and as promoters of principles and process.  Their worship at the altar of good governance is unconvincing and shameful.   Long ago, both Paul and Laura ceded the moral high ground and opted instead for the political low road, a well-worn path in Milton that has often led to defeat at the ballot box (or to politicians wisely choosing not to seek re-election).  Let’s get real.  In light of their slavish support for Matilda’s, Paul and Laura’s opposition to The Painted Horse has little to do with the people, principles, or process.  Their opposition appears transparently personal and their goal seems nothing short of running the Painted Horse owners out of business. 

Paul Moore Campaigning For City Council at Matilda’s (2019)

It is interesting to note that in re-purposing a use permit with 12 variances for Matilda’s and then taking a subsequent strict stance against any additional music or other entertainment venues, Paul and Laura have effectively created a well-protected monopoly for Matilda’s in Milton.  It is also interesting to note that many of Paul’s allies have privately acknowledged that Paul erred in his blind advocacy for Matilda’s and in his blatant circumvention of due process, but excuse him by stating that his was a “crime of passion” . . . akin to a mama bear protecting its cubs.  This is nonsense.  Paul knew better but didn’t care.  And unfortunately (but predictably), City leadership turned a blind eye to ethical and due process violations. Lastly, it is interesting to note that Paul and Laura reached out to residents near The Painted Horse to understand their concerns, but Paul and Laura never engaged citizens that were to be impacted by Matilda’s–perhaps because nearby residents were nearly unanimous in their opposition.

I encourage citizens to attend tonight’s hearing.  It should be a good show.  Political hypocrisy at its finest.  If you can’t make it, following is a link for watching the meeting virtually.

In closing, it is worth noting that come January 2022, Milton will have three new City Council members.  I am hopeful.  These prospective Council Members would be well-advised to closely watch tonight’s hearings and learn some valuable lessons . . . a principled process is the only path to good outcomes and to restoring trust and confidence in local government.

Advocating For Good Governance,


Note: I want to emphasize that I was not opposed to Matilda’s being re-located to Milton. My objections were to a circumvention of due process and the rule of law; re-purposing a use permit with myriad variances; and total disregard for the concerns of nearby residents. I believe that a suitable home for Matilda’s in Milton could have been found by following principled process. This would have involved creating a use permit for music venues in Milton, assuming citizens wanted music venues in AG-1 zoned areas of Milton. It would have meant finding a location that did not require variances that remove basic protections to the community. It would have required clear support from the community, especially those most impacted by the music venue. And finally, it would have followed an ethical, transparent, fair, and rigorous approval process.

Constitution Week, Milton’s Charter, and the Search For Good Governance

(I am still working on Part 2 of my blog post about variances.  Before publishing, I want to ensure that my facts about land use are correct and my sources are consistent and authoritative.)

This week is Constitution Week.  And it is fitting that a week (vs. a day) is dedicated to honoring The United States Constitution.  And my hope is that some Americans might take the occasion seriously and actually spend a few minutes reading and pondering The US Constitution (and its sister document, The Declaration of Independence).  Following are links to the texts of The US Constitution and to The Declaration of Independence


Declaration of Independence

These two documents must necessarily be considered together.  As Abraham Lincoln so eloquently stated, “The Constitution is the frame of silver adorning and preserving the Declaration of Independence, which is the apple of gold.”  Lincoln, like the Founders, intuitively understood that the fundamental mission and vision of the American project is reflected in The Declaration of Independence . . . and that is securing liberty (i.e., the natural and equal rights of humankind).  The Declaration of Independence specifies WHAT we are seeking to achieve:  liberty, while The Constitution (by itself, without the amendments) addresses HOW to achieve the Declaration’s mission/vision.  The HOW is critical, because the Founders rightly understood that the biggest threat to liberty is government, which has a monopoly on police power (i.e., legal force and even legal violence).  Government’s power must be properly constrained.  These limits on federal power were to be achieved by the Constitution, which provides the architecture for our national government.  Because the Founders settled on a republican form of government (vs. direct democracy, monarchy, oligarchy, etc.), they rightly understood that the danger of republican democracy is tyranny of the majority.  Therefore, the Founders designed a government that would diffuse power, that would make majorities (combinations of factions) unstable, that would encourage deliberation and minimize rash actions, that would put certain fundamental rights beyond the reach of majorities, etc.  Various mechanisms were employed to achieve this design:  federalism, three co-equal branches of government, supermajorities for adopting Constitutional amendments, and various other checks-and-balances.

Taken together, The US Constitution and The Declaration of Independence are the most profound and influential documents in political history, (eclipsing the English Magna Carta and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man).  In the late 1700s, The Constitution and The Declaration of Independence took many then-radical ideas of great political philosophers (e.g., John Locke)—that were until their time, mostly theoretical—and put them into practice.  Through these two documents, the Founders, particularly Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, reimagined and re-engineered government—a government dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal;” that government power derived from “the consent of the governed;” and that rights were not a dispensation of government, but rather rights preceding government (i.e., were natural) with government’s purpose to “secure” these rights.

And what has this got to do with government in Milton?  The simple answer is EVERYTHING.  Milton City Council Members actually take an oath to support and defend The Constitution of the United States of America.  Following is the oath for the Mayor and Council members:

I do solemnly (swear) (affirm) that I will faithfully perform the duties of (mayor) (council member) of this city and that I will support and defend the Charter thereof as well as the Constitution and laws of the State of Georgia and of the United States of America.

Unfortunately, as someone who has closely watched Council for 7 years, I wonder if any Council members ever give a second thought to their oath or to The US Constitution (or any laws they swear to uphold).  If Council members do take their oaths of office seriously, why do they assert (as more than one has asserted to me personally) that “citizens don’t care about process; they only care about outcomes?”  (It was this statement that caused me to part ways with the council members that I previously and strongly supported.)  And more importantly, why do their Council’s actions consistently convey a disregard for our laws, including sometimes the Constitution itself?  (For example, Milton’s Ethics Ordinance’s wrongful use clause is blatantly anti-Constitutional.)

It is important to understand that Milton has its own version of the Constitution, which is referenced in Council’s oath of office as the “Charter,” and establishes Milton’s governmental architecture.  Almost no one knows this, but Milton’s City Council recently seriously weakened Milton’s Charter.  In early 2021, Council voted to eliminate a periodic (every 5 years) review of Milton’s Charter by an appointed group of citizens—a sort of Constitutional Convention convened every 5 years.  This review by a Charter Commission was an important—and I would argue, essential—check on the power of Council and City staff . . . and unfortunately, Milton’s government has very few such checks-and-balances (in contrast with the federal government).  And eliminating this Charter review is the opposite of “shifting power back to citizens,” which was the most important campaign theme of 2017.  (So much for campaign promises, huh?) Council argued that things were proceeding so swimmingly in Milton that they no longer needed any such oversight from citizens.  It was a singularly self-congratulatory moment for Council.  This action by Council was a fundamental Charter revision that not a single citizen opposed, that the Milton Herald neglected (to understand or) to report . . . and sadly went almost totally unnoticed by anyone in Milton .  I hope an intrepid candidate for council (in 2021 or subsequent elections) will resurrect 5-year Charter reviews.

So what might be the moral to this story?  Well, the single most important point citizens should take away is that Milton needs elected and appointed government leaders that  understand the criticality of municipal government’s architecture to the achievement of good governance and good outcomes (as our Forefathers understood it).  Hopefully, a future “James Madison” in Milton will work to reform Milton’s government processes so government works well for all citizens.  I know from experience that effective leaders focus more on process and principles (i.e., good governance) and less on policy, understanding that good policy is only possible through establishment and execution of excellent processes.

Honoring the Constitution and Milton’s Charter,


Postscript:  This issues of The Constitution and good governance are very personal for me.  For nearly 8 years, I served in the military (as a US Navy nuclear submarine officer), and I was proud to do so.  I strongly believe in our America and in good governance.  I took my military oath seriously . . . and still do:  “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”  While I understand that our nation and our government are far from perfect, for most of my life, I had faith and confidence that, in the United States, my liberty is relatively secure and that justice is usually served.  It was not until I waded into local governance and politics that my faith in our political system was shaken (but thankfully not shattered).  My experiences with local government made me realize that our basic liberties (for example, the five First Amendment freedoms) in America are much more attenuated than most of us realize and that our system of justice often fails miserably.  Citizens should understand that there are enemies of good governance right here in Milton, including former and current Council members, that misuse and abuse the powers of government to exact vengeance on citizens, like myself, that have the temerity to challenge them and the status quo.  (More about this is future blog posts.)  Sometimes aided by City staff, the tools of their trade are personal attacks, selective enforcement of Milton’s laws, and frivolous ethics complaints. However, these politicians underestimate the power of the truth and the power of persuasion and thankfully often pay the price for their misdeeds.  Miltonites have not been shy about booting bad actors in our local government—many receiving their comeuppance at the ballot box; others withdrawing from government rather than face the ire of voters.  I say:  good riddance.

Variances in Milton (Part 1): Radical Departure From Law and Historical Practice.

In my last post, I promised to discuss variances and how they are used (or often misused/abused) in deciding Milton’s land-use issues.  Granting of variances is a critical element in how Milton gets developed.  My position on variances has been consistent: variances should be granted according to 1) the law and 2) historical variance practice.  This means:

  • Variances should only be granted for minor discrepancies (e.g., allowing a home to be built a foot or two closer to a lot line than zoning allows)
  • Undue hardship must be demonstrated.  And in Milton, proving hardship is especially difficult as Milton’s variance law is strict and involves a four-part test for hardship; each test must be “passed.”  That is to say that our law gives staff and Council very little discretion within the boundaries of the rule of law; DO NOT believe Council members who tell you otherwise.

My position on variances–insistence on adherence to the rule of law and historical zoning practice–is NOT a radical position.  Actually, what is radical (and sometimes unlawful) is Milton’s granting of copious variances that sanction major zoning deviations and/or don’t involve undue hardship . . . sometimes to repurpose a use permit for an impermissible (and hence unlawful) use.  (This will be discussed later in this post.)

In my community advocacy, I aligned myself with a number of likeminded citizens (like current Council Members Paul Moore and Laura Bentley) who took similarly parsimonious stances on variances.  Following is a video of Laura advocating (as a citizen) against the granting of variances to a developer of a property on Providence Road, who was seeking variances (13 in all) for 80% of his unbuilt lots. Laura states correctly that “council’s granting of variances undermines our AG-1 standards” . . . and that is why I opposed every one of the 28 unjustified variances/zoning modifications (and the use permit for a music venue) that have been granted at Birmingham Crossroads.

Laura Bentley Comments Against Variances at June 20, 2016 City Council Meeting

To understand variances it is necessary to step back and to understand the lawful (and also unlawful) avenues for developing land in Milton.  There are 3 lawful ways to develop land in Milton (all of which might or might not involve variances):

  1. By-Right Development means a developer agrees to develop a property in accordance with state and local zoning conditions and standards.  The use for which he/she intends to develop the property is permitted by zoning, without having to meet any additional conditions beyond what underlying zoning requires. Such development usually requires only a land-disturbance permit (and some subsequent inspections to verify compliance), which provides notification to the city that a developer is going to disturb a property for development purposes and that he/she understands the standards (e.g., installation of soil fences) he/she must follow.  In some cases, a review by the Design Review Board or Planning Commission might be required.  These bodies will ask questions, might make suggestions, and might even identify a need for variances.  Some by-right development is defined locally; however, some by-right development (e.g., farm-wineries) is defined by the state, thereby putting limits on municipal government’s jurisdiction.
  2. Use Permits (sometimes also called Special Use Permits or Conditional Use Permits).  Localities designate certain uses as permissible (not to mean permitted) subject to meeting certain conditions for that use specified by law.  These conditions are in addition to the baseline conditions/restrictions required by underlying zoning.  Use permits come before City Council for discussion and approval/disapproval.  Council can levy additional conditions beyond those required by the use permit and underlying zoning.  Alternatively, Council can outright deny a use permit, even if all use permit/zoning conditions (or additional conditions recommended by staff, the Planning Commission, etc.) are accepted by the developer.  This is important and bears repeating . . . Council can deny a use permit that meets all the conditions specified in municipal code for a specified use.
  3. Rezoning.  In situations where a developer desires to put a property to a use that is not by right and for which no use permit exists, a third (usually more onerous) option is available:  rezoning, whereby the developer applies to have a property re-classified to a zoning designation that does allow the intended use either by right or through a use permit.  Often, such rezoning involves reclassifying a property from lower density zoning to higher density zoning or from residential zoning to commercial zoning (or occasionally, vice versa) . . . so that the developer can capture greater profits, often to the detriment of nearby property owners and the broader community.

Note:   In Milton, the rezoning process can be circumvented through the Comprehensive Land Use planning process (by changing the land use designation), with little/no transparency and public input, so that developers (later) can much more easily rezone a property.  This bypass of the law has resulted in several instances of rezoning to higher density, involving sewer extension.  This blatantly dishonest and unfair mechanism is known to council members, but thus far they have refused to fix the issue.  (I will devote an entire blog post to this issue).

Are there any other ways to (lawfully) develop a property?  The answer is NO, other than successfully lobbying the City to change its zoning ordinances to modify zoning restrictions or to add additional special use permits.  This is a key point, because in Milton, we have seen properties approved for uses for which no special use permit exists . . . this is known as spot zoning and is patently unlawful.  (Example:  approval of the music venue at Birmingham Crossroads.)

So how do variances apply to these 3 methods for developing property?  And how are variances being used to circumvent the rule of law (as reflected in our zoning laws)?  Well, that is a topic for the next blog post.  Stay tuned . . . the business of granting variances is a particularly sordid affair in Milton that involves favors for friends and establishment of dangerous legal precedents that will eventually come back to haunt Milton (in the form of unsightly future development).

Advocating For Granting Variances According to the Law and Historical Practice,


What is Milton’s Biggest Industry? . . . and The Threat to Citizens’ Basic Right to Reasonable Enjoyment of Their Property

(Photo taken of development across from Cambridge High School.  This property was rezoned to provide 3X the density that would have been allowed under AG-1 zoning.  Sewer was extended to the property.)

Does the above question seem strange?  Afterall, Milton is mostly a residential community, with some retail businesses and office parks primarily arrayed along the southern edges of the city.  Milton doesn’t really have industries, does it?  In fact, Milton does have an industry that dominates Milton’s economy, employing many hundreds of workers and dwarfing all other commercial/industrial sectors.  And you see evidence of this industry every day on Milton’s (crumbling) roads . . . the ready-mix trucks, the dirt-moving equipment, the tractor-trailers carrying building materials, etc.  Yes, Milton’s biggest industry is Development.  And Development is an industry that not only dominates our city’s landscape, it infiltrates every aspect of Milton’s community, including our government and politics.  In fact, you cannot truly understand Milton government or politics unless you understand development.  Why?  Because development is where the money is.  And there is a lot of money because there is still a lot of undeveloped land.  Milton’s remaining development potential ranges from $1B to $2B.  Accordingly, it should come as no surprise that Development dominates Milton’s government and politics.  And unfortunately, Development often also distorts Milton’s governance and politics . . . as money so often does, whether in DC or in the City of Milton.  City Council spends well over 50% of its time on land use issues.  And Development, with its many associated problems, dominates political debate in Milton.

Of course, developers are naturally keen to maximize their profits.  And this often means developers lobby the government for special favors—e.g., rezonings, use permits, zoning modifications, and variances . . . a veritable cornucopia of variances.  (Variances are the granting of exceptions to Milton’s zoning laws and, in accordance with long-established zoning practice and Milton law, are supposed to be granted only for minor discrepancies that involve proven hardship.Through campaign contributions and business/personal relationships, developers grease the gears of our city government to their benefit.  And some developers have even recruited and successfully fielded candidates.  Many of Milton’s founders were employed in the development industry (and this is reflected in our land use laws. More about this in another post.) And quite a few players in Milton’s development/construction industry have been elected to council.  In fact, Milton’s original council included three council members with deep business interests in the development industry. I often refer to Milton’s election of these council members as Milton’s Original Sin.  And to be blunt, citizens are just plain naïve if they believe that all of this money sloshing around and the presence on Council of development industry business-people (who build in Milton and invest in property in Milton) does not translate to favors for developers and degradation of our community.  (In subsequent blog posts, I will document many examples of these favors to developers and other Special Interests.)

The goal of Milton’s big developers is usually higher density, which translates to higher profits.  Unfortunately, Milton’s citizens pay the cost of this higher density in the form of traffic congestion, overcrowded schools, and lower home values. 

Often, the community has fought back against developers and sometimes won.  (I am proud to have provided leadership in some of these battles.)  However, the playing field is decidedly not level.  Developers have huge advantages:  money, expertise, and attorneys.  Council should act as a counterweight to the heavy interests of developers, but often the opposite is true, with Council often siding with developers against citizens.  You need only watch a City Council meeting to understand the sympathetic treatment afforded developers at City Hall.  Developers (and their lawyers) are allowed to speak freely at Council and interject at will.  The same behavior from a citizen results first in a warning from the Milton police followed by expulsion if the warning is not heeded.  On the other hand, developers and their attorneys are afforded wide latitude by the City, especially at Council.  In the Matilda’s hearing, the developer-applicant was even allowed to object to a motion after the motion had been made, whereupon the motion was withdrawn, amended, and passed to the satisfaction of the developer, without a peep of dissent from a single Council member.  Citizens have also witnessed City Community Development staff unabashedly rejoicing with developers that prevailed before Council . . . only in Milton.  And not only do developers get a sympathetic ear from staff and from Council, the zoning process itself is also heavily biased in favor of developers . . . bias so obvious to citizens that 1900+ Miltonites signed a petition demanding reform of the zoning process.  These same citizens voted in 2017 for candidates that promised zoning reform . . . it was promised that power would be shifted back to citizens.  However, nothing has been done and the zoning process is virtually unchanged since I got involved in government in 2015.  Obvious reforms, such as giving citizens same opportunity to speak as developers, have not been effected.  In fact, things have gotten worse since the 2017 elections.  In just the past four years, in four separate hearings before City Council, 28 variances/zoning modifications were granted at Birmingham Crossroads alone. That’s right . . . 28 variances . . . plus permission to operate a concert venue . . . a use not included on Milton’s long list of permitted uses in our zoning code.

In closing, let me be clear that I do not oppose developers or development in Milton.  I have several friends who are developers; they are good, honest, and hard-working professionals.  I fully support by-right development and even the granting of variances for minor discrepancies where hardship can be clearly proven.  However, what I do oppose is our city government egregiously bending and breaking our zoning laws for Special Interests.  I do oppose the profuse granting of variances that violate our variance ordinances and long-established variance practices.  I do oppose use permits being bastardized with copious variances to “permit” uses that are not enumerated on Milton’s long list of permitted uses.  I do oppose the corrosive and corruptive effects of developer money on good governance in Milton.

I am not advocating radical policies, but rather I am merely advocating that Milton uphold the rule of law . . . this is a matter about which we should all agree.  It is pretty simple really: Citizens have an indisputable and basic (and legal) right to reasonable certainty about appropriate uses (as codified in law) of nearby properties that might affect citizens’ enjoyment/use of their property.

Advocating for Citizens’ Property Rights and Against Favors for Special Interests,


Today’s blog post is meant to provide an introduction to development in Milton and its importance in Milton’s government and politics.  The next blog post will discuss variances, quoting directly from the American Public Planning Association, the trade organization for zoning professionals in the US.

Crooked Creek (Act 2):  Road Abandonment Haunts City of Milton and Subdivision 7 Years Later

Crooked Creek golf course

The moral of today’s story is that decisions made at Council reverberate across the geography of Milton . . . but also across time.  The unintended consequences of the gating of Crooked Creek are perhaps unknown to most Crooked Creek residents and certainly unknown to most Miltonites.  And given the trajectory of events, additional collateral damage to the subdivision and the broader community is a distinct possibility.  In the case of Crooked Creek, the unintended consequences concern the subdivision’s golf course, but let me digress a bit to provide some context . . .

My consulting work often takes me into areas where I never imagined venturing.  And golf courses briefly became one of those areas.  In 2001, I was working with executives at a utility to help them to identify new unregulated business ventures that would leverage their core capabilities.  I interviewed a number of senior executives, one of whom was responsible for the utility’s investments in golf courses . . . that’s right, an electric utility investing in golf courses.  At the time, the utility was achieving incredible returns on its investments in golf courses, returns that I suspected were not sustainable.  At the time, the demand for golf and for golf course lots was far outstripping supply.  And this meant that the price to play golf and the price for golf course lots were steeply increasing . . . a classic bubble in the making.  And as Economics 101 teaches us, strong price signals will spur an increase in supply to meet demand.  And in certain cases, supply will far overshoot demand . . . causing an investment bubble not to slowly deflate but to suddenly pop.  In our local golf market, we have seen the effects of golf’s boom-and-bust.  Despite the Milton’s increasing population and wealth, some of Milton’s golf courses have failed or are failing.  Two courses have shuttered, with one purchased by the City of Milton for greenspace (more about this below) and with another being redeveloped as a subdivision.  This decrease in local golf courses is driven by both the supply-demand dynamics described above, but also by another economic factor:  the rapidly increasing value of land in Milton for other more attractive commercial and residential development purposesCrooked Creek’s golf course presents an especially attractive target for (at least) a couple of reasons.  First, the golf course’s frontage along Highway 9 is zoned commercial.  And second, and perhaps more importantly, the golf course’s abutment to Highway 9 means developers have access to sewer, meaning high density housing is a distinct possibility (and developers will argue, sewer is their right) behind any commercial development built along Highway 9.

So how does City Council’s abandonment of the Crooked Creek’s roads fit into all of this?  Well, road abandonment/privatization and the eventual gating of Crooked Creek entailed significant additional expense for residents.  Residents now had to maintain their roads and streetlights.  There were capital expenses to build gates and guard houses.  And there were additional operating and maintenance expenses associated with the gates and 24-hour security.  According to some residents (source:  Laura Bentley), the significantly increased HOA fees caused many residents to drop their golf memberships and this sent the golf club into a downward spiral.  Of course, I heard this lore secondhand.  However, confirmation was provided when the City purchased (actually overpaid for) the Milton Country Club in late 2017—the City’s first land purchase using Greenspace Bond money.  The Milton Country Club had been on the market for many months, without a buyer.  In fact, a citizen had alerted the City (in June 2017) to the property’s availability, but the City failed to act.  Instead, the club was purchased for $2.65M by a golf course investment company.  Within a few weeks of the purchase, the City of Milton—late to the game—engaged the new buyer and negotiated a purchase price of $5.0M—an 89% premium.  The City’s dithering had cost citizens $2.35M.  (The City defends itself by stating that the property appraised at $5.0M.  However, it is hard to accept such an appraisal, given that the property sat for many months without a buyer and sold just a few weeks earlier for $2.65M.)  At the time, the property’s investor-owners allegedly asserted that developers were vying for the property—again difficult to believe given that the property sat for many months without being purchased.  However, the City was allegedly also advised not to worry . . . the windfall profits were to be used by the seller to purchase the Crooked Creek golf course and to make needed improvements.  Well, this was music to ears of the Crooked Creek HOA . . . it (and the City) had found a lifeline that might mitigate the unintended consequences of their poor decision to privatize the roads in Crooked Creek (and to gate the subdivision).  So on top of giving Crooked Creek an asset (Creek Club Drive—an essential public road) worth many millions of dollars, the City was now going to overpay (by a few million dollars) for the Milton Country Club to bail out Crooked Creek’s country club.  You really can’t make this stuff up!  The confirmation of this story, which I was hearing secondhand, was provided when officers of the Crooked Creek HOA spoke at Council in support of the City’s purchase of the Milton Country Club . . . I’ve never seen these folks before or since that meeting (except when they advocated for the City’s abandonment of the subdivision’s roads), but there they were at Council, in their Sunday finest, advocating for greenspace.

And, of course, the City (and Crooked Creek’s HOA) fell for the seller’s representations hook-line-and-sinker.  Chalk it up to spending Other People’s Money—i.e., the your and my hard-earned property taxes.  Well, the outcome was predictable:  the investor-sellers took the money and ran, probably laughing on their way out of Milton.  And as the city soon found out, the MCC property was very complicated—loaded down with encumbrances, including a number of tricky easements—justifying the original investor’s purchase price of $2.65M, not the City’s inflated purchase price of $5.0M.

Crooked Creek’s lifeline was a mirage.  And the golf course is still a concern.  (My hope is that the golf course’s fortunes have improved from 4 years ago.)  Seven years after it began, the story of the gating of Crooked Creek has still not concluded.  However, it quite possible it will not end well for either Crooked Creek or the City of Milton.  And it makes one wonder what costly new scheme will be concocted by the City to rectify its mistake of abandoning the roads in Crooked Creek.  Stay tuned for Act 3 . . .

Advocating For Accountability,


Postscript:  BTW, it has been nearly 4 years since the City purchased the Milton Country Club.  Using Greenspace Bond funds (aka your tax dollars) the City has purchased many other parcels, totaling several hundred acres for greenspace.  Not one square inch of city-purchased greenspace has been opened to public use.  Only recently was a plan approved for converting the MCC property to a passive park.  I will blog more about the City’s unacceptable lack of progress in opening greenspace to citizens.  Suffice to say that the City needs to commit to an aggressive timeline (12 – 18 months) to opening ALL purchased greenspace to the public. 

9/11 Reminds Us that Good Governance is the Best Way to Honor the Victims

Source: Alpharetta’s 9/11 20th Anniversary Poster

This morning I attended the 9/11 remembrance ceremonies in Alpharetta.  And I have to say that they do things right in Alpharetta; they are not just going through the motions.  The ceremony was incredible . . . not only well-produced, but the messaging was apposite and inspiring.  Attendees definitely left moved and appreciative of those national elements that distinguish our great country and have made the USA a shining beacon of liberty.  And of course, these uniquely American elements should infuse our governance from top to bottom . . . in Washington as well as in Milton (and Alpharetta).

The 20th anniversary of 9/11 provides an opportunity to reflect on those things American that we most value and must protect to survive and thrive.  In my humble opinion, America’s success as a nation has been largely driven by a dedication to principles and processes of good government (in contrast to blood-and-soil tribalism that still holds sway in much of the rest of the world).  The principles of government (with an emphasis on liberty) are set forth in the Declaration of Independence and the processes of government (i.e., its architecture) are set forth in the Constitution, with subsequent amendments (there are now 27) sometimes addressing principles, sometimes addressing processes.  Citizens are best served when our politics and governance, including at the local level, closely coincide with our cherished principles and processes (as ensconced in our laws).  In our increasingly divided nation and local community, I strongly believe that a renewed emphasis on proven good government principles and processes—concepts about which there should be little disagreementis the path to a more perfect union.  And such an emphasis is also a fitting way to honor those who tragically lost their lives on 9/11.

Remembering Those Who Lost Their Lives on 9/11,


Postscript:  Tomorrow I will post the second part of my blog post on the gating of Crooked Creek.

Source: Alpharetta Public Safety Facebook Page