Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Milton Meltdown: New City; Broken Dreams

Group therapy was placed on the agenda after feuding, ethics charges and a $900,000 mistake.

By DOUG NURSE / The Atlanta Journal-Constitution / Published on: 08/06/07

It was going to be so great — a new city forged under a unified banner.
Lower taxes. Better services. Controlled growth.

A little more than a year ago, residents voted overwhelmingly to form the city of Milton out of the northernmost corner of Fulton County. A group of affluent, mostly conservative Republicans seemed to hold much common ground.

But the ink on the city charter had barely dried before the bickering began. On Dec. 21, three weeks after Milton's official birth, the mayor and City Council clashed bitterly over who would be named mayor pro tem.

They were just getting warmed up.

"It's kind of embarrassing," said Cindy Hollingsworth, who helped lead the efforts to form the city. "It seems a little childish. The other cities don't seem to have this problem. I'm still glad we did it, but I didn't envision it would be like this."

The record is replete with signs of dysfunction.

• City Council members have publicly accused each other of deception and unprofessional conduct. Despite the hiring an organizational psychologist and holding two team-building sessions, the rift seems intractable. The council often splits 4-3 on decisions, with Mayor Joe Lockwood in the minority.

• After almost 18 hours of closed-door discussions last week, the council has yet to decide the fate of City Manager Aaron Bovos over his role in the loss of $900,000 in taxes because of a missed state deadline. Bovos didn't tell the council about the mistake until months after it was discovered.

• The mayor and state Rep. Jan Jones, the city's legislative founder, have feuded in community newspaper columns over a variety of topics, such as city franchise fees and changes to the city charter.

• Two council members were the subject of ethics charges, which were thrown out by the city ethics board. But the complainant has taken it to the state Ethics Commission. The mayor also has been the target of a campaign-related state ethics complaint.

• A member of Milton's ethics board was named in an ethics complaint by another member of the ethics board.

The tone was set at one of the first City Council meetings when the mayor pushed for council member Tina D'Aversa to be mayor pro tem. But the majority wanted council member Karen Thurman.

In January, an angry Lockwood sent an e-mail to the council complaning about its "lack of respect" and threatened political reprisals.

The division on the council has manifested itself on several issues, including whether to put the city attorney under the city manager (they didn't), whether to hire an aide for the mayor (they didn't), whether to allow sewer in the southeastern part of the city (they dropped it), and whether to overrule the mayor and support changes to the city charter (they did).
All of which has left people shaking their heads.

"I was there when it was positive," said Greg Mishkin, a member of the team appointed by the governor to lay the groundwork for the new city. "It's frustrating to see things turning the wrong way after all the work we did."

Jon Carroll, a resident who frequently attends council meetings, observed the council seems to be consumed with infighting."They seem to take everything personally," Carroll said. "They haven't developed a tough political skin. You can tell the tension is starting to weigh on them."

Thursday night, planning commissioner Bob Moheb addressed the City Council, calling for unity:
"There came a time when we began to feel a little embarrassed to live in the city of Milton," Moheb said. "We need to pull together, to work together, to get over some of this stuff."
Today the city ethics board will hear a complaint against Mayor Lockwood, filed by Moheb.


July 18, 2006 – Residents of northwest Fulton County approve cityhood with 86 percent of the vote.
Sept. 2006 – The Governor's Commission for the city of Milton hires Aaron Bovos away from new city of Sandy Springs to serve as acting city manager. Bovos works for free until the city of Milton is official.
Nov. 7 – Five members of the City Council are elected, three without opposition.
Dec. 1 – Milton becomes a city.
Dec. 21 – Council members clash over who will be mayor pro tem.
Jan. 1 – The city misses a deadline with the state to claim its share of insurance-related taxes, about $900,000 the city probably won't collect.
Jan. 11 – The council votes 4-3 to eliminate position of aide to the mayor.
Feb. 1-2 – The City Council has a team-building session with Carl Vinson Institute of Government staff.
March – The City Council is divided over whether to keep city attorney Mark Scott after Bovos complains the lawyer's billing lacks details. Scott survives on a 4-3 vote, and changes the way he does his billing.
April 18 – An ethics complaint is filed against council members Bill Lusk and Neal O'Brien.
May 14 – Mayor Joe Lockwood writes Gov. Sonny Perdue that the city opposes proposed legislative changes to the city charter, igniting a council battle that he ultimately loses.
June 7 – Planning commissioner Bob Moheb files an ethics complaint against Lockwood for allegedly misrepresenting the position of the city to the governor.
July 10 – The city cancels a group therapy session with an organizational psychologist because it would have to be conducted in public.
July 16 – The city Ethics Board throws out ethics complaint against two council members.


Old Timer said...

The cartoon is great, good example of Council.

This all started when a certain individual's mayorial candidate lost the election to Joe Lockwood. She had picked the individuals to fill key positions and this defeat caused a domino effect causing a temporary loss of complete control.

Now damage control rises its ugly head, Joe must be removed at all cost...when something goes wrong, call the press, lay blame on Joe.

Change the charter, make it look as Joe caused this. Apply so much pressure Joe will resign or at least not run for another turn.

Put pressure on City Manager, make it appear he is part of Mayor's team... got to get rid of Joe.

Bob Moheb ia a joke, kinda like the pot calling the kettle black. Mayor was over ridden after contacting Gov. asking for veto. Moheb calls for unity after filing ethics complaint against Mayor. This is just rubbing salt in the wound.

Have been to county fairs, goat ropings, watermelon roastings, bull cuttings, well borings and to Atlanta twice and this mess beats all I have ever seen!

Wake up people, before it's too late, you put the council members in office... come November, start removing them. Use same tactics they have used, TAKE NO PRISONERS.

Anonymous said...

Hats off to Doug Nurse, who is out to help the residents of Milton, who are just watching all this mess, to actually get out of their mansions and do something about the corruption of the following individuals who have nothing to gain but big egos and kudos form Jan Jones for trying to get rid of Mayor Joe Lockwood and get one of her posse to replace him. The spineless rats are Neil O'Brien, Bill Lusk, Rick Mohrig and the biggest smelliest dirtiest rat is Karen Thurman who is pissed that she didn't make mayor and will do whatever it takes to make sure she gets it next time. (It would be embarrassing to have her as our Mayor!) Thanks, Doug Nurse, for being a reporter that gets in their face and reports the facts, even if it doesn't look too good for us. Maybe some of us will wake up and actually vote these idiots out. Imagine that.....

Anonymous said...

Doug Nurse is a total jackass...I'd rather read the Milton Herald because even if I have to wait a week after the action, at least I'll get a more accurate view of the facts and a non-biased article...Nurse doesn't even live here does he?

old timer said...

Anonymous, it appears you don't like what Nurse prints in that everything is not positive about MILTON. It is difficult to turn a negative into a positive based on the action of this group.

Isn't a journalist obligated to report unbiased news?

Does it matter where Nurse resides?