Stockbridge DDA meets amid more controversy

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

A newly configured board of the Stockbridge Downtown Development Authority has begun meeting regularly and conducting business, but not without more of the same controversy that dogged the previous board.

One recent DDA meeting was attended by City Council members who then convened privately and were accused of violating state open meeting laws. A similar charge was made when the City Council announced a joint meeting with the DDA which members of the the latter body claimed was illegal.

The city issued a statement disputing both of those claims.

The DDA and the city are still in litigation which has not yet been resolved. Since January of 2014, the majority of the council and the mayor maintained that the DDA was reorganized improperly the previous year by the prior administration and technically did not exist.

Several new DDA members were appointed in early March and sworn in March 17, after which they immediately called an emergency meeting which DDA executive director J.T. Williams said constituted several open meetings violations. He stated that all actions taken at that meeting were voided by the DDA board March 30 at its regular meeting.

The Times received a written statement Friday from the city which stated that the March 17 meeting was called in accordance with DDA bylaws and its purpose was “to terminate any further unnecessary litigation and to save further legal expenses. Proper notice was given to the county legal organ as well as each member of the DDA, pursuant to the emergency meeting notice requirements noted in the bylaws.”

The March 30 meeting at City Hall was attended by council members Anthony Ford, LaKeisha Gantt and Alphonso Thomas. After the DDA board moved to convene in executive session, the three council members moved to a private room with other city staff.

Former council member Kathy Gilbert stated in a subsequent complaint she filed with the Georgia Attorney General’s office that the three council members constituted a quorum under the city charter and that when she determined a meeting was being held in the room she informed them they were violation of open meetings law, after which “they closed the door forcefully.”

Quoting Section 3.15 (A) of the charter, the city countered in its statement that a quorum consists of three council members plus the mayor, or four council members if the mayor is absent. “No quorum was present, thus no illegal meeting occurred,” according to the statement.

A joint council/DDA meeting was announced for April 2, but several DDA members did not attend. Williams informed all DDA members of his concerns that this meeting could be illegal because only the DDA can call a meeting of its board, not the city. Gilbert also informed the Attorney General’s office about this.

No official action was taken at the April 2 meeting.

Williams, who noted that the DDA had already called a meeting for April 3, was out of state during the April 2 meeting and speculated that city officials knew that when they called the joint meeting.

The city maintains that the April 2 meeting was called by the city as well as two DDA members, in accordance with DDA bylaws. The city also charged that the DDA did not give appropriate notice of the April 3 meeting. “No posting has been made either at City Hall or at any other place in the city,” according to the statement.

One of the actions taken March 17 and later voided was to no longer retain DDA attorney Ken Bernard. The board later decided to continue to retain Bernard and moved to do so at the April 3 meeting.

The DDA also elected a new slate of officers, with Houston Nelson named to succeed Williams as chairman. Williams will remain executive director, having assumed both roles since 2013.

Williams added that the DDA board officially directed Bernard to compose a proposed settlement of all litigation with the city and tabled all resolutions put forth by the city, most of which were said by Bernard to be contrary to the bylaws and/or recent judge’s orders. He will also withdraw all DDA appeals in an attempt to resolve the litigation more quickly, Williams said.