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Alpharetta Mayor Says Beware of the Sellers of Spectacle

"After all, it costs nothing to muddy another’s reputation, and there are always willing accomplices."

There has been a great deal of conversation in the wake of Monday’s front page AJC article.  Allegations were made, Council Members were named, and judgments have now been formed.

As elected representatives, we know there is a price to be paid.  We know that our actions and our associations will be viewed critically, and that is as it should be.  After all, we volunteered.  It’s the price you pay for seeking to make a difference.

I do, however, take issue when the reputation of our City is so casually targeted and blemished for the sake of sport and spectacle.  The AJC appears to have a template with respect to Alpharetta.  We have seen it before, and we see it now:  “Because Alpharetta is prosperous, because we are well run, because our students outperform the rest of the State, because we are safe, because we are a strong place for families, there must be something nefarious at work.”

 You can see this template played out in the AJC’s coverage and placement of Alpharetta’s achievements and their coverage and placement of what they deem as salacious. When the AJC covered the kickoff of our new Downtown initiative, the most important project in a generation, it was placed near the back of the paper.  Yet, when the Chamber, a City vendor, spent $75 to hold a meeting for its members, expressing their position on an upcoming application, it was cast as a misuse of “City” funds and prominently displayed on the front page.

My point is this: beware of the template; beware of the sellers of spectacle; beware of those who would use that spectacle to support or oppose a political position.  This is not the first article aimed at our City’s reputation.  It will not be the last. 

With that in mind, here are a few of the facts that when properly ignored create the AJC’s most recent spectacle under their Alpharetta template:

  •   Late last year, the City contracted in writing with the Chamber to perform specific economic development services.  By doing this, the City bridged the gap on our economic development obligations, saving our taxpayers the cost of additional personnel.  
  • Last month, the Chamber spent approximately $75 on coffee, muffins and bagels (the room and water were donated by a private business) for a meeting of its members expressing its support of the Avalon project. 
  • As a city, we have over 1,200 vendors, one of which is now the Chamber.  We pay them all.  We are not, nor have we ever been, unduly influenced by that fact.
  • Myself, Councilman Owens and Councilman Cross do presently sit on a 60 member non-voting honorary Chamber board.  This board, however, does not make decisions or policy for the Chamber, and it does not vote.  Those are all matters for the Executive Board, a board on which we do not sit.

As a culture, we love to see the train derail; occasionally, even in slow motion.  But, know what you are being sold.  A paper in the business of selling spectacle must either find spectacle or create spectacle where none exists.  After all, it costs nothing to muddy another’s reputation, and there are always willing accomplices.  The good news is this: only good reputations can be harmed. And, our reputation remains better than good.  Alpharetta shines.

 

Julie Hollingsworth Hogg April 11, 2012 at 09:47 PM
Well said. Very much agree with your last paragraph.
Linda Persing April 12, 2012 at 02:25 AM
Respectfully Mr. Mayor, Where were these comments decrying the spectacle when the AJC ran the "ticketgate" scandal that wasn't a scandal about the ACVB? Where was your defense of city employees then? It seems to me when one is a vendor that role is filled by competitive bid, not the case with services provide GNFCC. I quite realize this agreement was in place when you took office sir, however, what happened to the plans being researched by city managers late last year for the city to hire an Economic Development Director? Wasn’t it the option of new council choose who would be hired as Economic Development Director? Someone forwarded me the email today that Mr. Beach sent to GNFCC members. It sure looks and smells like lobbying to me. While the agreement with GNFCC is ambiguous enough to be open to interpretation, the GNFCC should not be lobbying council when an active, disputed application is pending. It stinks. The AJC parroted what was already reported in other venues. Taxpayers have a right to know if the GNFCC is exerting any undue influence to subvert the hard work and thoughtful consideration of the Avalon project provided by Community Development and the Planning Commission. I am having a difficult time understanding how ticketgate was a political opportunity but the GNFCC engagement on behalf of Avalon was an unfair spectacle tarring the city's reputation. Regards, I will see you April 23rd.
Lee at rootsinalpharetta.com April 12, 2012 at 03:33 AM
Mr Mayor, thanks for making a comment on this. First I applaud you for updating Alpharetta's ethics codes this week. The change would make it impossible for things like Ticketgate to happen again without disclosure. It wasn't reported in the news this week and it should have been (we reported on beer instead. Go figure). I'll also remind you that you took the moral high ground during the ticketgate scandal and earned a lot of credibility. Unfortunately your initial response to this current issue reminds me of how your predecessor responded last fall. Shooting the messenger is never an appropriate response to an ethics complaint. The appropriate answer is that the city takes ethics seriously and will look into the matter.
Bob Pepalis (Editor) April 12, 2012 at 11:31 AM
Lee, there has been no change to the ethics ordinance–yet. Alpharetta City Council tabled action until April 16. What's suggested by City Attorney Sam Thomas: Under the gifts and favors section, during the year if an elected official or member of a board or commission receives a total of $500 (or more) in non-monetary gifts, they must disclose it on public record with the city clerk's office. Here's a link to the ordinance with that proposal added: http://bit.ly/Iiyq6B. No other changes were suggested to this 2006 ordinance.
Rob Forrest April 12, 2012 at 01:32 PM
Here's a hint everyone... Avalon will happen and it will pass where it can get built. Bob or lee call or email me and I'll explain
Mark April 12, 2012 at 05:56 PM
Mayor Belle Isle Many years ago I worked for General Electric in their Defense Systems Group. It was at the time when reports of the $200 hammer emerged. This situation ran through the media like a wildfire. It exposed excesses in government procurement and inappropriate behavior by both the Government and many Defense Contractors. In response General Electric established rules and guidelines that all employees needed to follow around procurement with the government. After all the training sessions and the tens of thousands of dollars that were spent, the company’s message to all of the employees simply boiled town to this. “If you don’t think your actions will pass the scrutiny of a newspaper reporter, don’t do it.” This policy was succinct and easy to understand. Would the reputation of Alpharetta be different now had this question had been applied to the ACVB scandals (ticket gate and the AHS scoreboard)? You had an opportunity to take a different path here. It takes courage to stand up to political pressure from the business community. Many of your supporters thought you had the fortitude to do so, but are now questioning your reaction to this latest media investigation. You don’t need to develop an elaborate ethics policy for city officials to follow. Just have them ask themselves this question when conducting city business in the future.

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