District 4 resident Malaika Wells expressed her concern in an open letter sent to On Common Ground News stating that she believes the Stonecrest City Council is “operating in a vacuum.” Wells is calling on the council to provide transparency in the appointment of a new city manager and a more detailed discussion of the Stonecrest Development Authority ahead of its vote on the matter at the Special Called meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. today, April, 17, 2023.
Dear Councilpersons Grimes, Graves, Turner, Washington, and Mayor Pro Tem:
Once again, we are facing a crisis in the city of Stonecrest, GA. Once again, we find this city’s mayor and council dismissing the cares, concerns, and requests of Stonecrest residents.
On Thursday, April 13, you and the mayor held a special-called meeting that mysteriously listed “Agenda Items” as an agenda item. You also chose to make this meeting in-person only; it was not streamed to the city’s YouTube channel and no recording was made available.. How does that support transparency and citizen engagement?
Now, just four days later, you’re meeting again. According to the special-called meeting agenda scheduled for TODAY at 6 PM (which includes NO public comments though the listed agenda items are “For Decision”), Mayor Cobble intends to recommend an appointment to the vacant City Manager position. At the same time, there’s an agenda item for “Extension of City Manager Vacancy.” What exactly is going on?
Add to that, once again on the agenda are line items to appoint members to the Stonecrest Development Authority (SDA) as well as to approve an intergovernmental agreement (contract) with the SDA.
I’m concerned that you all may be operating in a vacuum. During the Council Roundtable, citizens who cared enough to attend and engage voiced their concerns and reasons for disapproving of the city making appointments to the SDA or entering into an IGA with it. You were asked to thoughtfully consider and publicly discuss the reasoning for, as well as risks and benefits of this decision – as well as to seek public input BEFORE voting. Your constituents asked you to do this, but you haven’t. Sadly, making the SDA agenda items “For Decision” speaks to your intent to, once again, dismiss, diminish, and devalue citizen input.
You were not elected to ignore and override resident concerns and comments.
Many residents, including myself, suspect that Mayor Cobble intends to recommend appointing Ms. Gia Scruggs to become the City Manager of Stonecrest. It is surprising that a six-month nationwide search done by an experienced executive search firm would result in the mayor recommending the appointment of the current Acting City Manager to permanently fill the vacancy.
Last year, when community members asked the Council to, among other things, 1) publicize and conduct a transparent and open professional recruitment process for the next City Manager that engages Stonecrest citizens, and 2) ensure that the next City Manager possesses the relevant experience, credentials, and professional reputation as a local government executive to effectively lead the largest city in DeKalb County – we anticipated that the Council would (at the very least) keep us informed and updated on the progress of this search before accepting a recommendation for appointment. And certainly before putting it on an agenda as a “For Decision” item!
In light of the agenda items concerning the City Manager vacancy, I have the following questions:
How many candidates (total) applied for the job?
How many applicants met the minimum qualifications?
Did all council members review all resumes for all applicants
recommended by the executive search firm?
How many candidates (total) were interviewed for the City Manager
How many candidates with previous City Manager experience were
Did the (full) council interview the candidates recommended by the
executive search firm?
How were the interviews conducted and who interviewed the
Does the selected applicant (recommended by the mayor) meet the
minimum qualifications of the role?
How was the selected applicant determined to be the best choice for
It was well within your power to keep your constituents informed on the process of filling this critical vacancy. Why haven’t you?
Concerning the Stonecrest Development Authority (SDA), at the February 27, 2023 council meeting, I shared the following comment:
“Concerning the Development Authority, before you proceed [with a vote], I am asking that you publicly discuss…the land transactions and tax abatements that it approved.”
In an email to all council members on March 13, 2023, I requested,
a detailed review of why the council feels it important for the SDA to be reconstituted at this time
the facts and transactions of the previous SDA
what, if anything, the previous SDA accomplished to benefit the city
how what was done by the previous SDA will impact the work of the
new body going forward
how the council will prevent a recurrence of the events and
circumstances that caused the mismanagement of the previous SDA
and what the objectives and purpose of the current SDA will be,
including measurements for success
a provision for removal of directors
Article 4d of the proposed SDA IGA states, “The Authority acknowledges that all of its current assets were either transferred to it by the City, or acquired through revenue bonds supported by the revenue from a specific project, or acquired by financing arrangements guaranteed by the City’s full faith and credit.”
Prior to adding the SDA items “For Decision” to today’s meeting agenda, did you request an accounting of the activities, transactions, revenue, revenue sources, assets and liabilities of the SDA? Did you discuss these results publicly? What are the liabilities and entanglements that the city will assume if an IGA is signed? What are your reasons for not dissolving the SDA? I am concerned that because you choose not to publicly discuss these issues, your thoughts or intentions on this issue, or engage and seek input from citizens prior to voting, that your actions consistently make the city vulnerable to manipulation, abuse of powers, litigation, and to be used as a tool for personal and private benefit.
It is my understanding that the type of bond held by the SGA is sometimes called a “Phantom Bond” because it exists only on paper. It’s not so much a bond as a legal mechanism to give a private entity a tax incentive without violating the state constitution (which says a government can’t pick and choose who pays taxes). Meaning there is no cash and no outstanding debt involved – i.e. there are no bond holders, and the developer has received no money – just the tax abatement. The dollar amount nominally represents the value of the project but is not an actual debt to anyone. The developer essentially owns the bond, so paying rent to the development authority is really just paying rent to themselves; there’s no cash actually exchanged.
Phantom bonds aren’t traded on wall street or in a bank. The money that the developer needs to buy the land and build the project does not come from those bond proceeds – they will still have to borrow or raise money through traditional means for the actual project. Don’t you think it’s important to understand the project’s sources and uses of funds, examine its feasibility, and tie the abatement to detailed milestones and outcomes? Are you confident that this has been accomplished?
Questions to consider regarding the SDA are:
What was promised to the community in return for this, and by when?
What is the development authority’s responsibility to see that those
commitments are met, and what is their recourse if they are not?
Is there a role for the city or state to play if a development authority
was negligent in exercising its authority?
In an SDA (livestreamed meeting, we) saw the members ask for documentation and they were told
there was basically no time for that. So they granted a tax abatement without vetting the project – not totally unlike what just happened in Clayton County. What was the rush? Who did that benefit? Why would they have gone along with that?
Your positions of authority put a variety of tools and resources at your disposal. You can and must do better than was done in the past. When will you begin?
I hope you BEGIN TONIGHT by 1) adding public comments to tonight’s meeting agenda and 2) changing all agenda items to “For Discussion” and holding your votes until the next regularly scheduled council meeting.