After an eight-hour retreat of the Watkinsville Mayor and Council on Monday of last week, Brian Brodrick, mayor pro tem and the longest serving member of the Council, praised his colleagues, including new Mayor Bob Smith, for their team play.
Brodrick made the comment even though Smith had surprised the Council at the retreat with a proposed revision of the City Charter that would that would reverse the action by the Council at the end last year–just before Smith took office–delegating to the city manager some of the duties of the mayor.
No one on Council at the retreat offered any support for Smith’s proposal, and the meeting closed with Brodrick’s upbeat assessment of the day.
At 4:31 p.m. on Wednesday, Smith sent an email to members of the Council calling a meeting for 6 p.m. on Thursday to give first reading to his proposed City Charter and to approve a forensic audit of city spending and of city zoning and planning.
Council offered no support for either of these proposals at the called meeting, and Smith went to the citizen podium to make a nearly 40-minute-long impassioned recitation of his complaints about his first two-and-a-half months in office.
Brodrick, seated at the Council table, offered a just more than seven-minute response that was very different in tone from the one he gave at the end of Monday’s meeting, lamenting the “friction” between the Mayor and Council and saying that “true leadership requires us to work together.”
Marci Campbell, the only other Council member to speak, said she wanted “to echo what Councilman Brodrick said. I really want us to work together.”
Late yesterday, Watkinsville City Manager Sharyn Dickerson sent out an email indicating that the Mayor and Council’s scheduled March 18 meeting was postponed.
The Oconee County Republican Party also will not hold its county convention as scheduled for Saturday, party Chair Steven Strickland has announced. Persons interested in serving as a delegate at the district or state convention should email Strickland at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lack Of Coordination
The lack of coordination between Smith and the city administration surfaced again after the meeting.
|Smith On Charter 3/12/2020|
On late Friday afternoon of last week, City Administrator Dickerson sent out a press release on City of Watkinsville letterhead, outlining Watkinsville City Hall operational changes in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
City Hall will remain open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, the release said, but citizens are encouraged to use available online services for such things as paying of fines and reporting concerns, according to the release.
On Tuesday, under the letterhead of Mayor Bob Smith, City of Watkinsville, Smith sent out his own press release saying the “Watkinsville city manager” has decided to keep City Hall open.
Smith urged residents of Watkinsville “to keep calm during the next few weeks and follow the advice of President Trump and the Centers for Disease Control and take precautions not to contract or spread Covid-19.”
For more information, recipients of the news release were asked to contact Erin MacKenzie, an Atlanta-based communication specialist hired by Smith.
Council Member Christine Tucker was absent from the called meeting on Thursday. Smith said she sent an email telling him should had a conflict.
City Attorney Joe Reitman also was not present.
The Georgia Open Meetings Law required Smith to notify the county’s legal organ at least 24 hours before the meeting, and he sent an email to Michael Prochaska, editor of The Oconee Enterprise, at the same time he sent it to Council members, at 4:31 p.m. on Wednesday.
Smith also notified a reporter for the Athens Banner-Herald, three reporters for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and Tim Bryant at Cox Radio.
Announcement of the meeting did not appear on the city web page. (Note: The meeting was not posted on the city web page when I received the notice of the called meeting, but Dickerson sent me an email message at 9 a.m. on 3/19/2020 showing a posting to the calendar at 10:03 p.m. on March 11.)
Thirty people were in the audience at the called meeting, with many clearly there to support Smith.
They gave him a loud applause after his 40-minute address from the podium, and several shouted out critical comments at Council members and talked among themselves loudly at times during the meeting.
Smith Asked For Forensic Audit
Smith had raised the issue of forensic audits of the city at the Feb. 19 meeting of the Mayor and Council, and he found no support for the idea at that time.
He brought it up again at the called meeting on Thursday, saying it is “totally different from a typical audit where you’ve got $10,000 here and $10,000 back and it balances.
“But a forensic audit digs down deeper into various and sundry situations,” Smith continued. “And what I’m calling for is the banking issues and also a couple of other issues as well as zoning, planning and the like over the last few years.”
“I sense these things could be quite expensive,” he said.
“I’ve got no interest in an audit,” Brodrick said when asked by the mayor for comment.
No one else on Council spoke up, and no one was willing to make a motion to move forward with it.
“So thank you very much on that,” Smith said.
Smith turned next to the proposed changes in the City Charter.
“When it came time to talk about the city manager and the like,” Smith said of the retreat on Monday, “I asked to stop the proceedings and I handed out what is known as this new Charter for Watkinsville.”
He said he had the new Charter drafted by the Georgia General Assembly and “the taxpayers paid for this.”
In response to Council Member Dan Matthews, Smith said he had worked through Sen. Bill Cowsert, who represents Oconee County in the General Assembly, and attorneys at the Georgia General Assembly Legislative Counsel.
Smith called the document “a typical draft of a city charter and some items I thought we needed to put in there that would take this city forward and correct some of the things that we’ve heard over the last two, three, four months that’s regarding this city and governance of this city.”
Smith On Main Points Of New Charter
Smith summarized some of what he considered to be the main points of the new charter.
The mayor is to be sworn in on the first of January, he said. Confusion arose over his swearing in date.
The new charter would eliminate staggered terms for Council members, Smith said.
“It sets forth the powers, duties and responsibilities of the mayor, the city attorney, and the city manager,” Smith said.
Smith called the existing charter “totally outdated.”
The dispute between Smith and the Council has been over whether the city should have a strong or a weak mayor, with the Council and recent mayors moving toward a weaker, more ceremonial mayor with executive powers shifted to a professional city manager.
The charter presented by Smith would weaken the city manager and increase the executive power of the mayor. Smith ran his campaign, which he won by two votes, on a call for a strong mayor.
Council Member Marci Campbell said at the called meeting on Thursday that it was “premature” to vote on the document without input from the City Attorney Reitman, who was not present.
Smith said he “never intended to have a vote. This is a first reading to discuss.”
Matthews pushed for clarification of the origins of the document and said more time was needed for discussion.
Brodrick said he had “not voted to authorize the charter update” and felt the called meeting was unnecessary.
“The process is the problem,” he said. “It’s just not my definition of transparency to go all the way down to our representatives who work for all of us, never tell a single one of us, and get a new charter drafted.”
“It couldn’t be more open than this,” Smith said. “The angst that we’ve had in this town for the last four or five months, began with a lot of the issues I’m trying to resolve right here and bringing it to you all in an open forum on Monday when everybody was invited to this very room.”
Smith asked for a motion to talk about the charter further. No one offered a motion.
Smith next asked for speakers, and four people indicated they wished to talk.
Lee Morgan, 68 Jackson Street, inside the city, raised concerns about the public notice of the meeting. “I kind of heard about it by rumor,” he said.
Mark Arnold, 1161 Twelve Oaks Circle, east of Butler’s Crossing and outside the city limits, asked “how much transparency and how much time was spent in drafting when you decided to strip the mayor of their powers?
“How much public input went into that?” he continued.
Brodrick said discussions began with the late Mayor Charles Ivie, who passed away in October of 2017, and that he and Council Member Tucker brought a proposal forward for discussion in late 2017. Discussion had continued since that time, he said.
Carolyn Maultsby, 1050 Taylors Drive, off Simonton Bridge Road, inside the city, said Council is not open enough and does not communicate well with the citizens. “The process is the problem,” she said.
Mary Harrell, 20 Simonton Bridge Road, inside the city limits, asked to see a red line of the old document before any changes were made.
Smith next took the unusual step of leaving his seat behind the Mayor and Council’s bench or desk at the front of the room and moving to the podium used by citizens to give his Mayor’s Comments.
|Mayor's Comment 3/12/2020|
He turned the podium away from the front of the room and toward the citizens before he began to speak.
“I’m a third generation Watkinsville citizen,” he began in measured tones. “I ran for mayor, because I love my little town. I love my little town. I love my little town.
“Our real estate business is doing phenomenally well,” Smith said of his business, SVN Smith Group Commercial RE. “Tremendous listing inventory. I could be selling real estate in one of the best markets in my lifetime. But I ran for mayor because I love Watkinsville.”
Change In Tone
Smith’s tone then changed, and he became more animated as he held up what he said was a copy of The Oconee Enterprise of July 25, 2019.
From there he went into the controversy of the date of his being sworn in.
Next he turned to the scheduling of the mayor’s comments to the public and public comments. They are currently at the end of the agenda.
And then he shifted to the decision by the previous Mayor and Council to move executive power from the mayor to the city manager.
Smith read from various documents, correspondence and a newspaper article as part of his presentation.
“Having lost all of this, having the mayor, the citizen’s CEO, the citizen’s CEO,” Smith said. “This isn’t about me, This isn’t about Bob Smith. It’s about you, the citizens. I represent you. I want what’s best just like you and this members of Council do.”
Access To Office
Smith then turned back to the swearing in controversy.
He said when he was told he had to wait until the first meeting of the Council on Jan. 15 to be sworn in “I consulted with my attorneys, which I had to do on behalf of you the citizens. On behalf of you the citizens. I have to pay for attorneys to represent you on behalf of you.”
Smith said he came to City Hall on Jan. 2 and asked to speak to City Clerk Julie Sanders but was denied access by City Manager Dickerson, who didn’t address him as mayor.
On Jan. 3, Smith said, he tried to gain access to his office.
“I come through those doors,” he said, pointing to the front of the building.
“I asked to see the clerk. The clerk. The clerk didn’t come up. The City Manager comes out,” Smith said, holding out his hand to indicate Dickerson wanted to shake his hand.
“‘How ya doing?’ No mayor. No Mr. Smith,” Smith continued. “I said I’d like to see the clerk. I’d like to see the clerk. ‘What do you need to see her about?’ And I said I’d like to see the clerk please. 'Well she answers to me. I direct her.' Or something to that effect. I’d like to see the clerk.”
“I could not get into your office,” Smith said. “That right there (pointing to the office) is your office, not mine.”
Promises More To Come
“My good citizens of Watkinsville, I have many, many, many more things to tell you, but I’m through right now,” Smith said.
|Mayor's Comments 3/12/2020|
“I want to be the Mayor of Watkinsville,” he said. “I want to represent the people of Watkinsville.
“I have dreams, visions and goals on where we can take this town,” he said.
“To slow down traffic. There’s ways to do it,” he said. “When I was going door to door, out of 800 houses there was no second place. It was traffic speeds. Everywhere. Everywhere.
“And I pledge to you all,” Smith said “Open and responsible and transparent government.”
“And thirdly, we’re going to look at budgets,” Smith continued. “We’re going to look at budgets. And by this forensic audit, I have people that are willing to pony up the money.”
“And I’m about to spend some more money out of my pocket to represent my town through me. Represent this town,” Smith said, slamming his hand on the podium.
“And the good citizens of Watkinsville, the best is yet to come,” Smith said, “but you’ve got to give me a chance. Thank you very much.”
Brodrick, who was first elected to Council in 2004 and has served ever since, chose to respond to Smith.
|Brodrick Responds To Smith 3/12/2020|
“I want to be respectful, I really do,” Brodrick said. “There’s so much there to unpack, 37 minutes worth, and I’m going to try to do that.
“I want all of you to understand, I’ve known Mayor Smith for a long time,” Brodrick continued. “And I respect Mayor Smith’s service, respect his passion. I respect what he is trying to do for Watkinsville.
“You’re hearing one side of a complicated, complicated situation,” Brodrick said.
“The manager’s job is not to respond to the mayor,” he continued. “The manager’s job is to serve the citizens, take care of our finances and focus in on the things that Council as whole--I want to stress that--as a whole agrees are priorities for the city.”
Mayor And Communication
Brodrick said that since the start of February City Manager Dickerson “has received close to 40 emails that attack, challenge or borderline are insulting from the Mayor.
“Council has been copied on many if not all of these,” Brodrick said. “In just the past few days, after spending eight relatively productive hours on Monday, where we focused on a lot of positive things for Watkinsville, and for two months, and longer, I think, we’ve all worked hard to try to encourage the Mayor to focus on the future.”
“We’ve spent 37 minutes tonight,” Brodrick said. “We’ve spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars on a couple of days, on two weeks, on two weeks, ok?
“And it sounds like we may spend more rather than focusing on the things that we are all passionate about. The Mayor is passionate about, everybody up here is passionate about the future of this city.”
“On Monday we talked about things we agree on,” Brodrick said. “Pedestrian friendliness, bikes, downtown, greenspace, Harris Shoals Park, things we’re passionate about, things that Mayor and I have talked about for hours--for years--that we are passionate about and agree about.”
“The very next day,” he continued, “we got eight more emails–10 emails–the topics including the complaints about the lack of media at our planning session, the topics that included a dam that has a leak but no one living downstream of it, a lease on a parking lot that automatically renews, a press release talking about this new charter that we didn’t authorize, request, or have any idea about, debates over the roles and responsibilities of city officials.
“Everybody sitting behind the rail needs to understand that, according to the Charter and the ordinance, the Charter authorizes a city manager, and, according to the ordinance that we passed, the manager’s job is to work for the good of the whole and the good of the citizens,” Brodrick said.
Brodrick said the ordinance giving power to the city administrator “was something that we thought, given the size of Watkinsville, given the level of professional management required in this city, is what it would take to move it forward.”
“And part of our job is to make hard decisions,” Brodrick said. “We made a hard decision.”
“I have full counsel in Ms. Dickerson and the job she’s doing,” Brodrick said. “Full confidence, excuse me. I hope the rest of the Council will join me in expressing that.
“We need to work together, Mr. Mayor,” Brodrick said. “Mr. Mayor, you are the mayor. We are not disputing whether you’re the mayor.
“You have read your powers out,” Brodrick said. “You have tremendous powers, tremendous opportunities to lead. But leadership requires us, true leadership requires us to work together."
“I want to echo what Councilman Brodrick said,” Council Member Campbell said.
|Campbell Responds To Smith 3/12/2020|
“I really want us to work together, and focus on all the great things Watkinsville has going for it and the things that are coming down the pike for Watkinsville,” Campbell continued.
“We are a great community. We are a great people that live here,” she said.
“And I want us to work together to make the best possible place for businesses and for families to live here,” she continued.
“If we can keep that in mind, keep that in the forefront, then I hope we can work out all of the other details,” Campbell said.
Video Of Called Meeting
I did not attend the called meeting on March 12, but Sarah Bell did attend and recorded the first video below.
Smith introduced the topics of a forensic audit at 4:03 in the video.
Smith turned to his proposed revision of the City Charter at 7:02 in the video.
Smith opened the meeting to public comment at 30:27.
Smith went to the podium for his Mayor’s Comments at 46:11 in the video (6:48 on the clock on the wall behind him) and started speaking at 46:50.
Smith left the podium at 1:24:40 in the video (7:27 showing on the clock) to applause.
Brodrick made his response to Smith at 1:25:01 in the video.
Campbell made her comments at 1:32:19 in the video.
What I have written above is a summary. I highly recommend watching the whole video, and particularly from 46:11 until the end.
Video Of Morning Of Retreat
The next video is of the morning session of the retreat of the Mayor and Council held on March 9 in the Mayor and Council Chamber of City Hall.
Eva Kennedy, director of Planning and Government Services for the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, served as facilitator.
I did not attend the meeting, but Penny Mills did, and she produced the video below. Mill said only one other citizen dropped into the session briefly, and no media representatives were present.
Mills helped me provide this brief annotation and overview.
During the first part of the meeting, the Mayor and Council members shared their visions for the future of Watkinsville.
|Smith On Vision 3/9/2020|
Smith began speaking at 16:25 in the video and, among other things, said he is working with a group to develop a conceptual plan for Watkinsville. He also focused extensively on traffic.
He also said he has someone working on a conceptual plan for Harris Shoals Park. He said he also wants to create a community center.
Smith said he wants to keep the library in downtown Watkinsville, “keep all government buildings, annex buildings and the like in downtown Watkinsville.” The county has purchased property just outside Watkinsville for these facilities, which are not under city control.
Smith talked for a little more than 15 minutes, saying he was “alerting you (Council) with as many details as I can” on the projects he is working on.
Discussion of Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax and a possible Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax is at 48:12 in the video.
At 1:11:48 in the video Smith asked “is it something that this town can do to get back in the sewer business? Can we get back into the sewer business, because we did it back in the 1980s and it got given away?”
The city transferred water and sewer services to the county in 1991.
Master Plan For Harris Shoals Park
Discussion of a master plan for Harris Shoals Park comes up again at 1:41:30 in the video.
|Dickerson And Sanders 3/9/2020|
Brodrick expressed concern about the time line and its impact on the proposed collaboration with Extra Special People for joint development of the park.
Smith said he and his consultants will “move forward with a conceptual plan for Harris Shoals Park and such time as this Council wants to address it, it will.”
Council Member Tucker said “it is wonderful that you have resources that are willing to do pro bono things for the city. That’s fantastic...I would think, and maybe that’s what you’re already planning to do, but that we will be involved in having conversations with the people that you have before it is brought to the public.”
“As I said earlier, all these things that we’re with pro bono professionals will clearly be brought before you and the Council and everyone else before you move forward with it,” Smith responded.
The conversation that follows includes reservations expressed by other Council members about their level of involvement in these plans.
Subsequent discussion focused on topics including Rocket Field, bike racks, dog water stations, an update to city zoning ordinances and an urban tree ordinance.
Discussion of rails to trails begins at 2:14:17 in the video.
Video Of Afternoon Of Retreat
Mills did not remain while the group ate lunch at the Mayor and Council Chamber but returned after the lunch break at 1 p.m. to continue video recording.
I took over video recording at 3 p.m.
The afternoon session began with a discussion of city infrastructure.
At 1:34:05, Kennedy from NEGRC started to move to Government Operations, but Smith interrupted her and handed out his proposed new City Charter.
“What you have is I had drafted a new charter for the city of Watkinsville,” Smith said.
He then reviewed some of the changes, similar to what he did at the Called Meeting three days later.
He said he wanted action quickly so it could be sent to the General Assembly in 15 days.
No one responded, and Kennedy said it would be added to the list of things to be discussed in the future.
At 2:17:56 in the video Kennedy led the group to a discussion of improved communication.
|Council Member Connie Massey And Brodrick 3/9/2020|
Council Member Campbell said she would like to have Council meetings live streamed.
Smith said he appreciated that I record the meetings but “I would still say that we need an independent channel” that is controlled by the city.
Kennedy offered the participants a chance to make a final comment, and Brodrick seized the opportunity at 2:37:27 in the video.
“I think it’s fair to say it hasn’t been the easiest past couple of months,” Brodrick said. “I think what we saw today was some great examples of...what a good team we can be...I think there’s a ton of common ground.”
“And I just really hope we can continue to operate that way as a team,” Brodrick continued, “because when we roll up our sleeves and pull together as a team we get a lot further than pulling in different directions.”