Clarkston, GA — The Clarkston Development Authority has been dissolved. The City Council made the decision in a 4-1 vote during the March 2 regular meeting and the measure passed the Georgia General Assembly on March 31.
The plan is for the city to activate a standard downtown development authority.
In 2017, the City Council established the Clarkston Development Authority which had seven members, three of which were council members. The CDA was enacted by the state legislature as it was different from a standard development authority that all cities in the state have the automatic right to create. The standard version only allows one city council member to serve on the board.
The City Council, at the time, wanted to make sure it had other voices on the CDA versus just having one member serve on the CDA, Mayor Beverly Burks told the Tucker Observer.
“But having three, the number three is not such a good idea, especially since then if it’s brought to the council all they need is one [more] vote for anything to pass,” Burks said. “So that’s, in terms of when you think about engaging the council, having those discussions, that’s not a good way to have it either.”
The CDA was meant to focus on the downtown area, but the final version of the document approved by the General Assembly included boundaries that covered the entire city and the council members don’t know how that change occurred.
“I’ll put it to you very bluntly since I sponsored it, that’s not what I sponsored,” Burks said at the Feb. 12 staff retreat. “Let’s just be clear, that is not what was originally sent out and if you go and look at all of the information in terms of where the authority would have dominion, that wasn’t in that. I don’t know when or how it got changed, I don’t know, or who changed it.”
The Clarkston Development Authority has not been activated yet. All members have been appointed, but bylaws have not been written, officers have not been selected and the board hasn’t held any meetings.
The City Council decided the CDA wasn’t serving the city in the way they intended and council members raised concerns about having three council members on the CDA and about the jurisdiction being over the entire city.
A lot of trust has been violated, Councilmember Laura Hopkins said at the staff retreat, adding that she feels she may have been given an inordinate amount of power over the city.
“But I feel like the public, the residents are very leery at this point of a few people on the council having too much control and having the authority over every square foot of the city,” Hopkins said. “So that is my concern and if we could change just that portion without having to go to the state legislature, I would be comfortable with that, but I don’t think we can.”
Councilwoman Debra Johnson is on the Clarkston Development Authority and she brought the issue to the council after attending DDA training.
“The primary concern that I had was the makeup of the CDA,” Johnson told the Tucker Observer. “I went to DDA training as one of the council members on the [CDA] and they kept referring to Clarkson as being unique, basically telling me that what I was learning in DDA training was not what we had.”
Her concern with the makeup of the CDA revolved around having three council members on the board and was not related to specific board members.
The CDA is made up of seven members and the City Council has six members so about half of each entity was City Council members.
“So having three people on our CDA with full reign of the entire city of Clarkston is dangerous because by the time it comes to council, we have to approve everything on council, three of the council members are already persuaded because it’s either their idea or they’re along with the idea from the previous members of the CDA,” Johnson said.
She added that if a vote on the City Council comes to a tie then Burks would break the tie and Johnson didn’t want to put that pressure on the mayor.
Residents raised concerns at the Feb. 23 work session that this action was meant to get rid of one CDA member in particular as Vice Mayor Awet Eyasu said at the staff retreat that he felt the CDA got convoluted with the previous appointments.
But Johnson said that was not the case or an issue. Eyasu also said at the Feb. 23 work session that the action is not being taken due to specific CDA members and the main reason was that the CDA had been changed throughout the approval process.
“The nominations that are in place can stay in place as far as I’m concerned,” Johnson told the Tucker Observer.
Johnson explained that former Mayor Ted Terry was allowed to nominate three people to the CDA. For his third selection, he nominated his girlfriend at midnight on the day he stepped down from being mayor.
“A lot of people didn’t like it, but it was still his nomination to make and it was still in the proper time frame so no one had an issue with it,” Johnson said. “I didn’t think no one had an issue with it until I heard the comment.”
The legislative process was also a concern raised throughout City Council meetings because the city would have to ask the Georgia General Assembly for approval any time they would want to modify the CDA. Concerns were also mentioned about the being able to pass the dissolution in the General Assembly so close to the end of the legislative session.
“So now we got to go ask them to limit the number of council members, limit the locations, so at this point, instead of making all of those modifications we felt, since nothing has actually been enforced with our CDA right now, we felt it would be better to not create anything and then use what we already have in place [from the Georgia Municipal Association],” Johnson said.
Councilman Jamie Carroll cast the dissenting vote and said it doesn’t make sense to tear down the CDA and start over when all members have been selected and most have gone through training.
“I voted no because one, I think it’s better to have a CDA that covers all of Clarkston, as opposed to just the downtown area, because that allows for more efficient planning, especially since Clarkston is such a small geographic area,” Carroll said in an email.
He added that he doesn’t think concerns about a runaway CDA are valid as projects would have to be approved by the City Council for funding and the CDA members have staggered terms so “a council majority would have to win multiple elections to control both the CDA and the council,” Carroll said.
The City Council plans to create a standard downtown development authority and two seats will have to be filled, if the members of the CDA serve on the downtown development authority. The council will also have to decide if a council member or the mayor will serve on the DDA.
“I am for us moving forward with developing our community and I support our council,” Burks said. “Again, we’re excited to do whatever we can to look towards new development in Clarkston.”
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