by Arielle Robinson
After several contentious discussions Wednesday evening, Mableton established a regular meeting time and handled other important business.
Regular meeting schedule
The city conducted its second and final read of an ordinance that creates a regular meeting schedule for the year. The city voted unanimously to have meetings at the Riverside EpiCenter every second and fourth Wednesday of the month at 6:30 p.m.
This makes the next meeting date on Valentine’s Day.
“We hear voices loud and clear about wanting to have a centralized location,” Mayor Michael Owens said. “That was part of the actual evaluation that we took when making considerations as to not only where we have been having our meetings at, but where we would have meetings at least for the remainder of this year.”
As in the first read the city did, Owens reiterated that the final goal is to have a city hall in the center of the city for meetings.
Owens said that between looking at the South Cobb Regional Library, the South Cobb Community Center, and the EpiCenter, he had “no doubt” that the EpiCenter could provide the necessary equipment and time for meetings.
Meeting in the EpiCenter would provide them with the necessary AV equipment. In a past meeting, the library’s free cost was brought up, but since they have no AV equipment that would add a cost to that location. Owens said that no location is truly free.
Owens also reiterated that the library and community center’s availability sometimes conflicts with the city council times, especially since the first two locations are being used this year for elections.
Owens encouraged people to look at the library and community center’s calendars for proof.
“You will not find a plethora of dates that allows us to have a consistent meeting on … every second and fourth Wednesday of the year, you just won’t find that, and then coupled with the cost and the ease and feasibility [it’s the best option],” Owens said.
Earlier in the meeting during public comment, a woman approached the podium and asked the council to consider having some meetings at the library. She said that after talking to some of her neighbors, they told her they would not come to Riverside but would be open to going to the library for meetings.
During the second read, Owens seemed to address this comment.
“Now for people who do not feel comfortable coming to this part of town,” the mayor said. “I can only say to you that there is security in the back, there’s security at every single meeting that we have by Cobb PD and/or the sheriff’s office. There’s also on-site security at this facility — which none of the other facilities have — and they always make sure no matter how late it is, they remain here with us throughout that duration.”
Councilwoman Patricia Auch, who has advocated for moving meetings to the library, said that the city hall will be many years in the future.
“You look at cities like Brookhaven,” Auch said. “It’s a 12-year-old city, they’re just now breaking ground on their brand new city hall. Are we going to be expecting to not have a centralized location for the next however long that would take us?”
Owens replied and said that later this year, the city will take another look at their options within the city that are more centralized.
“I also think that we will find ourselves in a remarkably different situation next year where we will actually have in-house staff that can do some of the things.
“We may have our own AV equipment, which will allow us to also — not just for city council meetings — but for events that the city may have, and other meetings to allow us to be able to go into areas that we simply can’t go into right now and keep the same level of quality. So absolutely, I’m expecting that we will reevaluate and take a look at all the different facilities that may exist and reassess them and make another decision as we go into next year,” Owens said.
Councilwoman Debora Herndon said, “I know that when it’s said that there are certain people from certain areas that don’t feel comfortable coming into this area, while I understand that it can insinuate certain things — and that may be the truth for some — but what I’m hearing from my constituents is that it’s difficult for them to drive in the dark.”
“And with the meetings ending as late as it does, trying to get back home in the dark [is difficult], so they feel better being in an area that they’re a little bit more familiar with and where the drive is not as long so that they can get home…I know personally my vision is not the same when I’m driving home at night,” Herndon said.
Herndon questioned whether the council could alternate between meeting at the library and the EpiCenter to accommodate constituents with vision problems.
“When we’re planning for the whole year, no matter what facility we have — there’s a contract associated with that, of some sort. So we can’t be, ‘well maybe here this time, maybe here that time,’ there has to be a contractual element to be able to secure the space. No matter where that is, we have to secure that regardless of what the financial amount is, you have to enter into agreements for that,” Owens said.
“We’ve streamed online and had cameras every single meeting, every meeting. Not just for folks who don’t want to drive or don’t feel comfortable driving, but some people that can’t drive. So it’s imperative that we have a facility that we can stream with quality, because if we move somewhere and it’s less then we’re going to get complaints from those people who absolutely cannot physically make it to a meeting. So I do not want to lose that capability,” Owens said.
Owens also said the city council meetings will not be the only way to engage with the city and that various commissions and committees will meet at different locations.
His hope is that since the other meetings are not on as high a level as the council meetings other spaces can be used.
“As a matter of fact, we’ve already secured a couple of places in February later next month. We’ve already secured locations at the library and the community center, so we’re proactively going to be having meetings at other places. So it’s not an all or nothing,” Owens said.
Owens and Councilman TJ Ferguson said the meeting schedules should soon be up on the city website.
Setting the agenda
Very briefly after the previous vote, Auch raised the concern of who gets to set meeting agendas.
“The agenda has been set by the mayor for every single meeting,” Auch said. “There hasn’t been any contribution to the agenda from council members. So I would hope going forward we will have something in place to have on the schedule when we can submit our agenda items and the public also know when they can access the agenda.”
Owens said she had a good point and that the city clerk and attorney will work to make that a discussion item.
Resolution with the county for zoning verifications
The City council unanimously approved an intergovernmental agreement with Cobb County to allow for zoning verifications.
“This is tightly coupled with our issuance of business licenses and working with the county diligently on how we’re making this process work,” Owens said. “As I’ve mentioned before, not only are we a new city, Cobb County is in a very new position of working to transition a new city.”
Interim City Attorney Emilia Walker-Ashby further explained the details in depth. The entire explanation and the council’s discussion on the issue can be found at minute 48:50 here.
At the beginning of the meeting, Auch made a motion to remove the agenda item that would create mayoral committees. Her motion was defeated 3-4. Auch, Herndon, and Councilwoman Dami Oladapo voted for it, while Owens, Ferguson, and Councilmembers Keisha Jeffcoat and Ron Davis voted against it.
After about 45 minutes of back and forth between nearly all the members and the city attorney, the council voted to table the item.
Auch reached out to the Courier before the meeting and said she intended to make a motion to remove this item. She believes it conflicts with the city charter.
Owens gave his position.
He said the mayor’s office would establish mayoral committees to handle initiatives separate from the commissions, boards, and authorities.
“As it relates to the actual charter, the charter has a couple of things that lays out and permits, particularly in section two which speaks to committees being a separate and distinct entity from commissions, boards, and authorities…I don’t think we’ve ever laid out what this is because terms are used interchangeably quite a bit between commissions and boards and authorities. And the fact of the matter is it’s broken out in the charter in a completely different section for a specific reason because they’re inherently different,” Owens said.
Owens said committees have little power. He said their goal is to study issues, initiatives, and surveys that should be addressed. He also said they would not have residence requirements. Committees would not vote on issues.
“The goal is to bring in thought leadership, to bring in expertise. And while we have a lot of experience here in Mableton, we want to be able to have expertise coming from other areas — whether it’s some of our universities, as many of you know, I attended the Harvard program the month before last and the Harvard Bloomberg Center [for Cities] wants to be able to send fellows down to be able to help us look at our system of government, to be able to innovate,” Owens said.
Owens then described commissions. He said that they are quasi-governmental and the city wants people to continue to sign up to be on a commission. The commissions will help shape policy and ordinances.
Owens said that boards are quasi-judicial and authorities are quasi-governmental 501c6’s and sit outside the city. For example, the latter has its own funding mechanisms and can take out bonds and buy property. Committees and commissions do not do this.
Owens said that not all committees will be run by the mayor. He gave an example of how a city council steering committee will handle the city’s comprehensive plan.
Auch disagreed with Owens’ interpretation of the difference between committees, boards, authorities, and commissions.
“While ‘committee’ is not defined in our charter — it was actually only mentioned two times in the entire charter and it’s in Section 2.20 — but in that same section, which is the first part of the section, it says that, ‘The city council shall adopt its rules of procedure and order of business consistent with the provisions of this charter.’ …Anyway, it has to be consistent with the provisions of the charter and there are provisions in the charter in regards to boards, commissions, and authorities and defines what [they are], and it’s any kind of group that is for investigative purposes, quasi-legislative or quasi-judicial,” Auch said.
Herndon also spoke up. She noted the part of Section 2.20 that says, “All committees of the city council shall be appointed in a manner determined by the city council.”
“It says, ‘the city council’ and what this particular ordinance is doing, it’s taking away the ability of the city council to compose the committee, to give it directly to the mayor and the mayor’s office to not only appoint or delegate, but also to determine who was no longer on the committee. So it’s shifting the spirit of what the charter has said,” Herndon said.
After Herndon spoke, Owens clarified that the item is a resolution, not an ordinance.
He also quoted the same part of the charter Herndon did, and his interpretation differed.
“What this resolution is asking is that the city council deem mayoral committees as appropriate,” Owens said.
Oladapo said she thinks that everyone has a different understanding of that part of the charter.
“I think where the bone of contention is is in the language that is being used here,” Oladapo said. “And I know that Madam Attorney mentioned earlier in the previous discussion about this adjusting the language that we have in here so it really clarifies what you want these committees to do.”
Owens said he did not think there were any boundaries around it because the charter does not clarify them.
“The charter in Section 2.20 for committees is almost specifically…vague in its intent, specifically because of the ad hoc nature of committees. Committees, again, remember can be stood up, can be taken down. We talked about having a steering committee or a task force — these are temporary in nature,” Owens said.
The mayor said that he understands comparing committees to boards, authorities, and commissions, but they are not identical.
“There is a reason why it [committees] sits in a completely different section of the charter,” Owens said. “So trying to marry something in a separate section of the charter as it relates to boards, commissions, and authorities to something in a completely different section that talks about committees — there’s a clear understanding as to why they’re in different sections, because the conveners of the charter understood them to be separate things and not bound by the same reasons.”
After a long discussion, council members agreed to table the item until two provisions are created. One is to add transparency to how the committees will operate, and another is that the council be notified of the creation of committees before it occurs.
To listen to the entire 45-minute back and forth on this, skip to the 1 hour 14 minute mark here.
The city council unanimously approved sending out requests to firms for qualifications for the city’s comprehensive plan.
“This is an RFQ — a request for qualifications that’s been created that will be our comprehensive plan for what we’re calling Mableton 2045,” Owens said.
The state of Georiga requires cities to to create a comprehensive plan that determines how land is used within the boundaries.
The plan is called Mableton 2045 because the city wants to reach out that far in the future when creating its comprehensive plan.
Owens said this RFQ lays out the search for companies to submit their qualifications to present a statement of work and plan to the city for its comprehensive plan.
Owens said comprehensive plans tend to be expensive and could cost up to $500,000. They could also take a year to complete. The mayor said the goal is to have Mableton’s finished by April 2025.
“What it does is it calls out the need for a full comprehensive city plan which incorporates many aspects within the scope of work as relates to community goals, needs, and opportunities, community work programs, broadband services, economic development, land use, housing, transportation, environmental sustainability, historic preservation, cultural resources, character aspects, certain special use areas, and future land use areas,” Owens said.
Oladapo asked Owens how the city plans to make the RFQ public.
Owens said the RFQ can be posted on the city website.
“I don’t want to conflate the actual process with the creation of the plan,” Owens said. “So I mentioned earlier that there will be a steering committee that will be formed. Again, we will come back as a body and we will determine what the composition of that plan would be.
“My expectation is there will be a resolution for that, we’ll create a city plan, and then whoever we choose to execute the comp plan, there will be public hearings…there will be vision boards, there’s surveys, there’s a multitude of opportunities for people to have input as we go through this process.”
Oladapo also asked who will be responsible for reviewing all the RFQs and ultimately deciding who has been awarded, to which Owens said the council would.
Arielle Robinson is a student at Kennesaw State University. She also freelances for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution and is the former president of KSU’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists as well as a former CNN intern. She enjoys music, reading, and live shows.