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Stockbridge DDA moving forward amid orders to stop


By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent 

  It was business as usual at Monday afternoon’s Stockbridge Downtown Development Authority meeting.

  Well, almost. There was the matter of each DDA member receiving a cease-and-desist letter from the city.

  That wrinkle was not addressed at the meeting, although it became obvious from the way the board conducted its business that the DDA members disagree with the city’s recent declaration that the DDA was improperly organized last year.

  The DDA convened in a special called meeting at Los Portales restaurant, which is run by DDA member Ron Castillo, because of scheduling conflicts that made the regular meeting time impossible, according to DDA chairman, J.T. Williams.

  The group approved the 2014 meeting schedule, which is the third Thursday in February, May, August and November. Special meetings could be called in between as needed.

  Williams was reappointed to the chairman’s post and was named interim executive director, as city economic development director B.J. Mathis is no longer with the city. Her position was eliminated with the approval of the 2014 city budget.

  The DDA named Robert Beall vice chairman and Robin Buschman secretary. Buschman, in her third year on the Stockbridge City Council, has been that body’s official DDA liaison since the DDA was reorganized in early 2013.

  Beall and Richard Teate were absent from the meeting, while Rocio Camacho and Vivian Thomas-Smith were in attendance.

  Al Bantley will continue as the DDA’s real estate attorney and Ken Bernard was appointed its government attorney.

  Williams noted what he called “a tremendous year” in 2013 during which about 700 jobs were brought to the city through the DDA’s efforts. He said this was particularly important in light of recent reports that Henry County’s unemployment rate is 23 percent higher than the state average.

  Citing such recent announcements as the fiber-optic Internet initiative by Community Broadband now in development in the city and the recent relocation of World Internet Group’s headquarters here as a result of that, Williams said Stockbridge is “on the verge of an explosion of new jobs.”

  Buschman said that Community Broadband head Allen Davis was honored by the Henry Council for Quality Growth last week, adding that the company’s work here will benefit the entire county, not just Stockbridge.

  Just before the meeting went into executive session, city attorney Mike Williams gave envelopes to two members and left two others for members who were not in attendance. It was confirmed later that those envelopes contained letters from the city ordering the DDA to cease and desist.

  The City Council convened Jan. 7 and nearly the entire agenda was devoted to reversing various actions by the former administration concerning the DDA. The council’s position as presented that night was that the DDA was not properly constituted last year according to state law, and any previous action taken by the council was void.

  As a result, new mayor Tim Thompson and the 2014 council reconsidered and disapproved several governmental agreements, Main Street appointments, real estate acquisitions and action taken by the DDA at its own Dec. 9 meeting. Also reconsidered and disapproved were an Urban Redevelopment Agency action, renovation funding for the city’s new arts center, deed transfers for nine city properties under DDA lease, a $5 million loan to the DDA, and an economic incentive program previously approved by the city.

  All of the above motions were made and seconded by new council members Anthony Ford and Lakeisha Gantt, with incumbent council member Alphonso Thomas also voting in favor. All actions passed 3-2 with Buschman and incumbent council member Richard Steinberg voting against.

  There was no discussion at the Jan. 7 meeting on any of these items.

  Thompson also exercised his veto authority on a few items pertaining to the DDA, reaffirming the position that the DDA was never properly reactivated, has no authority or powers and is not capable of entering into any transactions.

  Before announcing his candidacy for mayor, Thompson applied for a seat on the DDA board and later publicly criticized the city for not vetting the applicants properly, saying he was never contacted about his application. It was eventually revealed that Thompson was deemed ineligible for a DDA seat because he did not own property in the city and did not operate a business in the city.



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