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Cryptic Roswell meeting turns into press briefing

Roswell City Council workshop

Members of the Roswell City Council discuss traffic calming solutions on Oxbo Road March 10 directly after a three-hour long Q&A-style workshop with local reporters.

ROSWELL, Ga. — The Roswell City Council hosted a workshop March 10 at Roswell River Landing, where the council fielded questions from two reporters in attendance.

On March 8 a city email announced the meeting was cancelled. Later that day, a city communications staffer said the meeting was back on. The published agenda for the meeting was completely blank except for the names of the mayor and City Council, the location and the scheduled time frame.

Mayor Kurt Wilson opened the three-hour meeting at 8 a.m. The City Council was in attendance, as well as Director of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs Jeffrey Leatherman. Appen Media was also in attendance.

Wilson said the goal of the workshop was to “continue to follow up” after the Roswell City Council and staff retreat in Opelika, Alabama, in February. The mayor said he wants to introduce ongoing opportunities for the press to have open access to the city government.

Recreation and Parks Director Leatherman opened the discussion with an update on the implementation of the $107.6 million bond for recreation, parks, sidewalks and bicycle and pedestrian paths.

Leatherman said residents will start to see the first results of the bond in the next few months as the fields in East Roswell Park are replaced. The city is also working on “more complicated” projects with results in the next 12-18 months.

He also discussed progress on redevelopment projects for Roswell parks. Recreation and Parks staff is in the schematic design process for Don White Park, Azalea Park and Riverside Park. All redevelopments on the parks are funded by the bond. Leatherman said the design process may take up to a year.

The council said projects covered through the $52 million public safety bond and $20 million downtown parking deck bond are in progress, but details cannot be divulged because they involve real estate dealings.

“I think once we're able to finalize the details on the real estate acquisitions and the purchases themselves, that's going to bring the full picture,” Councilwoman Sarah Beeson said.

Mayor Wilson then opened the workshop to an informal Q&A session with reporters. Wilson and the councilmembers fielded questions on the bond implementation, municipal elections and the recent retreat.

Wilson said his major takeaway from the retreat was a focus on organizational behavior and institutional change to make the city “truly friendly.”

“What I want to live well beyond me and this council,” Wilson said, “is that whenever elected (officials) come in, their policy and vision can be executed with expediency as long as it’s logical, clear, ethical and moral.”

The mayor then addressed the possibility of having Roswell run its own municipal elections this fall. The council approved a motion to “work on due diligence” with its sister cities on conducting municipal elections at a meeting in January.

In the months since, Johns Creek has decided against the plan for 2023, opting to continue its contract with Fulton County to run the election.

Mayor Wilson said he agrees with Johns Creek officials and that Roswell “start a pathway to formally run elections in 2025.”

Wilson said the city’s due diligence has been influenced by the work other cities like Milton have done to gauge feasibility for running elections in their city.

“Some stuff we have clarity, others we do not,” Wilson said.

With the lack of full cooperation with sister cities and lack of understanding important components of the task, Wilson expressed concern with running elections in 2023.

“If you screw it up, you kill the opportunity to ever do it again,” he said.

Wilson said the issue must be a decision by the elected body, though, and asked some of the councilmembers where they stood on elections.

Councilman Will Morthland said “if we’re ready, I’m all for it.”

Councilman Peter Vanstrom said if somebody has the time and wants to champion the cause they should.

Councilwoman Lee Hills supported the push to have the city run its own elections for 2023.

“I don’t think it’s a rush job,” Hills said.

Mayor Wilson said the council likely will not have another public hearing before the March 31 deadline set by Fulton County, when the city will have to reach a decision.

The workshop also included discussion about concerns with fairness and balance in press coverage.

Officials also traveled to Oxbo Road to visualize traffic calming solutions, deliberating the possibility of medians or the construction of a 10-foot multimodal path for bicyclists and pedestrians.

The entirety of the workshop was recorded and is available online.

Reach Delaney Tarr at 770-847-8079. Follow her on Twitter @delaneytarr.