Billboard Settlement: More Questions than Answers regarding the Ethics

At the Johns Creek City Council meeting held on Monday, July 25th, responding to questions raised by citizens during the Public Comments period, Mayor Bodker admitted both he and Councilwoman Davenport, negotiated the settlement agreement, and apologized for not disclosing that Councilwoman Davenport is a close personal friend of the Hartrampf’s, the Billboard Company Executive.
Both were adamant, they got the best deal for the City, and felt no laws were broken.
WAS THIS THE BEST DEAL FOR THE CITY?
The settlement essentially gave the Sign Companies, new locations and allowed for LED Billboards, something that was not common when the original contested applications were submitted many years ago.
Much of what was negotiated in the settlement is already state law.
Mayor Bodker has repeatedly warned the City would have had 4 sided billboards, if for not the settlement. Yet, GA state law prohibits 4 sided billboards on State roads, and also has rules for the brightness of LED signs.
Mayor Bodker takes credit for negotiating an agreement that reinforced State Law and did not actually improve on it.
WAS DUE DILIGENCE DONE?
With such an important, and long-standing impact as a result of the settlement, why was no expert in negotiating and arbitrating hired on behalf of the City?
We are left to wonder why Mayor Bodker and the City Council decided that they should be the negotiators rather than hire a professional who deals with these types of issues on a regular basis, understood the state laws in their entirety, and would have negotiated from a stronger position.
Remember, this is the City that hires consultants for everything: from the ‘District’ planning, ThrU turns, roundabouts, park bonds and to where to place a stop sign…
WAS IT APPROPRIATE TO ACT AS NEGOTIATORS?
One of the most important roles an elected city official is to make sure that everything appears and is above reproach.  Just because somethings isn’t illegal, does it make it appropriate or the best thing to be done?
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ETHICS COMPLAINTS DISMISSED
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A Citizen filed an ethics complaint, questioning if the Mayor and Councilwoman Davenport had the authority to negotiate and also the ethics of negotiating with a personal friend. All charges were dismissed.
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Within the Billboard Ethics complaint, Councilperson Cori Davenport responded that she “arranged the meeting”.
Monday meeting, Mayor Bodker stated that they acted as “good cop-bad cop” and he was the bad cop.  Council Member Davenport was crucial to getting them back to the negotiating table after Bodker acted as “bad cop”.  
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Would this information change the outcome of the ethics complaint ‘dismissal’ by the Hearing officer?
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QUESTIONS SURROUND THE HEARING OFFICER
It also appears this Hearing Officer was not qualified according to the City’s “Code of Ethics: Administrative Hearing Process”. The Hearing Officer was located 7.5 miles from the City, and should have been at least 10 miles away.
“All complaints filed hereunder shall be heard before a Hearing Officer who: (i) shall be a competent attorney at law of good standing in his or her profession, (ii) shall have at least five (5) years’ experience in the practice of law, and (iii) shall not maintain an office within a ten (10) mile radius of the City of Johns Creek, Georgia.” Code of Ethics
Furthermore, the Hearing Officer’s office is in close proximity of the City Attorney’s office.
Was there No other attorney in GA available to give an impartial investigation?
 
WHO IS LIABLE?
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It appears the City did not include indemnification in the contract. GDOT includes one in their permit application.
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“agree to hold the GDOT harmless and indemnify GDOT for any damages caused either directly or indirectly by the erection and maintenance of said structure.” GDOT Outdoor Billboard application.
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Is the City liable for damages caused directly or indirectly because of the Billboards they issued permits for? Other Municipalities include these waivers in the contracts. Where is Johns Creeks?
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OTHER QUESTIONS AND CONCERNS
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If it was such a great settlement agreement, why was the relationship kept secret?
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This relationship should have been made public and disclosed from the very beginning. But it wasn’t. How could this be okay?
For a City that touts transparency, it surely lacked it here, and leaves us to wonder where else?
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19 Responses to Billboard Settlement: More Questions than Answers regarding the Ethics

  1. Roberta says:

    Poor leadership on the City Council must end. Please read and sign this petition if you agree it’s time for these two council members to go.

    https://www.change.org/p/resign-mayor-bodker-councilmember-davenport

    As you can read in the petition, this is just one of many examples of bad decision making from our council. There is a pattern of impropriety and bad judgment.

  2. JCR says:

    The best way to make up for poor leadership is always done by seeking more tax dollars.

  3. Sue says:

    This is what elections are for. Don’t like ’em, vote ’em out next time around.

    That being said, I’d rather have LED billboards than nasty old paper ones that rot and fade (i.e the billboard behind the Shell at Jones and Abbotts).

    • Editor says:

      Sounds like a code enforcement issue. Let them know the sign needs to be brought into compliance.

  4. ICE says:

    @Sue —
    1) there may have been better negotiations had it been hired out like normal protocol. But normal protocol was not followed. *raising eyebrows*
    2) why were there additional billboard locations added than the original plan? *seriously pondering*
    3) why did Bodker threaten with if we do not negotiate with this billboard company we would 4 sided billboards. Yet, the point is there is none to be found. *burrowing eyebrows*

    As our editor writes:
    The settlement essentially gave the Sign Companies, new locations and allowed for LED Billboards, something that was not common when the original contested applications were submitted many years ago.

    Much of what was negotiated in the settlement is already state law.

    —————–
    So what was it that Bodker and Davenport negotiated that was so awesome and helped our community. I don’t mean Bodker’s pockets. I mean our community.

    Honestly — NO BILLBOARDS would have been better than the multitude of billboards we are slated to receive.

    Even if this was approved and legal it was a hack job and it is disingenuous for Bodker to promote to his constituents as a good deal.

    Because from where I stand; it may ethical but we still have some dirty dish water to deal with. And we are stuck holding it.

    This man has no integrity. Period. The End.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Who approved billboards and why? What an eyesore!! It going to look like Los Angeles.

    • Editor says:

      30 foot high Billboard in Dunwoody, in front of a 15 story building. Yet, residential Johns Creek will gets Biilboards up to 95 feet high.

      Dunwwody Billboard

  6. Anonymous says:

    I believe the possibility of zero billboards didn’t exist thanks to a Ga Supreme Court ruling years ago. Not sure if what the Council negotiated reduced the number of billboards that could have been put up without a deal, but a third party negotiator should have been engaged regardless.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I wonder who can/will be sued if a distracted driver has an accident because of a flashing LED billboard. All know that one intersection where the city agreed to billboards is Medlock Bridge and State Bridge, a TOP accident intersection in our state…..Located between 2 high schools with many inexperienced teen drivers. Given our very heavy traffic and the history of accidents at that intersection, adding Anything that Could be a catalyst to more accidents seems negligent. And the city did not negotiate an indemnification clause? That makes no sense. But the billboard makes no sense either. Citizens have spoken up and even circulated a petition to stop billboards. Bad decision. Maybe the billboard company will reconsider based on the outcry of Johns Creek and common sense.

  8. Cathy Eads says:

    I filed the ethics complaint that was referenced in the billboard article of the Aug. 4 issue of the Johns Creek Herald. As the filer of this ethics complaint, CATHY Eads (not Cindy) I will add some information lacking in this article. I’ll begin by quoting our Johns Creek City Charter.

    Sec. 2.15. – Prohibitions.
    (a)
    No elected official, appointed officer, or employee of the city or any agency or political entity to which this Charter applies shall knowingly:
    (1)
    Engage in any business or transaction or have a financial or other personal interest, direct or indirect, which is incompatible with the proper discharge of official duties or which would tend to impair the independence of his or her judgment or action in the performance of official duties;

    My assertion in filing the complaint was that Ms. Davenport knowinly engaged in negotiations with a “PERSONAL interest” because she was negotiating against a long time family friend. That relationship could certainly “tend to impair the independence of her judgment.” It appears the hearing officer simply ignored her “other personal interest, direct or indirect” in negotiating the settlement with her long time family friend, and partner of Action Outdoor Advertising, Jack Hartrampf. Even if Ms. Davenport did not have any financial interest in the outcome of the negotiations, her longtime family friend is making a significant amount of money from the advertising on these billboards and will continue to do so long after this deal was finalized. Likewise, Mayor Bodker entered into the negotiations knowing full well of the long term friendship between Ms. Davenport and Mr. Hartrampf. The appearance of impropriety is clear to me, even if the complaint itself was dismissed.

    • N Hale says:

      @Cathy – you are absolutely correct and thank you. As a society, we need to get back to holding public officials accountable for what they say and do. Public trust has eroded because individuals believe the results of activities justify the means of getting there. Appearance of independence is critical and yet may not be legally unethical, these activities directly impact our ability to trust that we are actually being effectively represented. The legal system can not be trusted and so the responsibility falls on us. Thank you for standing up and saying what needs to be said!

  9. Marsha says:

    Then you all know what to do next year when the mayoral election comes into play, right?

    • tom says:

      Do you think the Mayor will run again? He has to know that he can’t get re-elected again. Had Bev run against Bodker without the “investigation” during the last election, I have no doubt she would have prevailed. Now that the previous council and city manager are out of the picture, the decisions being made rest soundly on Mayor Bodker and the current council (largely made up of his coalition). He will be held 100% accountable for all the issues in front of us. In the eyes of the few people that actually vote in Johns Creek, I don’t think the Mayor can get the votes. Honestly, is Bodker a Republican or a Democrat? I feel like he’s a registered republican executing a passionate liberal agenda.

  10. JCR says:

    When asking yourself if someone is a Democrat or Republican, one must look at how reliant they are upon Federal dollars.

    The argument is “everyone else does it” so why shouldn’t we? That is what we will hear from our Mayor and others that like FREE MONEY.

    We could be our own city and lead by example,

    Or we can be like every other city, take the money, tie the strings to ourselves, and do what the Feds tell us.

    The choice is still ours to make. But not for much longer.

    • Anonymous says:

      I agree the choice is ours if we want to have more control at the local level. However, I can understand the temptation to accept Federal funds in certain situations, since some tax payers, especially the more affluent earners do pay a fair amount in Federal Taxes and it would be tempting to bring back some of those dollars to our local community instead of watching those dollars go to another community outside of Johns Creek or even outside of the state.

  11. Already tired of CREEM says:

    Is any one else fatigued by the daily onslaught of messages coming at us from the city via FB, Next Door, etc.? It seems that our Communications Dept works one half for JC amd one half for CREEM (Committee to RE-Elect the Mayor). Does anyone know how many personnel are involved in JC communications? At what cost? I’m tired of feeling like a senior in an old folks home where there is a constant barrage of announcements coming over the loud speaker for canasta. The city’s uninterrupted torrent of PR messages has crossed over into propaganda. If the communications were boiled down just to what was necessary could we not suffice with just one person doing that job? It seems that we are “putting FIVE pounds of sugar in a TEN pound bag”. All we need is good schools, the amount of police and fire appropriate for our size and rate of incidence, and traffic relief. My quality of life will not be measured by the amount of city services and amenities I can consume. Rather, my quality of life is impacted by how well my children get educated, how safe is my family, and how much of my hard-earned money and free time can be spent as I see fit. I did not vote to become a city or vote twice for this mayor so that our city governent could become the overbearing, hyperactivity node of our community that it has become.

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