There are differing reports on why he failed to appear in person at City Hall to cast his vote in a contentious 3-2 decision to reject a planned road closure.
Mayor Mark Mathews said state laws dictate when an elected official can miss official meetings.
“It is very specific as to what qualifies someone to be able to participate in a meeting via telephone,” Mathews said.
“Basically it is either for health reasons or if you are out of the jurisdiction. We had a council member who was out of the jurisdiction who chose that option to participate.”
Specific conditions of Church’s bond do not require him to stay within any particular area, though the order does forbid him from changing his address without giving the court written notice.
An official from the magistrate court said Church cannot leave the state under pretrial conditions. However, the official said defendants can submit a request to the pretrial release officer assigned to their cases if they have a reason to leave the state — which can range from a death in the family to a vacation — and are free to cross state lines if the officer approves their request.
Mathews said the law imposes a strict limit on how many times a council member can choose the telephone option before he or she misses enough consecutive meetings to “create a vacancy” on the council. He believes a council member may use the phone option twice.
But a source with knowledge of the matter said Mathews was not giving the entire story. Church participated in the meeting by phone not because he was “out of the jurisdiction,” but because children from an under-8 baseball team were set to receive awards at the meeting’s outset, the source said.
According to a bond condition order obtained from Cobb Magistrate Court, Church may not “linger in any location at which children under the age of 16 are present.”
The source said the children’s presence required Church to dial in rather than risk violating the agreement that is keeping him out of jail while he awaits developments in the case against him.
Officer Mike Bowman, spokesman for the Cobb Police Department, said the investigation into Church’s charges is “still active.”
Councilman Tim Killingsworth said he didn’t consider the meeting to be particularly heated.
“It was just a standard meeting,” Killingsworth said. “I don’t want to put any negative connotation on anything.”
Church has continued sitting on the council since he paid a $10,000 bond and was released from the county jail June 28, missing early meetings but returning to the chamber for a work session July 16.
The person with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be named, said the council is very uncomfortable with the negative attention the case has attracted, but said the members’ hands are tied when it comes to addressing Church’s continued presence.
According to his arrest warrant, Church is accused of showing a 9-year-old boy pornographic materials on a computer at his home and allegedly molesting the child sometime during the weekend of May 9.
The source said council members have discussed their unhappiness with the situation behind closed doors.
Publically, the mayor, the other four members of the council and city staff have kept quiet about the topic.
Church has not spoken to the media about his arrest or the allegations against him.
Road to stay open
During the council meeting, members Killingsworth and Cris Eaton-Welsh voted to close the stretch of Lewis Street between Dallas and North Main streets in order to improve traffic safety and make way for future developments.
The two were overruled by council members Debra Williams, Jim Sebastian and Church, who voted in favor of leaving Lewis Street open after what one council member estimated was an hour of public comment and debate.
Eaton-Welsh said several people joined the lengthy discussion, with David Lyons, chairman of the city’s downtown development authority, among supporters of the closure and Dale and Cindy Hughes, “fantastic” Kennesaw residents, among its opponents.
Eaton-Welsh said drivers “come flying” off Lewis when they take the route to come and go from North Main.
“My nickname for it is actually the ‘Main Street off-ramp,’” she said.
Mathews said an engineering study found the 420 feet of road in question was being used “primarily as a cut-through,” and was bordered on both ends by unusually-shaped intersections that created difficulties for drivers to see ahead.
“The recommended closure was based on long-term safety and mobility considerations for downtown,” Mathews said.
The closure came before the council carrying recommendations from the city’s public works director, economic development director and Croy Engineering, a Marietta company that regularly contracts with the county and cities for projects, according to the meeting agenda.