Ethics complaint against Kennesaw Mayor Mathews over public funds use dismissed
by Ricky Leroux
August 31, 2014 04:00 AM | 73 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
KENNESAW — A recent ethics complaint against Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews was dismissed by the city’s ethics board at its meeting Thursday evening, but one City Council member said the matter should have been handled by the council. The complaint was filed by Bill Harris, a Kennesaw resident and longtime critic of Mathews, on Aug. 12. Harris alleged the mayor improperly used public funds on a personal matter when the city’s attorney drafted a cease and desist letter directing Harris to stop publishing on his website: mayormathews.blogspot.com. Mathews said he was made aware of the website by Kennesaw citizens, who also told him some residents believed he made the statements written on the site. Harris claims Mathews used more than $1,000 in public funds for the city’s attorney, Randall Bentley, to draft the letter. In an email to the MDJ, Mathews would not comment on the complaint itself, but said he appreciated the work done by the ethics board. “Our Ethics Board is made up of a great mix of our community and serve voluntarily. I appreciate the time and work done by our Ethics Board, and I look forward to their continued commitment to our city. I look forward to working with our council, staff and many wonderful volunteers to continue the growth and help work towards a bright future for Kennesaw,” the mayor wrote. Kennesaw Council member Cris Eaton-Welsh said she understood Harris’ position, but the issue should have been handled by the City Council. “The way that the complaint was written, our regulations don’t allow for (Mathews) to be reprimanded for anything that was done there,” she said. “That was really something that we, as a council, should have done with the mayor in private and address the situation. And we weren’t given the time or opportunity because the complaint was filed.” Eaton-Welsh said she was not present at the ethics meeting, but she believed the complaint was dismissed because the City Council gave Bentley its approval to draft the letter. “We did approve the expenditure for the cease and desist letter. However, I, as a council member, feel like I was misled when (Mathews) said that he did not say anything that was posted on this website when actually there is video that has him speaking it verbatim,” she said. Eaton-Welsh is referring to a post on Harris’ website written April 4 containing quotes the mayor made before a Kennesaw State University journalism class March 19, a video of which was posted online. Eaton-Welsh said she was not aware of the video when the council voted to approve Bentley’s expenses and took Mathews’ word on the matter. “Then it gets further and worse when we see the rest of the video and the majority of the video is bashing the new council. That’s just no way to create a tone in our community,” she said. Harris, a retired retail operations investigator, said he was not surprised by the complaint being dismissed, and he rated the chance of a ruling in his favor at 33 percent. “I would not argue with anyone who might opine that since the Kennesaw Ethics Board was appointed by the mayor and old council that he controlled, any complaints against the mayor might be expected to fail,” he said. Harris said a correspondent of his suggested he bring his complaint to the state level “now that the State Ethics Board seems to have finally gotten their ducks in a row.” While he said he is considering this option, he has not made a decision whether to do so. “If I go forward at state level, I may this time spend a few bucks on an attorney. It is an important and interesting issue and deserves a better response than it was given by our local ethics board,” Harris said. The Kennesaw Ethics Board is composed of Chairman James Walth, Terri Copeland, Eric Dec, Glenn Dawkins and Robert Quigley, communications director for Cobb County. Members serve two-year terms, according to the Kennesaw city government’s website. Walth said he had no comment on the complaint or its dismissal, but provided an accounting of the ethics board’s actions at its meeting. “I do not have any comments to offer at this time. The Board of Ethics met (Thursday) and came to conclusion on each of the charges detailed in Mr. Harris’ ethics complaint. In accordance with the Code aof Ethics on record, Sec: 2-99 (9), we have provided our findings to Kennesaw’s Governing Authority for such action as the governing authority deems appropriate,” he wrote in an email to the MDJ. The complaint consisted of four parts. The first accused the mayor of using the city attorney for a personal matter. Copeland motioned to dismiss the allegation “as patently unfounded,” according to a draft version of the minutes of the meeting, which state the motion was approved 4-0 with Dawkins absent. The second portion of the complaint stated the mayor engaged in improper activity by receiving unwarranted, free legal representation. Copeland again motioned to dismiss the allegation as unfounded, and it passed 4-0, the draft version of the minutes state. The third allegation stated the mayor engaged in malfeasance by requiring the city attorney to perform a harmful act in violation of a public trust. Quigley motioned to dismiss this complaint because “the facts stated were insufficient to invoke the disciplinary jurisdiction of the board,” according to the minutes of the meeting. The motion passed 3-1, with Dec opposed. Finally, the complaint alleged the mayor used his position to require Bentley to perform work beyond the city attorney’s normal scope of employment.” Dec motioned to dismiss the allegation as unfounded, which passed 4-0.
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City owed $92K for property upkeep
by Hilary Butschek
August 31, 2014 04:00 AM | 68 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
download Property lien chart
MARIETTA — Councilman Philip Goldstein suggested this week the city foreclose on properties that haven’t paid the city for mowing their lawns. Mayor Steve Tumlin agreed with Goldstein, saying there is often no other way to get the money the city is owed, which now totals $92,000. “Only when the property is sold do we really get something back,” Tumlin said. Yet, Councilwoman Michelle Cooper Kelly said she didn’t want to make a rash decision at the Wednesday meeting, so the committee took no action on the issue. “I’d like a little bit more time, personally, to review it,” Kelly said. City attorney Doug Haynie said the chances of collecting the money soon are slim, and the threshold for foreclosing on a property is usually if $10,000 is owed to the city. The money is made up of fees the city charges property owners to remove “obnoxious vegetation.” If a property owner doesn’t cut the grass, members of the city’s code enforcement office, which has seven employees, will mow it themselves, then ask to be paid for their labor. The code enforcement department has filed 16 liens against property owners who owe the city money so far this year. It filed 17 liens in 2013. There are six property owners who owe more than $2,000. There are two properties who owe more than $10,000: one owned by Westside Partners on Sandtown Road and another owned by Cynthia Lannette Hull and Robert A. Glover on Rigby Street. This might be the only way the city can collect the money it is owed, Goldstein said. Tumlin agreed with Goldstein, saying the city often has trouble collecting from property owners unless the property is sold or foreclosed. “We don’t have a really high expectation (of getting paid) when we cut somebody’s grass,” Tumlin said. Haynie said sometimes the city never recovers the money because the fees are wiped out if the property owner goes through a bankruptcy. “Also, liens fall off after seven years (if they’re not paid),” Haynie said. Goldstein said foreclosing on properties will prevent future issues. “The other advantage of doing a foreclosure is it deals with a piece of property that is a drag on the neighborhood,” Goldstein said. The committee members agreed to talk about foreclosing on properties at their next meeting Sept. 23. Donna Fritz, senior housing inspector in the code enforcement department, said city employees won’t threaten to cut the grass unless it’s 12 inches or taller. Obnoxious vegetation can include kudzu, briars, weeds and grass, according to the city code. Code enforcement workers can also clean up a property if it is littered with wastepaper, leaves, debris or trash. Fritz said her department goes through a process of notifying a property owner of code violations. “We try everything in the world to get compliance from the owner,” Fritz said. First, an inspector will put a sign on the door of a building on the property and mail a notice asking the owner and tenant to cut the grass. If the owner does not comply in eight days, the city files paperwork in the city municipal court asking a judge to determine whether the city can go on the property and clean it up. “If the judge finds all the evidence to be in favor of our case then he signs an order stating the city can go on the property to clean it up,” Fritz said. The city waits five days after the court order is signed and then sends workers to the property to use city equipment such as weed eaters, mowers, chain saws or tractors to clean up the land. “Then for the cost incurred after the city cleans it up, they’re mailed a bill from city clerk’s office,” Fritz said. If the owner doesn’t pay within 30 days, Fritz said the city files a lien on the property through the county, which allows the city to hold possession of the land until the money is paid. Fritz said the cost of the work is determined by the number of people and pieces of equipment used in the cleanup. “For example, one property totaled $149.36 which included four employees and the use of one Grasshopper (mower), two weed eaters and one blower,” Fritz said. Fritz said costs range from $100 to in the thousands. The highest amount owed to the city for cleanup is $10,000. “Some of the lots might be a townhome or smaller properties, but if you’ve got a larger property, like I’ve had some commercial lots be in the thousands,” Fritz said.
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Vending machine vengeance: Marietta students say snacks are healthier, but unsatisfying
by Hilary Butschek
August 31, 2014 04:00 AM | 148 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Marietta Middle School eighth-grader Madalyn Shaw looks at the selections offered in one of the school’s vending machines Thursday. <br>Staff/Jeff Stanton
Marietta Middle School eighth-grader Madalyn Shaw looks at the selections offered in one of the school’s vending machines Thursday.
Staff/Jeff Stanton
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MARIETTA — Students may now be more likely to ask parents for a granola bar from the pantry than a few dollar bills before leaving for school as a result of new federal regulations for school vending machines. As a result of the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, a federal regulation that affects public schools nationwide, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is allowed to regulate the standards for snacks sold in schools, and a new update has been dubbed the Smart Snack Law. The regulations require all public school vending machine snacks be below 200 calories. Some students, especially those in high school, have expressed they don’t like the new chips, which are baked instead of fried, and miss the peanut butter-filled crackers, which were replaced with rice crackers, saying they “taste like Styrofoam.” “If it doesn’t really taste good, we don’t want to eat it. Everything that’s in (the vending machines) is tasteless,” said Marietta High School senior Mary Jeanne Assinzo. The Smart Snacks law places limits on almost every ingredient in foods. The main ingredient must be whole grains or one of the main food groups, such as dairy, protein, fruits or vegetables. Total fats and sugar in all snacks must be below 35 percent of the federal government’s daily recommended values, and sodium levels must be below 230 mg in each item. These restrictions throw out snacks that used to fill the shelves, such as Pop Tarts, Doritos, candy bars and non-diet sodas. The Smart Snacks Law works in conjunction with new nationwide federal standards from the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act on school lunches, which have similar requirements, including whole-wheat flour for the main ingredient in wheat products and lower sodium levels. Cindy Culver, nutrition director for the Marietta City Schools, said the regulations are controlling how much fat, sodium and calories students eat to keep them healthy. “The main goal is the whole grain being a low-fat option and also portion control,” Culver said. Students still hungry Marietta High School senior Harry McMahon, the school’s student body co-president, said he doesn’t think the law restricts the right thing. “Everyone is obsessed with the calorie counts, but that’s not what really matters. What matters are the ingredients,” McMahon said. “It’s more processed food, which in a lot of ways is bad for you even though it’s 200 calories.” Leigh Colburn, principal of Marietta High School, said she doesn’t oppose following the regulations, but she knows students aren’t pleased with the new options. “What you’ll see (in the vending machine) is a bag that looks like Cheetos, but when you zoom in, you’ll see that it’s just rice puffs,” Colburn said. “And it’s just not good.” McMahon and Assinzo are track and field athletes, and they eat about 6,000 calories a day. McMahon said it’s “almost impossible” to eat enough to have a full stomach on the calorie-restrictive diet in place at school during lunch and in the vending machines. “They even took out granola bars, the Nature Valley ones. Those are filling. They’re good for you, and I would have one of those every day before track (practice),” McMahon said. But, that’s not enough for McMahon. “Usually, what I eat during the day is three sandwiches and then my lunch, which is usually rice and chicken or something, and then I have a sack of Oreos and some crackers. I eat a lot of food,” McMahon said. Assinzo said she is ranked third in the nation for track, and she also runs cross country. “My snacks are like meals. I’ll bring a whole sandwich, peanut butter-filled pretzels, almonds, trail mix, grapes, carrots, sometimes watermelon, bananas and then I’ll have chocolate-covered raisins,” Assinzo said. Unintended consequences As a result of the new regulations, Assinzo said, most students skip vending machine snacks, and by the time the final bell rings at 2:30 p.m., they drive to the closest fast food restaurant to satisfy their hunger. “The only thing it’s making us do is go out and buy something that is not good for you. At that point, it’s just finding something that is filling, and we’re buying fries from McDonald’s, which are definitely not good for you, but just getting something filling before practice,” Assinzo said. Colburn said the regulations have some unintended consequences, such as a new black market among students, where junk food snacks stolen from the pantry at home are sold at cheap prices to other students during the day. “Part of my concern is that (the regulations) have created a process that doesn’t really align with what they set out to achieve,” Colburn said. Colburn said the regulations aren’t approaching the issue of health the right way. “If you listen to the White House or whoever it is that’s pushing this out, they’ll say it’s about nutrition, but Diet Coke is not healthier than regular Coke. It’s different, but it’s not healthier,” Colburn said. “It really is more about the calorie than anything else … It’s not about nutrition. It totally usurps principal and local authority.” Colburn said she estimates the school will lose $10,000 from vending machine sales this year because students don’t like the offerings. McMahon said he’s old enough to make smart food choices on his own. “I could have dropped out of school and enlisted in the military … if my parents were divorced I could have chosen which one I want to live with, yet I can’t pick what I eat, and a lot of people resent that,” McMahon said. Younger students like new snacks The sort of resentment the high schoolers feel hasn’t spread to the younger students. Joel Charles, an eighth-grader at Marietta Middle School, said he noticed when the Goldfish in the vending machine switched from regular to the whole-grain rich variety, but he didn’t mind it. “I like how it tastes now, but it was good before,” Charles said. Zharia Matute, a seventh-grader at Marietta Middle School, said the vending machines still have the cookies she likes, so it’s all the same to her. “I usually just get a cookie, and a water,” Matute said. “They taste good.” Culver said the middle-schoolers have had a little more time to get used to the changes. “(The middle school) has already had these for the past two years, so they’ve already incorporated the healthy snack regulations a couple years ago,” Culver said. Culver said she doesn’t have much control over the regulations, which come from the federal government, but she hasn’t noticed any pushback from students. “I don’t hear anything specific about the vending machines, but from what I see, kids are still purchasing out of them,” Culver said.
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A stroll through the art: Marietta celebrates culture on the Square
by Emily Boorstein
August 31, 2014 04:00 AM | 134 views | 0 0 comments | 1 1 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Elizabeth Fairleigh admires the work at Tami’s Lighted Decor of Marietta at Saturday’s Art In The Park on the Square in downtown Marietta. Festival Director Carolyn Morris expects 45,000 people to visit the festival, which she said has three facets: the fine arts show, the children’s Art Alley and the Chalk Spot, where school-aged kids applied their artistic talents to the sidewalk. <br>Staff/Jeff Stanton
Elizabeth Fairleigh admires the work at Tami’s Lighted Decor of Marietta at Saturday’s Art In The Park on the Square in downtown Marietta. Festival Director Carolyn Morris expects 45,000 people to visit the festival, which she said has three facets: the fine arts show, the children’s Art Alley and the Chalk Spot, where school-aged kids applied their artistic talents to the sidewalk.
Staff/Jeff Stanton
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Rose Pecoraro and her granddaughter, Roxanna Henry, 3, admire the work of Morris Johnson Mixed Media as Roxanna enjoys a brightly colored work featuring fish and animals. <br>Staff/Jeff Stanton
Rose Pecoraro and her granddaughter, Roxanna Henry, 3, admire the work of Morris Johnson Mixed Media as Roxanna enjoys a brightly colored work featuring fish and animals.
Staff/Jeff Stanton
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Even the portable restroom folks got in on the act with decorative privies at Art in the Park on Saturday on the square in downtown Marietta. Festival director Carolyn Morris said she has no plans to stop organizing the festival, and she is already working on next year’s. <br>Staff/Jeff Stanton
Even the portable restroom folks got in on the act with decorative privies at Art in the Park on Saturday on the square in downtown Marietta. Festival director Carolyn Morris said she has no plans to stop organizing the festival, and she is already working on next year’s.
Staff/Jeff Stanton
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From wall-hangings to walking sticks, Art in the Park on the Marietta Square has something for everyone to add to their home’s decor. A steady stream of festival-goers, some with baby strollers or dogs, spent Saturday browsing booths of 175 vendors selling everything from watercolor paintings and handmade jewelry to colorful glass clocks complete with moving pendulums. Several visited the booth of Marietta residents Tami and Robert Fisher to view their hand-blown glass nightlights and vases with Christmas lights sparkling inside. Robert Fisher, who works for Honda, said the idea for the glass luminaries came about as a safer alternative to candles for the couples’ four children. Tami Fisher’s father, Dixon Townsend of California, makes the glass objects, which range from roosters to the Eiffel Tower. Robert Fisher then drills a hole in them and adds the lights, although he added he broke several before he had the technique down. “Everybody came into the house and liked it, and it’s just blossomed from there,” Robert Fisher said, adding he and his wife travel to about 22 shows a year to sell their creations. This was their first year at Art in the Park. At the booth dubbed the Kennesaw Woodpecker, retired school bus driver Roger Grimes, of west Cobb, and his wife, Sandra, sold “designer” cutting boards. With intricate patterns and multi-colored woods from all over the world, the functional items could easily double as a piece of art. Roger Grimes said there was more interest in the cutting boards than the week before at the Pigs and Peaches Festival, where he and his wife only broke even. “There’s more people, and they’re more of (the) buying crowd, too,” he said. That crowd included Rick Maher, of Marietta. “I just like looking at art, and I didn’t plan to buy any, and I’m coming home with a couple hundred dollars-worth,” he said with a smile. He showed off his purchases, which included a framed picture of a Waffle House restaurant for his son, who lives in Connecticut, earrings for his wife and some Christmas presents. Festival director Carolyn Morris hopes the draw of purchasing unique gifts will bring more visitors to the Art in the Park, which runs through Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. “When you buy a piece of art from here, you get to learn the background from the artist, so it adds another dimension versus going to one of the box stores and just picking it up off a wall where it’s been just processed,” Morris said. She expects 45,000 people to visit the festival, which she said has three facets: the fine arts show, the children’s Art Alley and the Chalk Spot, where school-aged kids applied their artistic talents to the sidewalk. With the festival in its 28th year, Morris said she has no plans to stop organizing it, and she is already working on next year’s. She said her love of Marietta is what keeps her coming back every year, along with the people who come to show their work. “It’s almost like a homecoming because many of these artists have been with me since the beginning,” Morris said. For more information on Art in the Park, visit www.artparkmarietta.com
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