Roswell residents continue questions of transparency and how the city is run

Roswell residents continue questions of transparency and how the city is run,  (Courtesy City of Roswell)

Credit: Karen Zitomer

Credit: Karen Zitomer

Roswell residents continue questions of transparency and how the city is run, (Courtesy City of Roswell)

Roswell residents questioned the mayor and city council on multiple issues Monday night. Transparency in payments to city consultants without public knowledge and Mayor Kurt Wilson’s photograph on a campaign flyer that appears to support four candidates running for city council was a common theme.

Wilson and City Council hold the monthly open mic forum to allow the public to ask questions and raise issues. Responses from the officials are not guaranteed.

Resident Claire Barnes wanted to know if Seer World — the consulting firm hired by Roswell — or city staff, had a role in producing and distributing a package of city council candidate flyers to residential mailboxes.

The flyers supporting four of the nine candidates running for office were an invite to an October meet and greet event with the contenders. The event was hosted by Councilwoman Lee Hills, who is not up re-election this year. One of the flyers displayed Wilson’s photo and appears to endorse the four candidates — Councilwoman Christine Hall, Allen Sells, Jason Miller, and Jade Terreberry, Barnes said.

Barnes asked if Wilson or city funds paid for the flyers and if Seer World help to produce them.

Wilson has come under criticism for the hiring of Seer World, a branding firm, without public input. The firm could potentially receive nearly $1 million for advice on real estate acquisitions and the possible development of a “stadium and entertainment district.” The firm has been paid $250,000 so far.

Following Barnes’ comments, the mayor said: “I cannot respond to something I’m not a part of or not doing.”

There was no additional response to the issue from council members.

Resident Jason Yowell asked for details on the work that Seer is conducting for the city.

“We’re a little confused out in the public. Why is (Seer) getting all of this money, why is it a secret,” Yowell asked.

Similar to previous reports of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Yowell asked why Seer was hired for real estate expertise when the firm website reads that its area of work is brand marketing.

Yowell also asked about funds paid to another consulting firm, the Sizemore Group. The community group Roswell Truth recently reported on its Facebook page that open records requests showed the firm was paid $200,000 by the city through an intergovernmental agreement with the Downtown Development Authority.

Monday night, Christopher Zack, former director of IT for Roswell and a local resident, said there is a concern inside City Hall that Roswell is running out of money and will not have enough to operate in the coming months.

Zack said he and several other department heads and staff recently left their positions due to concerns on how the city is being run.

“There are still some here who don’t have the privilege (of resigning) to find a place to land,” he said.

Zack worked for Roswell just over two and a half years.

“(When) I came to the city, I wanted to do good,” Zack said. “I got to the point where I thought I wouldn’t have the capability to do so.”

City resignations since August include Jason Gaines, director of Community Development; Lenor Bromberg, deputy director of Community Development; Finance Director Ryan Luckett; and Parks Superintendent Rusty Pruitt.

A copy of Purchasing Manager Greg Anderson’s resignation letter, obtained through an AJC open records request, took issue with the city’s use of public funds.

In response to Zack’s comments, Knighton said Roswell is undergoing a reinvention and organizational change by taking a “very hard look” at how services are delivered. The result will give staff a greater voice in operational decisions, he said, and address the needs of residents in a more detailed manner.

“I have been in local government 30 years. We have the best staff members, team members that I have ever experienced. We want to set this organization up in a manner that allows us to address issues in the moment and not become stagnant or stale,” the city administrator said.

Wilson said accusations of incompetency and lack of transparency are baseless and “silliness.”

“Baseless accusations, phony things about corruption, lack of transparency are nonsense,” the mayor said.