In addition, several members of Roswell’s city staff have resigned since mid-August, one of whom alleged in his resignation letter that the city has acted unethically in its operations.
Mayor Kurt Wilson said the information about Seer’s contract was not made public because the company is advising on potential real estate acquisitions. Negotiations for the purchase of real estate by local governments is exempt from the Georgia Open Records Act but hiring a consultant to do so is not, said Richard T. Griffiths, president emeritus at the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.
Griffiths said the city is in “clear” violation of the act.
“By any stretch of the imagination, that’s a lot of money and the public needs to know how that process was undertaken to pay that money,” Griffiths said. “The public needs to have the understanding of how their money is being spent and whether its being spent appropriately.”
Details of Seer World’s work for Roswell was discussed with City Council in executive session or during meetings with city staff, according to Wilson. Seer was not required to go through a bidding process for the contract. And its services were not presented during any regular City Council meeting.
Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com
Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com
Instead, a $250,000 payment was listed as “professional services” in a fiscal year 2024 budget amendment that was approved with other amendments during an Aug. 28 meeting.
Seer showcased its services during a presentation at a City Council Retreat in February in Opelika, Alabama, which included a proposed fee schedule from March 2023 to March 2025 in the amount of $845,000. Roswell residents obtained the proposal through open records requests. Recordings of the meeting and complete minutes are not available online.
Councilwoman Sarah Beeson said that she has not seen the contract even though she has asked for a copy on numerous occasions. Beeson said that after one-on-one conversations with Wilson, she believes interest in Seer stems from the firm’s contacts in the sports and entertainment industry.
“Interest was conveyed how we can recruit any type of sports team as potential options for economic development,” Beeson said. “I didn’t know that was in the terms of (Seer’s) employment because I never got to see the contract. If this was bid through an RFP and RFQ, the contract is typically included in the documents for voting.”
Seer World was founded by Peter Sorckoff, the former Chief Creative Officer and brand manager for the Atlanta Hawks and Philips Arena. Sorckoff has been advising Roswell and cc’d on internal communications with staff and council members since March, according to city emails obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Sorckoff said that contracting with government agencies through a professional services contract is common for his firm.
“We have some clients where the (request for proposals process) depending on the scope of work is the route that we go,” he added. “... When the work is complete there will be a full public record of that work.”
City attorney David Davison hired Seer as a city vendor, Roswell spokeswoman Julie Brechbill said, adding that the contract was signed in mid-August.
“Our city attorney’s office is saying we followed our own ordinances and state laws pertaining to purchasing,” Brechbill said.
The Attorney General’s Office did not return a call to the AJC inquiring about Roswell’s practice.
City Council first approved up to $250,000 for professional services in the fiscal year 2023 budget.
City emails show Seer has advised Roswell on real estate acquisitions, economic development, as well as other issues, including how to respond to a series of questions from the AJC and other media inquiries.
“We’re entitled to know the scope of their work,” said resident Meghan McClanahan, adding that she and others in the community are frustrated by the limited information the city has offered on Seer.
Roswell has repeatedly been accused of lacking transparency in its operations since Wilson took office in January 2022.
And since mid-August, several key staff members have submitted resignations. Among them is 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.
“... We must always align our actions with clear principles, adherence to the rule of law, and respect for the values that have long underpinned our success as a public entity,” the resignation letter says. “Recent events have shown divergent paths between the approach I believe in and the direction being taken.”
The AJC was unable to reach Anderson.
Brechbill sent a statement to the AJC in response to Anderson’s letter.
“The city of Roswell is committed to upholding the highest ethical standards in its purchasing process, ensuring that all transactions are conducted with transparency, integrity, and fairness,” the statement said. “We strive to maintain the public’s trust by following all state and local laws pertaining to purchasing and using public funds, including procurement requirements, bid procedures, and contract terms.
“Our purchasing practices are guided by principles of fiscal responsibility and accountability, and we are dedicated to promoting competitive bidding, avoiding conflicts of interest, and achieving the best value for taxpayers’ dollars.”