Johns Creek convention bureau calls for investigation of City Council members

Officials of Johns Creek and its Convention and Visitors Bureau dedicate the city's first gateway marker, on Kimball Bridge Road, in September 2020. In January 2020, CVB Attorney Monica Gilroy said the nonprofit will consider filling an ethics complaint against Councilwomen Stephanie Endres and Erin Elwood unless they apologize for threatening actions.

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Officials of Johns Creek and its Convention and Visitors Bureau dedicate the city's first gateway marker, on Kimball Bridge Road, in September 2020. In January 2020, CVB Attorney Monica Gilroy said the nonprofit will consider filling an ethics complaint against Councilwomen Stephanie Endres and Erin Elwood unless they apologize for threatening actions.

An attorney for the Johns Creek Convention and Visitors Bureau says two City Council members abused their authority by threatening the organization’s funding.

Bureau attorney Monica Gilroy, during a contentious City Council meeting Monday, said Councilwomen Stephanie Endres and Erin Elwood privately made several requests to the tourism organization during the past year without the knowledge of the mayor and fellow Council members.

Gilroy said Elwood told the organization that Endres would advise Council to stop city funding unless the nonprofit tweaked its bylaws to say it is an agent of the city and made voting changes to conform with the state Open Meetings Act.

“I know a threat when I hear one,” Gilroy told Council members. “We just cannot as a volunteer organization be subjected to threats and bullying.”

Gilroy said the nonprofit will consider filing an ethics complaint against Endres and Elwood unless they apologize for their actions. Gilroy also urged an investigation that would lead to a public censure of Endres.

Endres didn’t return an email or phone call from the AJC for this article. Elwood declined comment.

Elwood, during a work session prior to the regular meeting, apologized to City Council. “I was trying to avoid a big public disaster so I apologize that we ended up here,” she said. “If my judgment was wrong on some of these things I’m sorry. As far as it being unethical, that was not the case.”

Endres cited concerns for residents’ taxpayer dollars as reasons for wanting the bylaws adjusted.

The city pays the Bureau about a third of the hotel/motel taxes it receives from Fulton County, Gilroy said. That amounted to about $300,000 in 2019, she said.

“(Endres) is under the mistaken impression that if there were no Bureau, the tax money would come to the city but that is not true,” Gilroy told the AJC.

Mayor Mike Bodker told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he learned about the councilwomen’s actions when he was contacted by Bureau Chairwoman Lynda Lee Smith in December. Bodker added that he was surprised at least one of the Council members didn’t come to realize that they weren’t acting on city authority.

“I was surprised on multiple fronts,” Bodker said. “It’s not often something’s going on that I don’t know about.”

Council members discussed during the work session whether to censure Endres or Elwood, or to launch an investigation into their actions. No one pushed for an investigation but Endres and Elwood were criticized by some colleagues.

“I don’t want to judge you two but I’m a leader of this community and we have had serious allegations brought to us,” Councilman Lenny Zaprowski said. “This is wrong on so many levels.”

The Bureau’s bylaws, which date back to 2009, were drafted by the city and signed by Bodker. The organization is not considered a city agency, Gilroy said, adding it acts in accordance with the Open Meetings Act.

Gilroy said she and the nonprofit were misled by the two councilwomen for nearly a year and the nonprofit’s leaders believed the Council members’ requests were officially made on behalf of the city of Johns Creek.

Smith sent a written statement to Bodker and City Council members last week detailing events since January 2020 when Endres enlisted city attorney Ron Bennett to ask the organization to change its bylaws to avoid a “potential violation.” Last fall, Elwood, the City Council liaison to the Bureau, made several inquiries about changes to the bylaws, the statement said.

The nonprofit considered tweaking their bylaws, Gilroy said, until Smith learned from Bodker that Endres and Elwood weren’t officially acting with city authority.

“It was so much ado about nothing. Our meetings are open to the public and published. The cost to redo (the bylaws) is expensive,” said Gilroy, adding that the Bureau has spent more than $4,000 on her legal fees to handle this issue.