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Did Roswell councilman break trust with comments about tennis center?

On social media and in the press, Roswell City Councilman Marcelo Zapata played the foil. If residents were upset with plans to put a $50 million tennis center in a popular city park, he was, too.

But the truth is, Zapata voted for the tennis plan in a closed meeting, documents show. And at least one member of the city council is questioning Zapata’s assertion that he had his own issues with the project before residents expressed their outrage.

“It’s pretty obvious this wasn’t exactly the way it seemed,” said Sean Groer, a Roswell city councilman.

Groer asked an attorney to look into possible legal and ethical issues with Zapata’s statements after Zapata spoke publicly about the closed-door council meeting where the tennis center was discussed, and told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that in his opinion, the process “was not the best one.” Groer said his attorney found “significant allegations that have grounds” and he will take the matter to council.

Roswell officials were scheduled to meet in a closed-door meeting set for Monday evening to discuss personnel, but it is unclear if Zapata’s comments will be a subject of that meeting.

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After Roswell officials announced their plans to build the Angela Krause Tennis, Pickleball and Fitness Center in Big Creek Park, more then 25,000 people signed a petition in protest of the plan.

Lori Henry, mayor of Roswell. HANDOUT PHOTO (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Hundreds came to a Roswell city council meeting to further express their disdain, saying the tennis center would destroy 60 acres of hiking and mountain biking trails. On Aug. 12, Roswell Mayor Lori Henry said in a statement that a vote scheduled for the next day would not be held. On Friday, she said in a statement that the tennis center would not be built in the park.

In an interview last week with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and in a statement posted on Facebook, Zapata said he told Henry and members of council that he disagreed with a proposal that would have put 135 tennis courts in Big Creek Park. He said many of his questions — including a market analysis, a business plan and impacts to traffic and the environment — were unanswered.

Additionally, when asked on Facebook how “something like this” is initiated without all members of council being informed, Zapata replied that it’s possible that projects move forward because “only 4 council votes or 3 council votes plus the Mayor’s vote are needed to approve any initiative.”

Minutes from the closed session, obtained by the AJC from Roswell, show that a proposed agreement for the project — known as “yellow ball” — was approved by a 6-0 vote.

“After I read your article, I had concerns that what I heard behind closed doors didn’t match the article,” Groer told an AJC reporter. “It was a significant mismatch.”

The minutes also indicate that members of council should get any comments on the proposed agreement for the tennis center to the city attorney. Groer said Zapata didn’t submit any comments.

Reached Friday, Zapata said he wanted to see the minutes before he discussed the issue further. Monday, he did not respond to several phone calls and text messages seeking comment.

Andrew Lackey, a Roswell resident opposed to the tennis center plan, said he sees a “pretty big issue” if Zapata was lying about his initial objections to the proposal.

“It just means he’s going to do that again,” he said. “If you say one thing and do another, it makes me uncomfortable.”

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