Peachtree Corners' new government gets its start

Mayor Mike Mason and the city council congregated Tuesday night for their inaugural meeting, quickly moving past the pageantry of the occasion in favor of laying the foundation for Gwinnett County's first new city in 56 years.

Now that they are all in office, Mason and the council face the sobering task of building a government from scratch over the course of about 75 days. Peachtree Corners officially begins operation on July 1.

"Time is of the essence," Mason said at the start of the meeting. "We need to move ahead as quickly as possible."

Council members unanimously approved a half-dozen motions Tuesday, including the appointments of Johns Creek City Attorney William Riley as acting city attorney and Johns Creek City Clerk Joan Jones as acting city clerk. Both Riley and Jones will retain their current positions in Johns Creek while assisting Peachtree Corners.

Mason, who went unopposed in his mayoral bid, said he spent time looking for experienced candidates to help ease into the transition of cityhood. His search led him to Johns Creek, which went through the incorporation process in 2006.

"Since I didn't have opposition for mayor, I used my time to meet all the mayors of as many cities as I could and I asked them, ‘How did you do it?'" Mason said. "And that's how I found these people."

The council also approved the hiring of John Kachmar and John McDonough, city managers of Johns Creek and Sandy Springs respectively, for consulting services. Kachmar said he was excited about a second opportunity to assist with the launch of a new city.

"You’ve got a lot of work to do," Kachmar told the council. "We’re not here for the long run. We're here to set you up, and be on the way."

Peachtree Corners is poised to become the biggest of Gwinnett County's 16 municipalities with an estimated 34,000 residents in an area between Norcross and Berkeley Lake.

The city initially will operate in a scaled-down version -- or "city-lite" model -- and provide limited services in planning and zoning, code enforcement and garbage collection. Gwinnett will be responsible for more costly services such as public safety.

The new council must quickly hire a city manager; adopt zoning and maintenance codes; negotiate important service contracts; and choose a spot for government offices among many other duties.

Additionally, the council must allay the concerns of cityhood opponents and heal divisions within the community following the closest incorporation vote in metro Atlanta in the past six years. Other referendums were approved by at least 81 percent of the vote; Peachtree Corners claimed just 57 percent.

About 40 residents showed up at Christ the King Lutheran Church on Peachtree Parkway for the first council meeting. The special-called session lasted about an hour and was sandwiched between rounds of applause, with little dissent evident among the small crowd.

"I was very impressed by our new council and their professionalism," said Richard Chambers, a Peachtree Corners resident for about 30 years. "I wanted to be out here and see the process."

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